Sitting down before bed, Ty and I realised that we were over budget on our Cuba trip so far, without even trying. Our expensive beach trip the day before certainly haddnt helped matters but we needed to start being more careful with our spending as we only had a certain amount of Mexican peso's with us, and we werent sure whether or not our British cards would work to withdraw more cash, as ATMs are notoriously temperamental in Cuba. 

Declining Isabella's offer of breakfast the following morning we headed into town to try and find something cheaper. Unfortunately the place we had had omelettes the previous day wasn't open yet and we ended up spending pretty much the same amount we would have at the casa, but got less food. Ah well. 

After organising a mini-van to take us and our new Danish friends to Trinidad we set off in search of the local hop on, hop off bus to explore the Vinalian countryside. Unfortunately, things in Cuba are very rarely still as the guidebook says and the bus had not been in operation for several months. A local taxi driver came up and offered to take us around to all the places for the same price as the bus. After being cheated yesterday Ty, Kylie and I all quadruple checked the price before agreeing to it. Daniel, our driver, was lovely and took us all over the Valley. 
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Ty inside the cave
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At the cave exit
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Mural de la Prehistoria
The Valle de Vinales is the agriculture and tobacco heartland of Cuba and was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. Our first stop was Cueva del Indio, a large limestone cave which the local indigenous people (the Guanahatabey) used as a cemetary and a refuge during the Spanish Conquest. Climbing the stairs into the cave, we then followed a contorted limestone tunnel through to an underground lake, where we took a boat trip, coming out at another entrance. The water was pretty murky from the rain yesterday but the stalagmites and stalactites were really impressive. Next stop was another of the Indian caves 'El Palenque de los Cimarrones'. 

We had heard that there was a prehistoric painting on the face of one of the massive limestone outcrops which we were quite excited to see. Arriving there however, we were suprised to see that the Mural de la Prehistoria is not the cave drawings we were expecting, but a enormous garish painting which was commissioned by Castro in the 1960s to portray the emergence of the socialist man from the primal wilderness. One of Diego de Riviera (the famous Mexican artist)'s students was chosen for the commission and he directed dozens of local painters. Its pretty awful, but is apparently regularly touched by artists dangling precariously from the cliff top.

Driving through many small holding tobacco farms, Daniel then took us up to 'Mirador Los Jazmines' - a really ugly hotel with an amazing view across the Valley. The weather was still in a bit of a funk from yesterday and it was really windy up there so after taking photographs we didn't linger too long. The Valley is dominated by flat topped mountains ('mogotes') that protrude sheer from the fields on the valley floor. They are mounds of hard limestone which was left behind when the softer limestone around them eroded over the millenniums  and today covered in forest they have the air of overgrown ruins. 

Heading back towards town we stopped at a local tobacco plantation where we were shown the leaves drying the the hut, ready to be sent to the factories in the larger towns for the 2nd fermentation process before being made into the cigars that Cuba is famous for.
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Valle de Vinales
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Oxen are a common site
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Farmer tending to his tobacco crop
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Plowing the fields
Back in town we stopped at what was becoming our favourite little restaurant. Unfortunately the usual chef must have had the day off as the food was awful. Ty and Kylie ordered burgers which had to be sent back 3 times as the patty wasn't cooked, and despite Carolina and I asking for ham and cheese omelettes they came out without the cheese. We were hungry and decided not to say anything but we should have, as when the bill came they charged us for the cheese and would not believe us that they had come without. Ty and Kylie both ended up eating their burgers without the patty and feeling completely unsatisfied popped to the local hole in the wall pizza guy - which was also bad! Today is just not a good food day!

Deciding that the only thing which would make it better, and cool us down, we all bought tubs of icecream and sat on the steps of the Plaza to people watch. Carolina was still not feeling very well so she headed back to the casa for a sleep and the rest of us went for a walk through the Valley. The rich red soil makes for excellent growing conditions  for planting tobacco, corn, maize, bananas, pineapples and sugar cane. During the time known in Cuba as the 'Special Period', the country was plagued by economic crisis and the government demanded a lot of sacrifices from the people. Energy consumption was to be drastically reduced and oxen replaced tractos in the fields. Despite the 'Special Period' having come to an end in 2005 farmers are still plowing the fields using oxen. We were greeted at one point on the track by a lovely old man with a toothless grin who invited us for coffee. Although we declined it was generous of him to offer.

After a siesta in the cool of our casas we headed back into town to meet up with Janne and Trygge for dinner. After our miserable food attempts during the day we were holding out much hope but our meal was absolutely delicious! With the menu inspired by Spanish and Italian cuisine we feasted on paella, succulent lamb, and wild duck and all of us decided that based on our main courses we had to have desert!

Next stop: Trinidad
 





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