Saturday morning after an early rise, and I mean early. The pick up was at 7:30 at a neighbouring hotel. I departed for Vinales via a Cubatur bus at a cost of 55 C.U.C.. There was a lady waiting outside the hotel when we arrived and then a gentlemen join a few moments before the guide arrived. My friend and I were leisurely talking about the tour when the man interjected, asking if I was from Canada. Easily this time I could tell he was from New Zealand. We just exchanged names when the tour guide arrived and we were off.
Our first stop was a coffee-house, juice bar and souvenir shop. This is a nice model for tours, as people generally like to get off a bus to stretch their legs for a few minutes. As there were many people, I grabbed a table. As I looked onward, there was our New Zealander that we met at the hotel. I extended a smile and waved him over. He came to join in and we started talking. The discussion first started with music, but changed to community gardens and development. I boldly made the statement, you must be a community activist! He smiled at me and said he was a Member of Parliament. He enlightened me on the proportional voting-system they have adopted versus the Canadian first past the post system. We got to engage in some interesting conversation. Before too long we realized we were well overdue and hoped our bus did not leave without us.
The second stop was a Rum Factory. Since it was Saturday, there were no actual production workers on site. Instead the guide explained the machinery and production. She gave us some sort of berry to taste which formulated into the equation of the tasty liquor we later sampled. I purchased a bottle and some coffee as my brother-in-law instructed me to bring him back a bag.
The next stop, a tobacco farm where cigars were being manufactured. We saw workers preparing the bundles of dried leaves. The smell of molasses and tobacco filled the shelter. After a brief presentation we moved outside and later the group was given a demonstration on rolling a cigar from raw materials.
The views were breath-taking. Once more we stopped and had the option of purchasing the sugar cane juice with or without rum, pending an individual’s taste.
As we climbed the stairs to the limestone caves, there was some reprieve from the outside humidity. The interior was cool, with drops of water falling on occasion. We walked through little crevaces to emerge to a larger opening and a small stream of water.
A small motor boat would take use through the little canal. We were told there were animals and other images to be seen. I guess it is like looking at the clouds or stars, sometimes there is something that just pops out at you.
There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Outside, the sunshine poured down once more. There were tables of wooden souvenirs, Cuban artwork, beads and mementos. I try to refrained from purchasing souvenirs, as I am a frequent flyer and these things can certainly add up if you have to bring gifts back to your entire clan of family and friends.
We were told we would see a wall mural from the 1800’s. I imaged something not quite so extravagant. This piece of art dominated the hillside. Alas, my camera battery was near the end of its life and the photos from this point on were limited. We had a delicious meal and further discussion with our MP acquaintance. We found out we were staying at the same hotel, thus continued our chat until the lobby and said farewell.
I liked the creativity the housekeeper had when she put together this swan and basket with a special note. It sometimes are these little things that makes a stay quite memorable. Have you had an experience at a Hotel, B&B, Inn, Hostel or Cottage where the owner/operators or employees did something to wow you?
Stay tuned for one final part of my Cuban vacation and the journey back to Rural NL…
Christopher C. Mitchelmore