Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Cuba: The road to Vinales and all the fun of the fair

We drove to Vinales with Frank Sinatra and Adele.  Our taxi driver was partial to both at full volume. He was also partial to swerving to the side of the motorway, screeching to an abrupt halt and declaring that he needed a comfort stop because Vinales was such a long way from Havana. This, part of his campaign to increase the fare we had agreed at the start of the journey, was wearing but some of the alternative modes of transport on the motorway that day made me grateful even for this harum scarum ride.  I was more grateful still when we arrived in Vinales and he accepted his fare and a small tip with good grace.  
Vinales is a small town in the province of Pinar del Rio, about a 2 1/2 to 3 hour journey by motorway from Havana.  It sits at the western end of the island of Cuba in the Cordillera de Guaniguanico mountain range.  The Vinales valley is a Unesco World Heritage Site because of its traditional agriculture and typical landscape which is called 'karst' and looks like this.
By now I had fallen in love with Havana, chaos and all, but still I was looking forward to a quiet, rural retreat for a few days.  I am, unashamedly, a country girl at heart.  Fresh air, lush vegetation and surely there'd be peace and quiet ...
You've guessed it!  We stepped out of the taxi into mayhem, a fair in full swing and at full volume. They don't bother with decibel meters in Cuba!  The noise was alarming!  I confess my heart sank for a few minutes. But I am learning to try to embrace what I find not rue what is lacking (this, I think, is the real nub of 'authentic' travelling).  So we took a look around.
Our jaws dropped as we watched the dragon ride.  A tight grip was the key safety measure.
Everyone was enjoying themselves.  Children were screaming for joy or terror on the rides. Men were buying beer furtively from the blue wagons.
Families had driven in from the surrounding countryside in goat carts to join in.

Taking your little brothers to the fair in a goat cart.  The red can is Cuban cola called TuKola.

We left the excitement behind, made our way past brightly coloured houses all advertising rooms for tourists and found ours on the edge of town, next to tobacco fields of deep ochre where oxen laboured in the fields.  A cool breeze rustled the palm roofs of the tobacco houses and Cuban 'cowboys' galloped across the plains fields.

Would Vinales prove to be everything we'd hoped?  Things were looking much more promising.

To be continued ...

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