Nestled in the mountains of western Cuba, amongst the soaring cliff faces and tobacco fields, is the bucolic valley hamlet of Viñales. With the exception of the tourists, life is much the same as it has always been, with men working the fields with the combined power of brawn, determination, and draft animals.
The town has embraced tourism and healthfully merged the old ways with the new. The main town square hosts music and dancing and peddlers hawk their crafts and tours. The restaurants offer quality local food at reasonable prices. (We had probably our best meal in all of Cuba here.) A hop-on/hop-off tour bus plies its way throughout the valley, past the numerous caves, underground rivers, tobacco plantations, and valley view points, all arranged nicely for your touring pleasure
500 years ago during the Spanish colonization of Cuba, flush with the wealth of the sugar trade, the town of Trinidad was formed along the southern Caribbean coast. The anniversary party was just getting ramped up as we rolled into town, a celebration of food and music that would last an entire week. A week long food and music festival in Cuba? Yes please
One of the advertising slogans for Cuba tourism effectively translates as “Where the past and present live together.” This is definitely true of Trinidad, a quaint little town laid out around a main church and public square in Spanish colonial fashion. The narrow dirt and cobblestone streets are shared by a few cars, many bicycles, and horse drawn carriages. 1959 is part of the present, right?
The town center is very well preserved, as tourism is Trinidad’s main source of income. Waking across town takes just a few moments, and you can see the walls and roadways steadily return closer to nature as you approach the adjacent trees and farmland that spread out towards the surrounding mountains
Greenery stretches as far as the eye can see in all directions toward the striking blue of the Caribbean as we descend towards the runway below. Small stone and wire fences cross the landscape until they reach the few narrow roadways. We’d arrived at what appeared to be an idyllic little farming village
We are greeted at immigration by stern faces and raised eyebrows. Winnie passes through without issue, while I get the rubber glove treatment. 3 interviews later we step out into the morning sun and humidity. The first interviewer was very friendly, even complimenting me on my Spanish. The other two were obviously just going through the motions
There are 3 different money exchange booths. We enter the one without a line, and the staff of 4 informs us that they aren’t open for business. Another money exchange booth ignores us completely. We go to the back of the line of 30 people and wait for the 2 cashiers to do us the honor of converting our funds into the local tourist currency, in between cleaning their fingernails and extended conversations with their friends.