Cuba 4: Viñales

After a quick early morning swim, the team departed Varadero on a Viazul bus bound for Viñales.  Oddly, on this bus service there were no stops for the two drivers to collect their groceries and soon the bus arrived in Havana.  The team, along with Isabella and Steffano, then negotiated a faster taxi ride in an antique Peugeot 309 to Viñales.

Racing through the Cuban country side, the team stopped only once at a tobacco farm, which both Simon and Angela agreed wasn’t very interesting as it was the wrong season, before they sped into the town of Viñales.  Soon they arrived at their Casa Particular.

Apparently really good dinner Loco perro on the roof of a casa
Wisdom from Che: (google translator says) “one of the noblest ways to serve the country is to be committed to working” The feast in the casa

After an optional rest period, the team departed the casa on bikes.  Their task was to ride to the Cave of the Indian and explore it to gain their next clue.

Restaurante cave

They rode north through the Pinta Del Río country side.  They soon travelled 6km and arrived at the cave and paid their 5 CUC each entry fee.  To the annoyance of the Cuban staff, they went into the cave without a guide.  Soon they were walking through the well-lit cave space.  After exploring less than 200m later, they arrived at the underground river.  There they waited until the speedboat arrived to take them further into the mountain.

Scary well-lit cave

The Cuban speedboat captain gently and expertly guided his boat to the dock.  The team boarded the boat, along with some Israelis and they headed deeper into the mountain. Only to turn around 50m later, with the boat captain explaining that the water level was too low for them to go further into the mountain.  Simon thought it looked very Lord of the Rings, with a lone staircase disapearing into the darkness ahead. The boat drove past the dock and around a couple of bends before they exited the cave.

Daylight The exit to the caves

Annoyed at the overpriced and underwhelming crappiness of the caves, the team raced through the gift shop and were soon back on their bikes.  Intending to visit a 1960s mural located to the west of the town, but not wanting to miss the chance to explore further, the team continued north and then west to Valle Acón.

The road into the valley was lined with pigs and not much else.  The team made good time over the next 8 km and they soon reached Acón village.  There they continued onto cooperative commune land, heading in what they thought was the direction of the mural.  Soon they were in thick plantation land.  Unable to see a shortcut over the hills through the jungle, the team returned to the commune entry.

A panorama of a field near Acón village, pre flat tires

Annoyed that there was no connecting road offering a more direct  route to the mural, the team asked a commune worker in broken spanish if a horse trail would get them back to the village of Viñales.  He said that it would, so the team went through the gate and started up the the trail.

Heading into the jungle

Within 500m both bikes had at least one flat tire (Simon’s bike soon had two flats).  Thinking this route couldn’t be that difficult (there were bike tire tracks along it and it kind of headed in the right direction), the team pushed on.  Two hours later, in the late afternoon with nothing but jungle around them, the team decided that they probably weren’t going to make it through to Viñales via this overland route.  To avoid being eliminated (and having to spend the night in the jungle), the team turned around and rapidly made their way back down the hills to the village of Acón.

As is the norm for this part of Cuba, heavy afternoon thunderstorms greeted their return to Acón.  After sheltering briefly in a friendly farmer’s house from the lightning, the team walked the 8km along the Valle Acón road back to the main north south route.  With the greater traffic, they attempted to get a lift back to Viñales.  Unfortunately, Cuban truck drivers were not able to stop as either their trucks were full or perhaps they were not allowed to give foreigners a ride.  This forced the team to continue walking the remaining 6km back to Viñales, much to the delight of the Cuban locals, who called out pinchazo with knowing smiles.

Ang is soaked, but happy 4kms left to push the bikes

Eventually they pushed the bikes into the town and returned them to the hirer.  After showering, the team celebrated this feat by heading into town for ice cream.

Viñales main plaza, where much ice cream was consumed

Their next task was to make their way to the mural that had been painted on the side of a cliff back in the 1960s.  According to the clue, the mural was a sight to see. After the previous day’s bike issues, the team headed off on foot. After walking the 4km, they headed into a valley where to their right the mural appeared.  Simon and Ang were not impressed, but were able to take photos and avoid paying the entry fee.  They promptly walked back to the main road.

Epically aweful mural

There they were able to get a lift with a couple of rural farmer types on their horse and cart. The cowboys dropped the team off in town and they headed off to next task, find and have lunch at the Balcón, which was provided by Beñat (a friendly spaniard the team had met in Varadero earlier). The 3 km walk up the hill was easy and soon the team located the restaurant. There they ate a huge feast of 10 CUC lobster, drank mojitos and enjoyed the view. Ang thought ‘it was a bit weird we had lobster in the mountains, but it was very meaty’.

Hitching a ride to town Lobster at the Balcón
Panorama from the table at the Balcón
And lunch is finished Later at the view hotel (which doesn’t have as good of a view as the Balcón)
Three little piggies went to market

Later back at their casa, their host offered to take them to his family’s nearby farm.  They went, and despite having no interest in the tobacco element, the team accepted the homemade cigars (but left them later in the casa for their host). There they drank Cuban coffee and drank fresh rum and coconut before back once again heading back to their Casa.

This dude rolls his own She’s 83 and likes her coffee
Waiting for rum The family’s christmas ham
A big pair of fresh coconuts

… to be continued

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