The Western Highway was built during the ambitious soviet times. When the soviet union collapsed, all construction stopped. Occasionally, you will see a bridge leading to… nowhere. Spooky. Getting across the country as a local Cuban requires flexibility, creativity, and patience – which Cubans have plenty of! Since there is no convenient transportation system, it’s common to see people gathered by the side of the road waiting for a ride. Lian, our guide, told us stories of getting to class during her college days. There was one bus that left in the morning that would stop by her university. Just one. There were hundreds of students. Hundreds. All heading to the same place and needed to get there at the same time. If you did make it on the bus, it was packed, hot and stinky. So, many students would hitch hike to school. You would have to plan a little extra time, but the ride was less crowded and a lot more comfortable. I thought it was adorable: rather than saying exactly where you are heading, you say something like “are you going straight ahead?” The driver would drive you straight until they needed to turn, then you got out and continued on your way. Wonder if I could get away with that in the US? Doing this in Cuba, by the way, is incredibly safe. Crime is one of the lowest in all of Latin America.
The Western Highway took us to Pinar del Rio, the western-most province of Cuba,where Vinales is. I mentioned earlier that it felt like Jurassic Park meets northern California, well, there was even a giant mural that proved this:
We made a stop by the “slave caves” and learned that during the time of slavery in Cuba, there were some people that were able to escape and hide in these caves. Although remote, isolated and possibly dangerous for them, the caves provided solid shelter in a beautiful setting. Slavery in Cuba was finally abolished in 1886, which resulted in an enormous decrease in sugar production. You will later learn how this impacted a town we visit called Trinidad.
Lunch today was a highlight. Actually, it probably deserves its own post. Our totally organic and super delicious lunch was at Finca Paraiso Argoecologica, the agro-ecological paradise farm. Paradise, indeed!
Fresh vegetables and meats from the farm appeared at our table in the most mouth watering forms. And the dishes just kept coming! Vegetable soup, sweet potatoes, beets, tuna, pork, chicken, green beans, ah, so much more. Finally the best flan I have personally ever tasted.
From lunch we traveled to a tobacco farm and watched as a farmer rolled a cigar for us. Tobacco harvesting is incredibly laborious. The leaves must be picked before sunrise because the plants release a sticky substance that makes harvesting very difficult. Once the leaves are picked they are hung to dry until ready to use. In Cuba, farmers sell 90% of their crops to the state and are allowed to keep 10%. However, many say “90 to the state and 20 for me.” Wink wink.