Vinales 2, Pinar del Rio
Day 2 in the Vinales Valley, Nov 5
After a night’s sleep, we’re up bright and early for another adventurous day! Our Host has breakfast ready promptly at 7:00 AM as we requested. The table is spread with omelets, fruit plates, meats, juice and rich Cuban coffee. Our palates satiated, we get our gear ready for the day and Humberto is right on time at 7:30 AM with our taxi for the day. Today our ride is a “Modern” taxi. This just means it’s not a classic car. It was some form of international Toyota product that was many years old, well worn, yet comfortable for our 1.5 hour ride. So we chat and joke with Humberto and his driver, sometimes using our technology (We call it ‘Uncle Google’) for the more difficult words. Humberto speaks pretty good English, however some colloquialisms and expressions need a bit of help. After an educational and entertaining ride, we arrive at another tobacco farm where we’ll spend our day, “Living Like a Cuban”.
The farmer meets us outside and brings us in and introductions all around let us know his name is Omar and his wife is Mirella. We get a tour of their Casa, simple yet quite functional. Omar takes us outside and shows up one of his 6 tobacco barns. A flock of turkeys greets us along with the family pig. Omar shows us how he milks his goat while Mirella cleans and peels Yucca Roots for lunch. We get a lesson in how to hang tobacco to dry from Omar.
Omar and I hit it off great and chat with each other like old friends! Even though we don’t speak each others languages, that is what Humberto is for. Omar and I chat with each other as Humberto stands to the side and translates. It’s a great experience! You’d never know there was a language barrier as Omar and I make eye contact with each other and converse. We talk about what his life is like and how he manages all of the challenges of his day. He takes us around the farm, across fields of newly planted tobacco, rice and other crops. We watch workers as they plant the fields one plant at a time. It is clearly a very difficult lifestyle. He takes us to see a tree that they consider Holy. We never understand the whole description, but we think this is a place they come for reverence. Omar’s brother meets up with us. He wears two hearing aids because he is almost completely deaf. We relax in the shade of another tobacco barn for a brief respite from the extreme humidity. I can’t imagine what it is like here in the hot months. this is November!
Omar then takes us to see his water pump. To us it is just a small diesel engine attached to a pipe. Rustic at best. But Omar is proud of it and I suddenly realize that this pump is a huge reason that Omar can run his farm and pump the water where he needs it and I understand! We then walk across a couple more fields and we come across a very large stack of wood, stacked like a bonfire would be. It is described to us as a ‘charcoal’ stack. These stacks of wood, approximately 10-15 feet in diameter and 4-6 feet high are then covered with palm leaves a foot thick and 1-2 feet of mud on top of that. Then, through a hole they make, the pile is ignited and it smolders for several days. The resulting product is charcoal, a necessary item as we will soon discover. Walking on, we come to small covered circle buildings and we are told they are for ‘cock fights’ but they are no longer used. However, I can’t help but notice that they are in a well maintained condition. It makes one wonder, but the farmer assures us that cock fights are a thing of the past. Moving on, he takes us to watch his worker milk a cow. Seems like a simple thing. But they have to bring a calf the cow gave birth to yesterday close to the cow or the cow won’t give up it’s milk. Interesting, I don’t know the science behind that!
Ok, we’ve been walking around in the heat and humidity all morning. Omar tells us it is time for lunch and he departs from us to go help his wife. We walk around for a few more minutes and take some more photos while our guide, Humberto, tells us more history of the farm. We then arrive back at Omar’s Casa and we sit down to a lunch spread that would make a hungry army happy! Here we see the need for charcoal as everything that is cooked is on a homemade charcoal stove. There is no such thing as natural gas or propane here. They do have electricity, but it is limited and is never used for stoves. a couple light bulbs in the place is all. I do notice they have a small deep freeze and I surmise that is their largest appliance and quite a valuable one at that!
The heat and humidity not only have worn us down, but Omar is also susceptible to the elements. After lunch, Omar declares that it is too hot to return to work! (I have to wonder what his workers are told!) So he tells us it is time to play Dominos! A custom Dominos Table (think of a Scrabble Table with built in trays to hold the pieces) is brought out and set up. Cigars and Honey Cups are supplied and the Game is Afoot! Omar and Humberto teach us the rules of this simple childhood game. But Strategies and procedures are also taught to us and a fairly intense game takes off! Teams consisting of my wife and I vs Omar and Humberto soon reveals this game is more than we thought! Loss after loss brings me to challenge a team change. So now it is Humberto and my wife vs Omar and I. Ok, now the teams are more even! Omar ‘High-Fives’ me on regular occasion as we become the dominant team and it is clear Omar is quite good at this! It reminds me of ‘Card-Counting’ Poker Players in Las Vegas. There are a certain quantity of each Domino Chip and that plays a big part in the game. Also, Omar teaches us different Strategies for opening, playing and closing the game! Did you know Dominos was that complex? One more thing, did you know that an official Dominos Set has numbers up to 9 dots per chip? And Double 9’s? Wow, quite the afternoon of spirited play and a great time was had by all…..
Oh, did I mention that Omar had Cigars to sell also? Oh but he did! And I liked yesterday’s cigars better, but Omar’s were really smooth ang good also! So I was presented with cigars from Omar and I bought another 2/3 of my allotment from Omar. But not to worry, I will smoke the extra 1/3 while I’m in Cuba! Ok, it’s time to depart! It is with heavy heart that we get back in our taxi and say goodbye to Omar and Mirella! They have poured out their hearts to us and made us feel welcome in their home! But we get in the taxi with our memories and start heading back to our Casa in Vinales. But wait! Our day is not done yet! There are still places to visit on our tour for the day! We heard about a river cave that is an astounding find and our guide knows we want to see it! So we arrive at the Cave and go in. Wow. Just Wow. An Underground Cave with Boats to take us through! Got to do this!
So that was fun! But there is one more thing we want to see before we go back. We heard about a painted cliff on a Mogote that is fun to see! Our guide knows about it and takes us to a lookout point where we can see it. Supposedly, an artist friend of Diego Rivera painted this in 1961 and the colors have survived the years! Fun stuff! Even more so because we have visited Diego Rivera’s house in Alcapulco, Mexico!
Ok, hang out with a local farmer, check. Tourist sights, check. Cave, check. Time to go back to town. Humberto takes us back to our Casa and lightens our wallet a bit more. But it is budgeted and we have had a good day! We relax in our Casa for an hour or so and it’s time to go into town and find dinner. We ate with our Casa Family last night. We want to find a local restaurant tonight, aka a ‘Paladar’. The Main street is lined with places to see and eat at. But wait, it is sunset time and we aren’t hungry yet! Let’s find a rooftop bar and have a drink! Yeah, that’s the ticket! Ok, here’s one! So we go upstairs and sit and chill. Specifically, a chill Cerveza and a Mojito! But you forget, I’m a photographer. And it’s sunset. Got to take a few shots. Fun stuff.