Part 4: Vinales Valley: Salsa Gone with the Wind - February 12
The Valle de Vinales as seen from Cueva de La Baca, Cuba
We arrived in Vinales, said to be the most beautiful valley in Cuba. After getting off the bus, we crossed the street and sat in the Central Plaza which surprisingly was not named Jose Marti. Once again our Casa had been pre arranged with the Mafia headed by Don Odie Coreleone from back in La Habana. We walked about a kilometer from the Plaza and met Luisa our new hostess. The street she lived on had freshly painted newish housing. It was on dirt road but wasn't dirty.It was populated by people,dogs, cats, chicken, and even a small rambling pig. You could tell this was an agricultural area because of the many horse wagons that were loaded with cane, tobacco and vegetables. Luisa welcomed us into her immaculate house and over a glass of fresh pineapple juice we told her about our trip so far. She was very personable and friendly, easily the warmest of the Casa owners. Later on she made us a wonderful dinner including some wild game which she described as rabbit-like. It was plentiful and tasted a lot like lamb which is one of my all time favorites.
Turkey and sheep in pasture under the limestone cliffs, Vinales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Surrounding the town of Vinales are mogotes which are huge limestone towers that draw a small group of international rock climbers. In the morning we hiked towards a mogote to scout out the climbing scene. Along the way we passed through tobacco fields while walking on a wide muddy trail. Half way to the magote we came across a small refreshment stand. The owner may have been the first cousin of Coconut Oscar in Trinidad. He had a strange looking pet which he was very fond of. It looked like cross between a squirrel and a ferret, with a little koala thrown in. It was only three months old but was the size young fat cat,and by chance it was named Pedro. After asking him what type of animal it was,he said Hutia. I asked him again and got the same answer. David and I did a double take and realized that Pedro's father and most of his uncles were probably last night's dinner. I shrugged, and realized we ate it anyway.
Continuing on towards the cliffs, we passed a field of pineapple and a tropical fruit orchard. An old campesino introduced himself as Raul Reyes and we learned he was the owner of the entire landscape around us. He had a small stand with all of his farm products on a small counter. We drank some mango juice and ate small sweet bananas. We continued on the path across the valley passing beans, sugar cane, a fish pond, and various large farm animals. The trail conditions changed when we arrived at the base of the rock. David went on a short scouting mission to check out the best route on which to continue. After he scrambled over very steep and sharp terrain, we decided to backtrack. We found a path leading to a very long staircase which in turn led to a cave. These concrete steps also suffered from "Derrumbe" and we had to skirt some crumbled sections while going up. I was huffing and puffing when we reached the top and entered the cave. We got out our flashlights and lit up a hundred yards of passage which passed through the mogote and opened on to a sweeping view of a different valley. Cool!
We returned to the top of the staircase and I sat down. In front of us was a 100 foot overhanging limestone cliff with some major stalactites and colored rock. David scrambled up a few boulders to meet some climbers at their staging area. Some friendly young Frenchmen offered David a belay on a top rope up a steep route. He hadn't climbed rock for a while but managed to make it to the top. After he came down, we watched a few of the local Cuban climbers work their way up some really difficult rock face. The group then setup a giant swing for fun in the sun. Everyone that hopped on the ride screamed maniacally as they swung out into free space on a giant 60 foot arc. I'll take the Cyclone at Coney Island, thank you.
Max starting out on a 6b route in the Cueva de La Baca
Max passing the overhanging crux move on a 6b route in Cueva de La Baca
We started down the angled treads then returned to town along the same cart path. Back on the road we had to duck behind a Maquina as a spirited horse and caballero flew by, transports from a bygone era. That night's dinner was an identifiable meat we call chicken or "Pollo" prepared by Luisa, also an excellent cook.
David took off in the morning to join the Frenchies for another day of climbing. I walked around the Plaza and had an interesting conversation with some Danes I met there. The woman was from the Faroe Islands, look it up; talk about remote. Afterwards I went to a botanical garden with very interesting trees and some new flowers. I spent much of my time there trying to dodge heavy downpours. At one point my rain shelter was a huge tree with giant leaves that kept me dry for a while. I waited for the rain to stop for a true half hour and by then I wasn't so dry anymore. I decide what the heck, and walked back to the Casa through sheets of rain, skating on the slick red mud. Meanwhile David was climbing on a partially sheltered cliff, but we both got soaked and hot showers were in order. The hot water from the showers were located in the shower head itself, with some bare copper showing at the connection. I pondered the possibility of electrocution many a time but here I am.
The main path in the Cueva de Los Indios (HDR), Vinales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
In the AM, David hailed a 53 Chevy with an original strait 6 gasoline engine, a true rarity, and we headed off to explore the valley of Vinales. There were stand-alone Mogotes rising from the fields; very different and visually dramatic. Our first stop was the Mural Prehistorico which was purported to be created by a disciple of Diego Rivera. It was immense and painted across a tall rock cliff. I don't believe Diego Rivera was involved in any sense. I think the tutors on this job were Mr. Green Jeans and Capitan Kangaroo with a little help from Elmo as it appeared done by a very young artist, with gigantic crayons. To be fair it was a tremendous undertaking and took many artists 8 years to complete, but even the locals were not enchanted by it. We got back into the maquina and Israel a former helicopter mechanic and our transport for the day, popped it into first using a shifter who's the end of which looked like a giant amber jellybean. We headed north towards Cueva de Los Indio, a limestone cave across the valley floor. It had some stark formations and a boat ride much like the one in Howe Caverns. It didn't have an elevator to return to the top, but had a large opening that dumped us out into another deluge of rain. We huddled under a small thatched roof with a bus load of Germans. Shizen. Israel put several layers of an old newspaper on his head and braved the downpour to pick us up. Back at the Casa we said our goodbyes to Louisa and company and headed to the bus stop. This hopefully will be my last reference to Pizza, but; owning a keen sense of smell David once again followed an aroma to a nearby pizza shop while I watched the bags. He brought back two pizzas one of which was festooned with worm-like shapes made of bologna. Once again, I said it doesn't matter what you put on the pizza, it doesn't make it taste any different,but this pie was too creepy to eat and I believe this was my last Pizza event in country; he ate both of them. We arrived in Habana about five hours later, checked our email and went to sleep at our old Casa. Vinales really was the most beautiful valley we saw in Cuba.
Hasta el ultimo.