One of my favourite places that I visited in Cuba was the small town of Viñales in the northern part of Pinar del Rio province. To get there from Pinar del Rio city we had to drive through the spectacular Viñales Valley of lush green forest and striking unusual-shaped mountains. The valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site and passing through, it’s easy to see why. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful.
We arrived in the town of Viñales just after an intense thunderstorm and there were huge puddles in the streets where the rainwater had collected, so naturally we set off on a trek through the surrounding countryside. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Viñales mountains, the countryside is filled with crops grown by small farms and we pass fields of corn (in all different colours – red, white, yellow, black…), cassava and banana, as well as lime and guava trees. I watch in amazement as a man passes us by on a sled pulled by two oxen, an effective, traditional mode of transport that nevertheless surprises me as it’s so alien to anything I’ve ever seen outside a museum.
Further along, we come across a small farm holding where three men are making a horseshoe. Having finished shaping the shoe on the blacksmith’s stone, they then proceed to affix it to the horse’s hoof. We carry on to the next farm where an elderly couple offers us mini bananas and guavas, which we happily accept. The mini banana is delicious, similar in taste to a normal-sized banana but sweeter. Next we wander up to a nearby tobacco plantation where one of the farm’s owners offers to show us how to roll a cigar – which he proceeds to do in just two minutes as he takes some dried tobacco leaves, making sure it’s a good blend, and quickly rolls it on the spot. After an hour or so trekking through the countryside we head back to town for supper.
I loved the trek, it offered a fascinating insight into a simpler, traditional way of life that’s largely been lost in Britain but is still very much in existence in Cuba. As a history and anthropology geek, I was enthralled watching the old traditional farming methods in action – the making of the horseshoes by hand, the use of oxen on the farms and the cigar rolling on the tobacco plantation. It added another dimension to the picture I was building of Cuba, its people and its way of life, and I felt very privileged to be able to witness it in action.