Leaving Havana and heading for the rural setting of Vinales, I was immediately impressed that the colourful vibrancy of Havana had continued into the lush greenery of the Vinales Valley. The landscape changed so suddenly from the dilapidated streetscape to the rolling hills of green, patchworks of tobacco plantations spotted with oxen and cuban cowboys on horseback.
My first stop on the rural escapade was the Mural de la Prehistoria, an enormous colourful mural commissioned by Fidel Castro. Though this mural is hidden slightly from view, it is by no means blending in with the surrounding landscape. The bright colours and sheer size are in complete contrast to the surrounding lush green of the trees. Looking at the mural, it is meant to depict the Cuban evolution, but personally, I'm not getting it. It looks like some thing that my 5 year old nephews created. Just of a bigger scale. And speaking to a number of locals, they are unsure of its story as well.
Confused by my mural encounter, i headed to the Vinales Valley and to a Tobacco plantation. It was here that I met a charismatic cuban Cowboy who showed me how the Cuban Cigar is produced. From seed to 'sealed and delivered', this very labour intensive process explains why the Cigars are the finest in the world. It takes a whole year to produce a Cuban cigar. Hand planting the seeds, selectively harvesting the leaves and hand rolling the exclusive product is all done by the few people on the Ranch.
In Cuba, owners get to keep only 10% of the produce that their plantation yields. Each plantation customise their percentage of the yield by infusing the leaves with different flavours. While this particular ranch infuses their Tobacco leaves with coffee, others in Viñales infuse them with a mixture of Lemon, Coffee and Honey. I'm no smoker, and some may say that I just cowered to peer pressure, but when a Cuban cowboy offers you a cigar that he himself has rolled, you give it a go. I can confidently say that it is the best and only cigar I have ever had.
From here I grabbed a horse and headed for the hills to one if my favourite places in the world...a coffee plantation. I love coffee. A lot. Greeted at the entrance by the owner, he talked me through how the coffee in Cuba is produced. I then got to try the only cup of 100% arabica coffee that I have ever tasted. And it was phenomenal. Tea drinkers would be converted. Yes my English friends, your hearts would defect to the coffee side at the taste of this deliciously sweet drink. Milk free, and sugar free, this drink still tantalised my sweet tooth.
Viñales was a pleasure of a place to visit. The rolling green hills are just a part of it. I don't know if it is just the rural setting, or if the region is just embracing tourism differently, but this area has retained a welcomed sense of purpose, of chivalry to a solo female traveller. It has something that Havana is struggling with, community maybe.