I don’t know what I found more surprising: that an eight hour delay didn’t warrant an apology from one single member of the airline, or that nobody seemed to complain. I guess it was a combination of just accepting that life will always be a little shit and being glad that they didn’t have to get the bus or train.
Flying is expensive, (as are most things a tourist might want ..except rum) so most locals either never fly or fly rarely, which is probably why, when we hit sustained and reasonably significant turbulence, there was a fair amount of screaming and just a little crying. I’m not so keen on bumps myself, especially on a small turboprop owned by an airline with a very poor safety record and this background of general despair didn’t help.
We had been Umm-ing and ahh-ing about pulling the pin on our trip to Vinales as the delayed flight meant that we had lost a significant proportion of our time there, but the fact that a taxi driver had been waiting for us for 8 hours and we had an room reserved made us stick to the plan. We were very glad that we did. The town is a very well trodden tourist path set in the hills about 2 hours outside Havana, and after a night in a mosquito infested Casa Peculiar, we met the lovely Miguel and his gorgeous horses and went for a ride in the countryside.
I love a good horse, and mine, Caramello, was pretty much perfect. All I had to do is think trot, canter, stop and he did just that. He made polo ponies look a little sluggish……..and I wanted to take him home.
The first thing my gee-gee did was to encourage me to do something I hadn’t done for 26 years: smoke. We visited a local tobacco farm that was allowed to keep 10% of its product for local sales. Whether true or not, they convinced us that the leaves that made their cigars had the spines removed that contains 80% of the nicotine and as there were no preservation chemicals used, they were pretty much healthy smokes. It won’t become a JFT thing (due to the smell, expense, the need to do it away from most other human beings, the health risk and mostly people smoking fat cigars look like dicks), but I must admit, sitting in the morning sun, puffing on a freshly rolled fat cigar, drinking a very nice honey mojito looking out over the fields was a rather enjoyable experience.
The next thing my naughty horse did was take us to another farm that this time made coffee and rum. As we had done enough coffee in Colombia, we asked that we focus on the rum and in doing so met a lovely local farmer and sampled some lovely local rum with added guavana which gave it a distinctive flavour. We went from the sample to buying a glass (think ¼ pint), then a bottle whilst listening to a very lively trio of musicians playing local music.
It really felt like being in the Latin America that we love. The sun was out, the landscape hilly and beautiful, a group of Puerto Rican’s were dancing and everybody was smiling. If all of Cuba was like this we would be very happy people.
The remainder of the ride took as to a lake (with a bar), through a river, up a hill and through the outskirts of the town. It really was wonderful and Vinales knocked Baracoa off the top place to visit in Cuba podium after just one day at the top.
After the ride, we ate well in the relatively pricy but very good ……. Restaurant before returning to Havana in the same 1952 Chevy that had picked us up the previous day.
Vinales helped us recover some of our joy of travelling and we are very glad we went. Perhaps if we had started here, we may have had a more positive feeling about Cuba from the off. Whether this would have sustained us for the rest of the month is something we won’t know, but if Yu are planning a trip to Cuba, think about starting here.