Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vinales: Mogotes, Farmers and Street Vendors

I had to escape Habana. Havana is loud and full of life - vendors and touts hustling, cars honking and Habanaros spilling out onto the streets everywhere.  I needed to go some place slower, some place quiet and beautiful - Vinales.  Vinales is in Pinar del Rio, the most westerly province and by all accounts one of the the most beautiful and most visited places in Cuba.   The valley is nothing short of spectacular and I could have happily sat at this roadside cafe overlooking the valley for a long, long time.

Vinales is the name of the valley and the official national park which is in the valley and the name of the village at the junction of the two main roads which intersect at its centre.  (Note that there should be a "~" over the n in "Vinales" but I can't seem to find a way to do that on this keyboard.)
The valley has a remote, lost world look, mainly because of the odd looking "mini mountains" called mogotes which rise up on the valley floor. The odd geographical formations, which look like huge boulders dropped from the sky, were formed by erosion of the mountains in the Jurassic period millions of years ago. The limestone contained in the mountains was eaten away and the what remains today is just a few surviving lumpy hillocks here and there. Suitable for mountain climbing with their sheer drops, but they seem very odd and out of place on the valley floor.

A fellow traveller and I wandered over the valley and checked out all there was to see.   Interesting to see how basic the farms were and an eye opener to see how hard they had to work to eke out a living.  The farm animals (save the chickens)  were all grazing in the fields, each one tethered to the ground with a long rope, looking forlorn and malnourished.  The chickens all were wandering through the planted fields, I guess eating bugs. As there are no predators and the climate warm there is no need for hen houses. The ground was bone dry and there was not much hope of rain until June. These farms are prosperous by Cuban standards, but I wouldn't say that they were very productive.

It was by chance that I arrived during the annual 4 days of Carnival - a festival which might compare to a huge fall fair held in the centre of the town of Vinales. There are about about 1200 permanent residents in the town, 400 of which operate Casa particulares, or in other words rent rooms.  The main street was closed to traffic and served as the fair grounds which was crammed with a great many people.  

At one end they had an area set aside for music and dancing and the music could be heard through the whole valley. The music was constant from noon to the wee hours of the morning. So while I didn't find it particularly quiet the music was a nice change from the noise of Habana.

I will write a longer blog about Vinales, the travellers I met and the Carnival when I get back to Toronto but will leave you with some pictures I took of some street Vendors. 
This is the green grocer - Cuban style.  In Havana there are vegetable markets but the also have street vendors selling everything from soup to nuts, but most commonly produce and bread. 

 This is the panaria or bakery where everyone buys their bread fresh daily. In Havana they also have guys with wagons selling bread and other baked goods from the street.  They roam up and down at the beginning of the day (~7 a.m.) and at the end of the day blowing a whistle and yelling out the name of whatever they have in their cart.  A loaf of bread cost 3 pesos of the national money (vs the convertible pesos) which is about 13 cents.
An interesting take on "street meat" this roast pig was served up In sandwiches over the whole 4 days of the fiesta.  As you can see from the sign, they cost 5 or 10 pesos, depending on size.

The pig sat smiling at passers by as it's innards we're slowly carved out by one of the 4 guys who sat and partied while they made a few bucks selling the pork sandwiches.  At home we would be calling the health department if someone selling to the public had meat sitting out in 30 degrees even for an hour let alone 4 days! 

 There saw lots of street food sitting out in the heat and no one was the least concerned. I declined to sample any of the street food - except the potato fritos which were fresh fried on the street and much like our Vickie's Kettle fried chips.  Delicious - and only 3 cuban pesos! 

I watched with apprehensively as the street vendor guys hooked up some lights for their umbrella.  Once they hung what looked like the innards of a lamp over the spokes of the umbrella which shaded porkie, they just stripped the wires at the end and hooked the bare ends of the wire over the wires from the hydro pole at the point it went into the nearest house!

Here is a close up of the hook up at the edge of the roof.  I guess it works for Christmas lights as well!  LOL.  Interestingly, when we joked about whether the hook up was legal the guy showed us his paperwork giving him permission to connect to the power in this location.  

I returned to Havana on Tuesday in time to witness the bedlam of the Pope's visit and do my last 2 days of Spanish classes. My flight back to Toronto is late Sunday evening and I have just 10 days before I fly out to Spain.  Lots to do!  I am not sure when my next blog will be, or where it will be posted from but stay tuned as I want to write more about my Cuba trip and I hope to find some time in the interval before I set out again.

Hasta luenga me amigos!

Note: I added the pictures to this blog after I returned and added a few more - as I discovered that the pictures I had thought had been uploaded from Havana's wifi did not actually make it into my blog.  


  1. Nice to hear you are back and safe! Never heard of Vinales, but it looks like a wonderful place to visit! How is your spanish?

  2. Thanks for the visit Ronald! I am back and in a whirl wind of getting ready for the next leg of my sabbatical. Vinales is a great place and I for sure would like to go back - I did not get to spend long enough there and there are lots of things I did not get to see. It is beautiful. I could happily sit up on the edge of that valley shown in the picture and look out to the horizon for a long time.

    My spanish is terrible but it is good enough for "tourist spanish" i.e. to get along in Spain. But it was intensive and far too much emphasis on reading and writing and grammar than speaking it. My poor brain! I will write more about it in a future blog, but right now my to do list is as long as my arm!

    Take care my dear friend!