So first day in Viñales, it seems obligatory to do a horseback trip through the valley, recommended by other travellers so why not we say. But that’s not until the afternoon so we hop on some bikes to have a little ride around the valley. We take in a great view as we perch on a shady balcony and take in the valley sipping juice straight from the coconut, life’s tough. Throw in a few detours to a massive mural that takes up a whole cliff face, and more coconut. It’s a hot day and not a cloud in the sky so bashing around on the bikes has these very white boys cooking a little. The valley here is not too dissimilar to the Wolgan valley in Australia, with a flat base of soil flanked by modest mountains sporting striking cliffs. It’s a relaxing dose of the familiar in a country so very unfamiliar.
Soon enough 2:30 rolls around and our driver is here, Alejandro, and not too foul on the eyes it has to be said. I all of a sudden become quite chatty in Spanish, Alejandro is all too happy to help, he’s totally flirting with me. Sadly enough we’re handed over to Junior, apparently Alejandro isn’t taking the trip, although I’m certain he wanted to. So we part ways, our romance sadly cut short, ‘it was magical for me’ I hear him say as he drives off.
So we mount up and off we go, not being too familiar to a saddle it’s probably a good thing that we’re moreso just sitting rather than riding, the hoses know exactly where to go. I do have a little stack on the first dismount, thank god Alejandro didn’t see that! First stop is a tobacco hut. We get a rundown of tobacco growing, storing and treating before watching a very chatty fella make a cigar from start to finish. It’s pretty awesome to see and we are conned into having a little puff. We decline buying any cigars but opt to taste a local drink which of course is based on rum. Two grapefruits are scalped and partially gutted at the table, a little honey and a fair whack off white rum and we’re in business. Holy shit these are great, and people here seem to go for rum and coke, WTF!
The trip takes us to a cave, a swim in a lake and to a coffee producer for a demo there for an OJ and a coffee to give it a sample. The coffee is super strong, wow, that’ll put hair on your bum no worries. The combination of natural highlight and cultural flavour is a good one. Coffee, rum and of course cigars are staple vices here so an off-the-path view feels like a true travelling experience. And apparently white rum is the go here, not dark rum, you can have white rum all day apparently and not get a hangover, a girl on each arm, partying all night as we’re told, good to know.
The valley we’ve been riding is called Valle de Silencio, and it’s easy to see why, it’s serenity defined. After the intensity of Havana, this is exactly what we needed, surrounded by picturesque vistas amongst small producers and getting a great look into the workings of a life so far from what we know is a real treat. We’re basically the men from Snowy River by days end, got this horse thing nailed, Alejandro would be impressed. The relative familiarity of the terrain backdropping the lifestyle experiences forms a very effective environment to take it all in.
So with slightly sore bums we make our way back into town, very happy with ourselves but absolutely nackered. It’s been a sweaty day cooking in the sun and its taking it’s toll. We grab a quick drink and Charlie gets more or less molested by a girl in the bar, very much more than less. I’m sent to go get the next round as Charlie doesn’t want to get near her, big mistake. The second I get up she’d salsa dancing right over. Think I might need the bathroom too, sorry babe, on your own here. On my return I do my very best to put Charlie in trouble.. “no I don’t salsa but Charlie wanted to learn”, “no I’m not going to party tonight but Charlie is keen”… you get the idea. This circumstance is pure gold watching this poor floozy throw the kitchen sink at an immovable object.
And we can thoroughly tick the box. Viñales has offered the perfect counterpoint to what we had in Havana. We see all the cultural hallmarks that make Cuba what it is with a great flavour of the simple life of a time gone by. In a country where internet and mobile networks are nearly non existent, this is about as good a trip into ‘simple life’ as we’re gonna get this year. And for that, Cuba, we thank you.