Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cuba, Part 10


Seven days and seven nights passed quickly in Havana before Danielle and I were off, by air conditioned bus, to a small tourist town named Vinales about 100 miles due East of the spot where we were deposited initially.

Vinales was nestled inside the lush and verdant valley of Pinar Del Rio, which was well known for its prime tobacco growing properties. And tobacco meant Cuban cigars! But the thing about Vinales, in particular, was that it had these dramatic limestone mountains jutting out of the earth like rounded teeth with pockmarks. These formations broke thru the terrain, or maybe they were set there purposefully, obese carnacs, by mischievous and playful Gods who were now long gone.

These protruding rock formations were famous for housing obscenely large colonies of bats. Shortly after dawn, if one had keen eyes, it was possible to spot a massive cloud of bats fleeing their elevated penthouse caves, in a cacophony of screeches, to feast for the night.

Danielle and I had heard about all this in Havana, and we knew we had to see it for ourselves. Vinales had captured our imaginations from the first word.

Our bus arrived in Vinales in front of a general store, not unlike one that may have been in an old Western town except that the colors were pastel as opposed to unfinished wood. The colors and the manner in which the buildings that lined the main street were painted, gave them an almost dollhouse-like quality. However, everything was too dusty and plain to be called "quaint" by any stretch. We couldn't see the entirety of the general store very well because a large crowd of people pushed up against the bus, all the way from the porch of the general store, and most of them held hand-written signs above their head. Very quickly we realized that the majority of the people were trying to sell a room in their home for the night or longer periods depending on the needs of a particular tourist. The signs ranged between 20 and 30 dollars per night and all the prices were written as "U.S. dollars" which I found interesting.

One sign advertised a "Luxury Villa" just down the road. Really? A luxury villa? From a cursory examination through different windows around the bus, it appeared that Vinales was the most rudimentary of farm towns. A pitstop with running water. Every single edifice was a one story, small home or home-turned-business with a porch. They all looked pretty much the same. The main street, itself, was just a wide path of dry, cracked dirt. I saw horse droppings along the far side of the rode. I doubted there was even one clothing store, here. Not even a place to purchase a hat to shield us from the hot sun. Not that we needed one, anyway.

Could this be the place that everyone, when visiting Cuba, "had to see"?!

But, as we were about to find out, things could change for the worse very quickly in Cuba, even in a place like Vinales.



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