Walking in Colourful Cuba – 21st November – 6th December
After the inevitable delays at Gatwick, a 10 hour flight, and 40 minutes sitting on the taxi way in Havana before we were able to dock, we finally stood on Cuban soil. The emigration hall was full with long lines formed in front of a series of glass cubicles with narrow corridors between and doors at the end. Many of these queues seemed to hardly move but we were fortunate and were soon through to the baggage hall and eventually met our tour leader Kath waiting in the arrivals area. Gradually our group assembled and Lasaro who was to be our Cuban guide throughout the trip led us to the coach.
Our first hotel was to be La Ermita in Vinales, some 3 hours to the West of Havana. An initial impression on arriving in Havana was the lack of street lighting; the journey was largely in total darkness and with far less traffic then in the UK. The majority of us were very tired and slept for much of the coach journey, arriving at the hotel around midnight local time, some 20 hours from first arriving at Gatwick.
The following morning the prominent location and beauty of the Vinales valley was revealed to us.
The next two days were spent walking directly from the hotel along tracks, which we learnt from our local guide Julio was a national park. We passed through tobacco fields and stopped at farms where we were given freshly made coffee made from the beans grown by the owner and ate fresh bananas and pineapple also grown locally.
Overhead we saw large birds that our guide told us were turkey vultures. We saw bullocks used to work the land and transport goods and people – others on horseback. Everywhere there were welcoming waves and greetings. On the first day our walk finally lead us into Vinales, where we obtained local money. We learned that there are two currencies operating in Cuba, the first used by Cubans and the other Cuban Convertable (CUCs), which as tourists we used.
We also had explained how there are shops which trade only in the local currency and others in CUCs. The shops used by the locals we saw had very limited ranges of goods and there were no supermarket type outlets. We were later to learn that rationing of essential foods still occurs in Cuba. It was also here where we started to see the 1950s large American cars that the Cubans have managed to keep working since the American embargo started in the early 60s. Other means of transport included the backs of old Lorries and horse drawn carts.
Having obtained CUCs we stopped at a small bar in the centre of Vinales for a drink and lunch. Choices were limited; drinks being the light beer Crystal, the slightly stronger Bucanerro, rum based mojitos, pina coladas or Cuba Libres or the Cuban cola Tucola. Snacks were either pizza or any combination of Ham and Cheese rolls.