Travels with V


On underground waters

Las Terrazas and Viñales

From the bus station in Havana we ride on a southbound bus to Viñales in western Cuba. But we’re not going all the way, we hop off at Las Terrazas, an eco-village built on the site of a former coffee plantation. The coffee bushes grew on terraces, hence the name. But the coffee plantation was run with slave labour, and had been deserted for a long time at the time of the revolution. It was a de-forested wasteland and Fidel Castro initiated a re-forestation. Today it’s a lush green oasis.

We stay at the hotel Moka in Las Terrazas. It’s an eco lodge where a tall tree grows right through the floor in the lobby. They also have a cosy bar overlooking a steep hillside. The surroundings are just beautiful.

We join an excursion through the old farmlands, jungle with lizards and birds, among them Cuba’s national bird, the Tocororo. We see the ruins of the coffee factory, now overgrown by jungle, and we end up at the commercial centre of Las Terrazas where hummingbirds dance around a bush with yummy red flowers.

Watch the tocororo do his song and dance number:

But the main tourist attraction in Las Terrazas is probably the 1,6 kilometers long zipline that allows you to soar over and through the jungle canopy, and finally swoosh across a little lake mirroring the sky. I hadn’t tried zipline before, but the feeling of really flying was fantastic!

We really want to take a closer look at Viñales, so one day we go there with a guide and a cab. This is a strange and almost alien landscape of great beauty, and it also has a lot of caves. We enter one and end up in a boat slowly travelling an underground river (!), then we proceed to a tobacco farmer that rolls his own cigars. Raul Castro, Fidels brother made it possible for tobacco growers to earn extra money on tourism by allowing them to sell a portion of their harvest as hand-rolled cigars.

The farmer is an expert cigar maker and anyone willing can try them. I do, and they are absolutely delicious. He tells us of a secret ingredient that is sprayed over the drying tobacco leaves. He won’t give us the details, only that it’s rum and herbs.

How do you make a cigar? Like this:

We’re curious to see some organic farming, which is quite popular in Cuba, and we’re taken to a paladar called Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso. They grow the vegetables they serve on their own lands, as eco-friendly and organic as possible. And in Cuba they have a secret eco weapon. The tobacco. Stems and other waste from the harvest are fermented and used as a very effective insecticide.

We didn’t have enough time to eat at the extremely popular Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, which we regret deeply. The food looked super fresh.

Our guide is a young man who tells us that he works as computer tech, but as computers are among the things that are forbidden to export to Cuba from the US, the equipment at hand is hopelessly out of date. He is no fan of the government and the ruling party, his father was a farmer with big lands, and most of it was confiscated by the revolutionaries. He can never forgive them for this, and he is not afraid to say it.

Here are some more photos from lovely Viñales:

Coming up next: the city that saw the final victory of the revolution. Where Che is buried, and where a train that went off the tracks sixty years ago still lies in shambles.

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