Viñales

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 …

Horizontes Los Jazmines Hotel Pinar in the Viñales valley - Cuba

...one of the most famous hotels in the whole of Cuba - for its stupendous views over the Viñales valley …

View of Viñales valley from Horizontes Los Jazmines Hotel -Pinar - Cuba

…and the lovely character of its beautiful Mediterranean neo-colonial style.

Stained glass framing view - Horizontes Los Jazmines Hotel - Pinar - Cuba

The food was unexceptional but with views like this no one was likely to complain.

Viñales valley -Pinar - Cuba

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.

Suspended pool - Horizontes Los Jazmines Hotel –Pinar - Cuba

Outside stood another classic 1950s car in immaculate condition

Classic 19503 car –Pinar - Viñales - Cuba

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…

Tobacco field - Viñales valley - Cuba

… especially in farming tobacco.

Tobacco growing in Viñales valley - Cuba

..and though this water buffalo was harnessed as a festive greeter of tourists, he is representative of a more everyday use.

Saddled Water Buffalo - Viñales valley - Cuba

Crafts here are elegant and intricate, like these clever cicadas made from palm leaves…

Hand-made palm leaf cicadas - Viñales valley - Cuba

…or these baskets.

Hand-made woven palm frond baskets - Viñales valley - Cuba

I preferred them to the paintings, evocative though these were.

Paintings for sale - Pinar – Cuba

Our tour took us to a tobacco farm and our host was a character of some note.

Tobacco farmer - Viñales valley - Cuba

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.

Tobacco farmer by drying tobacco - Viñales valley - Cuba

The building itself was thatched and in a most magical setting on the mountainside.

Thatched tobacco drying house - Viñales valley – Cuba

The tobacco was drying slowly on beams straddling the building…

Tobacco drying - Viñales valley – Cuba

… while above, corn dried on the rafters

Corn drying in rafters - Viñales valley – Cuba

The dried tobacco was then rolled – one wonders whether, as the saying goes, over a virgin’s thigh – into these quality Cuban cigars.

Hand rolled cigars packed for sale - Viñales valley – Cuba

The packaging of the finished goods was another traditional method, with the banded 50-cigar bundles packages being wrapped in banana leaves.

Banana leaf cigar packaging - Viñales valley – Cuba

In an afternoon shower I saw banana leaves making great impromptu umbrellas as well.

Our host was hugely proud of his Chevy …

Rear of Classic Chevrolet - Viñales valley – Cuba

…and eager to pose in it…

Cigar maker in Classic Chevrolet - Viñales valley – Cuba

…though it was actually currently having engine repairs done.

Engine repairs on classic Chevrolet - Viñales valley – Cuba

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.

Old mechanical accordion -Viñales valley – Cuba

As John Barrymore said:

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.

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