Into the country side

Trip Start Dec 12, 2007
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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The bus ride to Vinales was quite beautiful.  It wasnt long before I left Havana and the money toubles behind and ready to be inspired once more!  It was quite a fantastic day with no clouds, the sun bright in the sky and the greenery of the jungle flying by as we passed winding in and out of the country side roads.  It wasnt long until the bus stopped for a little while at this lagoon surrounded by thick vegetation.  There was a little hut selling Guevera and Fidel merchandise as normal, along with the cigars and wooden carvings you see throughout Cuba.  I wondered on passed and headed down to the lake.  It was a oblong shaped lake and a jetty made from bamboo and wood extended out about a third of the way.  On the northside it was covered in mountains with hundreds of wild palm treeŽs flanking the shores of the lake.  I took a few photos before wondering up to whitness a live salsa band in the hutt which a few people where shaking too!  After a while of entertainment, the bus driver started beeping and we got back on.

As we started arriving in Vinales about an hour and a half later, I was blown away by the view out the window.  There were absolutely huge limestone looking mountains rising straight up with round tops.  Lots and lots everywhere, with a similar shape to the ones advertised on nearly every Thailand photo.  We soon were in the centre of Vinales, which is a very small town in the valley of these rounded mountains.  It has only one main street with a few dirt roads coming off of it.  As the bus stopped and we got off, we were swamped with dozens of locals offering CasaŽs to stay in.  We originally ignored all of their shoutings and offerings to pick up our backpacks.  However we were soon persueded by one that was offering 15 CUC for the both of us for a night only 3 minutes walk away, so we accepted.

Arriving out our Casa de Familia, she showed us around their backyard that had clusters of about 9 different fruit trees.  Some I had never heard of before.  We had a bit of a laugh as she spoke absolutely no english, and we spoke very little Espanol.  But it was fun!  There were chickens, goats, pigs and dogs running around everywhere making a whole collection of noises.  This place looked great!  Our room was also very clean and a fantastic place to sleep in.

After getting settled, they gave us some food on the house and we headed off to see a bit of the place.  We found a dirt track that lead out of the town towards the mountains that we took.  It lead eventually to the tobaco farms which they use to put in the Cigars Cuba is famous for.  The countryside was very lovely and we managed to get some good pictures close to the mountains.  We then headed back to walk around Vinales as its such a lovely village with clean streets, school children everywhere and a generally very happy vibe!

That night we went back to the Casa to have dinner.  First we got stuck into a few pool games in which they play religiously in this family.  Not sure of the game they were playing, as it took us a while to get used to it, but was fun.  They gave us some rum, which didnt exactly help our game, but the rum was fantastic!  (its cuba!).  Now for dinner...  It was absolutely huge.  We counted 9 plates of food for just the two of us!  We never actually finished it, as if we ate one more mouthfull, we wouldnt of been able to walk!

The next morning I awoke  at 4.45am to the sound of about 100 roosters!  We moved for the kitchen for breakfast.  Not an ordinary breakfast though, as there was yet again an unbelievable amount of food.  Bread, shortbread, some other bread the family makes, fresh orange juice, milk chocolate, coffee, jam, cheese, bananas, popaya, huge omlette and some sweet cake thing they made.  All of this just for us!

The lady had organised a couple of bikes for us to cruise around on for the day.  They shotty breaks and buckled wheels...  Good enough for us! haha.  We hit the road and just kept riding out of town.  We rode through a gap in the mountains that tower over Vinales and kept pushing on.  The scenery quickly became even more jungle than it was already.  Lots of wild palm trees linning the road.  We managed to stupidly build up quite a bit of speed on the down hill, which is not a very good idea when the bike has bugger all breaks and a buckeled wheel, haha.  Soon we were very alone on the road in the middle of the jungle, only to pass villages every now and then.  We had rode a good 20km north west of Vinales.  We kept pushing on riding passed huge round mountains as everytime weŽd pass one, we would see another in the distance and try and reach that.  After 25 - 30km we could see just trees as far as the eye could see, so we turned back.  The ride was long and hot.  I had to take my shirt off as I was sweating soo much.  The wind across my skinny, food deprived (up until now anyhow) body was sweet.  I had lost about a good 8kg due to walking and being unable to eat in Havana.  On the way back we stopped off at this little hutt to have a quick beer and orange juice.  The place was for tourists to take a bot ride through the caves.  We didnt go on it, but Matty bought a chess board that he'd been searching for.  So we sat down and played that.  Our first game ended ina stale mate!  It took an hour and a half, so we hopped back on our bikes with no breaks and headed back through the mountains to Vinales. 

The day was long and tiring so we returned to our Casa de familia.  She was already preparing dinner for us, which was fish.  We sat down at our table to realise that once again there was 9 dishes of food just for us!  We had fish, bean stew, rice, bread, banana, popaya, onions, capsicum and a few other thins I wasnt sure of.  By the end of the meal we had eaten so so much food and were rubbing our full bellies.  Impossible to eat all of it!

In the morning I awoke once again at 4.45 to the sound of bloody Roosters marking their territory!  We got ready and headed outside to see how much a bus was too the beach today.  We met this French couple in which I couldnt pronounce their names.  We all shared a cab driver to the beach Cayo Jutias.  It is a small non touristy beach on the north Caribbean side of Cuba.  The beach has pure white sand, which are so fine and makes the colour of the water such a light blue colour that its almost clear.  It didnt get heaps deep in the water so you could pretty much walk out as far as you wanted.  The setting was even better, as the driver had to go through an hour and a half of off beaten tracks to get to this place.  It was also in the scrub so no developments anywhere near by.  We walked around the place to other sections of the beach broken up by vegetation where no one was at all.  It was great, except for the sunburn we all got on our back and shoulders.  I also beat matty at Chess on the beach (haha!).

In the night I had broken Spanglish conversation with one of the guys that lives here.  It was mind opening as he gave me an insight as to what its like to live in Cuba.  The socialismo (socialist state) that Cuba operates in is interesting.  The kids all get very good and cheap education, along with the health system being one of the best and cheapest in the world.  However the people live far beyond the poverty line.  The average wage is about 10-15 CUC per month (approx 8 - 13 dollars per month).  People have to grow their own food to survive and rely heavily on people like myself that come wondering off the streets for a place to stay.  It takes 4 days work to afford a bus ticket to the closest town.  Even if they some how had money to attempt to leave for a while to get extra cash, they couldnt as the government wont let them.  They have to be invited to leave the country and obtain a passport.  No wonder why so many Cubans have tried to flee to the United States, regardless of their attitude towards the country.  One side of socialism seems very much to be working for the community, however it also renders them stuck in a way of life in which makes it impossible to change.  No wonder why so many of the families here live together in little communities.  They band together to help and improve their situation.  Families here consist of the children, parents and grandparents all under one roof in little square houses, with fruit tree's and animals out the back.  This is great in a way, but also is a must for these people.  I sensed a feel of helplesness and entrapment through the mans eyes as he explained his situation to me.  The government here is segregating the country from the rest of the world that, yes is preserving the traditional way of life as it was 50 years ago, completely absent of any corporations, but is hindering any form of progression and many forms of freedom that many Cubans would long for.  However, regardless of the situation these people have been trapped in, they are unbelievably friendly and loving people that have gone out of their way time and time again to help and accomodate me, to make me feel safe and at home.  I am very appreciative of this and respect them very much.
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