Viñales, for us felt a bit like Disney does Cuba. But nevertheless we had a great few days there. Tourism has hit here big time and the money making encroachment of capitalism is in full effect.
Instead of mojitos and smiles we were met with a stern matriarch who repeatedly told the kids not to do things. She took the lamp, the air con controller and the key from our room in case the kids broke/lost them and bamboozled us with such fast, incomprehensible Spanish that before we knew what was going on we'd agreed to have a vastly overpriced and very mediocre meal from her.
That aside, the setting was wonderful, the limestone mongots (karst cliffs) that dot the valley give it a regal, stupendous feel and the caballeros (cowboys) that roam the village on foot, on oxen carts or on horseback, give it a rural rustic glow that the tourist Disneyland feel hasn't quite yet rubbed out. Many people say come to Cuba quick before it changes and I fear that we have missed that boat a little, but still we had a great time.
We toured the region on horse and cart, visiting tobacco farms, rum factories and caves. The cart was entertainment in itself, especially cantering up narrow dirt paths where the hordes of horse and riders before us had grooved a ravine like trough in one part of the path six feet deep and our cartwheels sometimes survived on the outer edges and sometimes plunged into sending us on an angle akin to a stuntcar riding up onto two wheels. It was all we could do to hang on ourselves and hope the kids were holding on fast. They loved it! The tour was great, we smoked cigars (organic and nicotine free apparently) but still dangerous especially trying to smoke whilst trying to hold on! Mikey managed to brand me. We sampled rum, again the period of mourning did not count for the rum farms! And we squeezed through the narrow pitch black caves, whilst I calmed a rising panic due to memories of my glaucoma attack which came after the last caving trip in Guatemala.
Another day we tripped to the beach, where the kids played for four hours with two plastic dinosaurs and some sticks. I love our children as every parent does, but I'm constantly impressed by how much they can do with so little. One thing this trip has given them for certain is room to use their imagination and their creativity sometimes astounds me.
From Viñales we left on the ridiculously early Viazul bus to Cienfuegos and we found amazing hospitality again.
Usually when we travel we avoid cities, preferring the rural areas, less roads, more freedom for the children to roam and run, but so far Cuba has proved the opposite. Cienfuegos appears again like a 'real’ city with people going about their daily business. There are shops with plenty of goods (something we'd been warned not to expect) and beautiful European architecture again, although this time French. They even have an Arc De Triomphe. We only had three nights here to visit the sights, trip out to the beach and enjoy the hospitality of our wonderful casa..
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!