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Travel Adventure - Backpacking Latin America's Gringo Trail Backpacking Latin America starting in Cuba, then travelling from East to the west coast of Mexico before making our through Central and finishing in South America.

Touring the tobacco farms of Vinales and 'the taxi ride from hell' to Trinidad

CUBA | Friday, 19 June 2015 | Views [507]


The man was holding up a piece of paper with our names Sheree, Matthew James, Australia  written on it when we pulled up to the bus stop. We walked along the neighbourhood to the house where Kary welcomed us. We were now used to having conversations in Spanish even though we only knew 'poco' words. They spoke Spanish to us with only a few English words and we spoke English back with minimal Spanish words. Their house was beautiful, colourful and spacious compared to the apartment in Havana. We even had our own granny flat room out the back. They made us a Mojito each and we sipped them as the storm clouds rolled over and we sat on their rooftop on rocking chairs! 
Kary made us an amazing home cooked dinner and catered to my vegetarian diet very well! There was lots of dishes of soup, vegetables, fruit, arroz/rice, queso/cheese tortillas and Matt said his pescado/fish was one of the best he's eaten. 
We walked around the neighbourhood which had colourful houses and scenic mountains and farms surrounding. It was beautiful with much more room to breathe and relax than the hustle of Havana. 
We did a day tour of the farms where they grow tobacco and make cigars. There was also lots of fruits they harvest. The farmer made us a cocktail of fresh coconuts and used the coconut water, squeezed pineapple juice, lime, honey and rum. It was delicious and fresh. Then he gave us each a cigar to smoke and showed us how they harvest the tobacco and make the cigars with the leaves. We walked through the valley which was very scenic and went walking through a dark cave which we had to carry torches to see where we were going. At the end after about a 5minute walk was a natural swimming pool we could swim in. That was pretty cool.
The next morning our taxi that we organised pulled up to our Casa to go to Trinidad. It was slightly cheaper than the bus and would drop us from door to door. We asked if it had air con and the reply was yes. One of the old 1950s American cars pulled up, it was black and I thought that was pretty cool and I knew Matt wanted to ride in one too (so far our taxis had been the old small cars). Once we got in we realised how old they were inside, eg. no handles to wind up and down the windows and no air con! Another Irish couple were also getting a ride from Vinales to Trinidad too and were on their honeymoon.  They were unimpressed and were told by the guy they were going to be in an air conditioned mini bus and were paying more than the bus! We realised that this guy would just say anything to get our money and we asked for another car with air con. When no other car could be found and the Cuban driver with a round hat fiddled under the bonnet to get some sort of air going, the guy reduced the price and we really had no other choice but to endure the predicted 6 hour car ride and 4 hour ride told to Etha and Allen. In the humidity with warm air blowing on us and not making us one bit cooler we chatted to the couple and found out about their honeymoon from hell, with Cuba being far from what they expected, comparing our daily activities and experiences of Cuba and asking questions about each others home towns. 
For most of the ride it seemed as though the car we were in was about to break down on the side of the road as we had seen many cars had throughout our travels. We pulled over to the side of the road where there was a small market of people selling food. The driver didn't know any English or us much Spanish and when we asked what was happening we didn't get much of a response and assumed that our car had broken down and that we needed to change cars to make the rest of the journey. We waited in the heat, the markets didn't sell any water and we didn't really know what was happening because we couldn't communicate with our driver who was happily eating his sandwich and was casual about making any phone calls. Soon another car full of tourists pulled up beside us and we realised we weren't alone in whatever the situation was, although these people didn't seemed phased with what was happening and each had a beer in their hands. They were told that they would need to swap cars along the journey and one of the tourists from the other car who could speak Spanish asked our driver and said the same thing would be happening with us... they could have informed us of that to begin with! At least we weren't the only ones in the same boat.
So after the car full of tourists drove off straight away in their next vehicle we waited about half an hour until ours arrived, praying this one had air con.
It didn't. The car was a Peugeot, even smaller than the last and the guy had a worried expression on his face the whole time... what kind of scam had we gotten ourselves in to? His car had a muffler and deafened my ears as he changed gears and we told him to turn down his blaring base DJ music. At one point when most of us were asleep, Matt yelled at him to wake up as he didn't open his eyes after a few extended blinks. Luckily Matt was aware otherwise he would have fallen asleep at the wheel and god knows what would have happened. After another change of cars, arguing about how much we owed each driver  and about 8 hours on the road we finally arrived in Trinidad. I never felt unsafe but it was the whole not knowing and telling us one thing and another actually happening that made the long, hot ride very frustrating. We all went straight to the bar and ordered 4 well needed Mojitos! 
I was glad we had another couple to share in 'the taxi ride from hell', that we could laugh about later and we had a good first night in Trinidad, ordering a few more Mojitos and having a nice dinner with our newly formed friends. 
I liked the nightlife in Trinidad, everyone gathered around a central square which had a few restaurants, bars, a window selling 'the best Mojitos in town' for only 2 CUC and an outdoor patio at the top of stone steps with a band playing and people dancing the salsa. There were lots of tourists and most people were just sitting and hanging about on the steps. The Irish couple ran in to a lovely Mexican couple they had met in Havana. I was feeling drunk off my first Mojito and we ordered more from the little window and hung about on the steps chatting along with everyone else.
The next day the head cold I could feel coming on the day before had hit.  We walked around Trinidad which seemed like a more quiet and even older than Havana! I think its actually the first established town in Cuba. The roads were all uneven cobbled streets and the houses were all still beautifully coloured but a single residents, like a neighbourhood instead of tall buildings with multiple houses within one like in Havana. The humidity was quite unbearable that day, I think being sick made it worse so we just wanted to rest. We went to a tourist desk to ask how much it was to go to a nearby waterfall as Matt and I were both craving the water or something to swim in. Usually if it was this hot in Cronulla, we'd be at the beach but so far we'd only been walking around cities and towns. It cost about $60 each to go but decided against paying that much money when we were going to Varedero  the next day with is right on the Caribbean Sea and knowing we'd be seeing lots more beautiful waterfalls along other parts of our trip. So instead we booked our taxi (bargained him down 5 CUC with our pathetic Spanish, I think he just gave it to us while he laughed at our attempt to say forty five - we've only really mastered the numbers 1-10 so far) and spent the rest of the afternoon in the air conditioning of our room in the Casa.
The Casa we were staying at was really nice with a large courtyard out the back. The owner Luci was very nice and helpful even though again she could only speak Spanish and us English. She cooked us dinner at the Casa that night and it was unbelievably delicious and so much food for only about $13 for each of us. With entree of a creamy potato soup (which was amazing), Matt had lobster for main and there was rice, vegetables etc to go with it and she even finished off with a arroz de leche - rice pudding (practising Spanish on Duolingo before we left had come in handy for some things).
We were going to meet Etha and Allen out for a drink afterwards but didn't end up seeing them. Matt and I went to the salsa dancing at the top of the stairs which we saw was happening the night before. It was 1CUC for entry and I was keen to dance. We ordered drinks and the band started playing and slowly people started getting up to dance. There were a few locals who would pick girls to dance (it kind of felt like I was at a school dance waiting to be asked by a boy haha). Matt was getting bored and I unfortunately never got asked to dance :( so we went home. Maybe when we get to Argentina, which is known for their salsa dancing, it might be a different story :) 

Tags: casa, cigars, countryside, cuba, farms, fruit, taxis, tobacco, trinidad, vinales



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