Horseriding in Cuba, through the fairyworld of Viñales

Having been used to blogging every other day and after every major event during my travels, I’m somewhat at a loss as to where to start after two weeks in internet-less, sensory-overload Cuba. I’ll begin with a brief overview, then focus on my favourite region – Viñales. Firstly, the ‘we’. I explored Cuba with Bronson and Zomi, two lovely aussies whom I met in Colombia and Cuba respectively. We spent a few days getting our heads around Havana before taking an eight hour bus journey south west to Trinidad, a pastel rainbow of a town, pop around 70,000. After a few days there we travelled back east to Viñales before heading back to Havana.

So this post is about Viñales, a fairytale valley stroked in swathes of green with giant blobs of limestone called mogotes sticking up like unpopped surface bubbles. The whole valley used to be underground, part of a massive cave system. Over time water worked its way through the rock dissolving the limestone and then the cave roofs fell in, leaving the mogotes.

On our first day we wandered into the local art gallery on the main plaza of town and met the ever-smiling, extremely sweaty Fidel. Wow this guy is kind, always pumping our hands in affection, nodding his beading bald head. Not only did this restaurateur two days later save us the best table on the balcony, but he also picked us up in his car from the casa where we were staying and dropped up back after the meal. No matter that his Lada had no inside to the doors and you could see the road through the floor. The enormous dishes were only £4 each and so tasty! And the view, well that was priceless.

Zomi, me, Bronson and Miriam who we met at the beach the day before. There’s a big mogote to the left of the photo.

This is the landscape that we’d horseridden through that day. Lovely Margarita, our host mother at the casa organised it for us. A taxi drove us to meet the horses on a pathway, up we popped (not very far, Colombian horses are pretty titchy) and after twenty minutes of slowly lolloping we arrived at an organic tobacco farm. Viñales is the home of the Cuban tobacco industry and we learnt about the processes and life on the farm while sipping heavenly mojitos sweetened with honey. Halfway through the tour we were joined by three lovely Taiwanese women as they needed the Spanish translating and we (well, Bronson mostly) could help.

Enjoying our mojitos and Bronson, a cigar.

Our man rolls a cigar, explaining that you should be as gentle as when a man caresses a woman.

They were so cute! They filmed me translating and sat concentrating with mouths wide open. The cigars in the foreground are packaged, as well as made organically, flavoured with vanilla, white rum, honey and cinnamon.

Next we visited a grotto deep inside a mogote, then we arrived at the lake. Ok, so the lake wasn’t the most beautiful in the world – kind of brown, but Zomi and I struggled through the bush to find a ‘changing room’, pulled off our sweat drenched jeans, stretched on our bikinis and plunged into the warm water, the white tree in the centre of the lake our goal. Can you see it tiny in this photo? We swung ourselves up onto the branch about two metres up and jumped off a couple of times, Zomi very bravely attempting some dives.

It’s the far far tiny white tree we jumped from, not the black tree in the foreground.

Five hours after we’d set out we returned home.

Zomi’s still smoking her cigars, even on horseback! Aw it was fun.

 

“You’ll find yourself travelling.” Really? I think that depends on the person. The hedonistic tornado of a trip I made when I was 22-23 did not contain much inner travelling. The voyage was focused on beach, bars and clubs, more about getting out of my head than exploring the world within it. This trip is totally different. I’m thinking all the time about what makes me happy and what I want out of my life.

I like Viñales because I love countryside and nature. It gave me a sense of peace and space that I can’t find in cities. Viñales the town is exotic, hot and different with streetfood, horses everywhere pulling carts of people, many many tourists, but it’s the fantastical surrounds that I love. At night we’d climb a tiny rickety green spiral staircase to the roof and sit up in a big splosh of fuchsia enjoying the sunset.

Bronson would play his charango, an instrument he picked up in Bolivia and teach Zomi more songs. I would chat and take photos. So peaceful.

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