“Mogotes” are cavernous cone shaped limestone hills that are distinctive of this region. A mere 2 hours drive from La Habana, Vinales offers an infusion of bucolic splendor.
The valley is dotted with Tobacco farms, with their characteristic tent shaped thatched curing structures. Everyone knows that the world’s finest tobacco is Cuban. Our local guide, Ismael, 21 years old and owner of a beautiful blue vintage 1956 Ford, took us to his aunt’s tobacco farm where we could learn something about the tobacco process, from seed to cigar. The economics of the farm were somewhat opaque, but it was clear from discussions with the farmers that there is a significant fudging factor between the supposed 90%/10% share, whereby the State gets to buy 90% of the farm’s output at fixed national rates, while the farmer gets to increase his personal revenue by selling the remaining 10% as a retailer. Closer to reality is a 50/50% split, as the government does not audit production output and maintains an arms length relationship as long as prior year’s quotas are more or less maintained.
We stayed at a high price hotel with an incredible view of the valley ($70/night) for the first couple of nights as a treat and then moved to a lower priced Casa Particular ($25), run by a friend of our driver/guide’s family.
We walked to the one-street city center for day time market as well as evening music and a general buzz of activity.
Live music is a consistent feature and focus, allowing us to discover the rhythms of chacha, rumba, salsa and reggaeton. Much of the Latin music that we have grown to love from life in Nicaragua, we discover originates in Cuba. There is of course a friendly relationship between Nicaragua and Cuba and together with Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, comprise ALBA, a regional collection of economies intent on incarnating the socialist economic philosophy espoused by Che Geverra. We have observed that when we tell people we are from Nicaragua, it opens the door to a different level of conversation than if when we say we are from France and South Africa. For me (Peta) its been especially rewarding having many conversations with Cubans as now I can communicate in Spanish, which is something that previous to our life in Nicaragua I did not have the benefit of.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in Puerto Esperanza, a tiny fishing village near Vinales, where we had the most incredible lobster meal with black beans and yucca at Ismael’s uncle’s house.
He proudly showed off his vegetable garden and Peta quickly requested that the two types of lettuce he was growing, be part of the meal. We had been eating fresh tomatoes from the local market by the bag full, but Peta was on a search for fresh greens. Talk about “live food”, the salad went from ground to plate to mouth within 5mn. A table was set for two, in a room looking out onto the vegetable garden and food was proudly brought and served by both the gardener and his wife, the cook.