I am never averse to organised trips with small groups of up to 10 people to interesting places I might not otherwise have the chance to see, and the trip of some 180 km (about 2 hours drive) from Havana to explore Viñales valley with its tobacco farms, mountains and caves, was no exception.
I was travelling with my dancing friends in a van and there are much-loved pictures of some of us sleeping en route (after very little sleep the night before) with slices of cucumbers over our eyes for refreshment!
First stop was in Pinar at the Horizontes Los Jazmines Hotel …
...one of the most famous hotels in the whole of Cuba - for its stupendous views over the Viñales valley …
…and the lovely character of its beautiful Mediterranean neo-colonial style.
The food was unexceptional but with views like this no one was likely to complain.
This fascinating place slumbers high above the beautiful Viñales valley, its pool suspended on the edge of the valley so even when swimming, no moment of viewing is lost.
Outside stood another classic 1950s car in immaculate condition
We travelled into the valley, which is surrounded by mountains of limestone (mogotes )of up to 300m.Being a volcanic region there are lots of caves, and underground rivers that run through the channels carved by early lava flows. Although cave tours are popular – my interest was more for above ground.
Farming here still follows traditional methods…
… especially in farming tobacco.
..and though this water buffalo was harnessed as a festive greeter of tourists, he is representative of a more everyday use.
Crafts here are elegant and intricate, like these clever cicadas made from palm leaves…
…or these baskets.
I preferred them to the paintings, evocative though these were.
Our tour took us to a tobacco farm and our host was a character of some note.
I wish I could recall his name but he was even then a grand age.
He claimed his obviously robust health was due to good cigars, good rum, and good women.
He told us he had recently re-married – and that kept him fit!
Fit he definitely was.
The building itself was thatched and in a most magical setting on the mountainside.
The tobacco was drying slowly on beams straddling the building…
… while above, corn dried on the rafters
The dried tobacco was then rolled – one wonders whether, as the saying goes, over a virgin’s thigh – into these quality Cuban cigars.
The packaging of the finished goods was another traditional method, with the banded 50-cigar bundles packages being wrapped in banana leaves.
In an afternoon shower I saw banana leaves making great impromptu umbrellas as well.
Our host was hugely proud of his Chevy …
…and eager to pose in it…
…though it was actually currently having engine repairs done.
We ended the visit there dancing to a live band and an old mechanical accordion player as our host looked on, smiling and drawing slowly on his cigar.
As John Barrymore said:
A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.
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