I’ve been in Cuba for two weeks now and have quickly fallen in love with Havana. Los habañeros are very outgoing and kind. The city itself is incredibly gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing. As much as I love the city, I really wanted to explore a rural region of Cuba and what it had to offer, so I along with the others in my study abroad group planned an excursion to Los Viñales, a valley in Pinar del Río known for its agricultural plantations. We coordinated a trip to ride horses through one of the plantations, as well as swim in a nearby lake.
Yesterday, my friends and I left Vedado at 7:30am for a two and a half taxi ride to Los Viñales. As we drove through the countryside, I imagined all of the historic events that could have happened over a hundred years ago while the Cubans were fighting for their independence. Learning about the multiple independence wars in my US-Cuban Relations class inspired these daydreams.
We arrived in an area with lush green mountains and field that went on for miles. We stopped at a hotel close to the plantation to use the bathroom and take pictures of the mountains. Fifteen minutes later, we drive to a ranch where two cowboys meet us to introduce themselves and bring us to the horses.
Before I left for Cuba, I knew that I wanted to ride a horse here. But as someone who is afraid of heights, I also knew that it would be an emotional challenge to overcome the fear of potentially falling off the horse. I set my anxieties aside and trusted that my horse, Chocolàte, would not let me down.
We rode for about 45 minutes through the potato and cornfields on a trail that led us to the center of the plantation where the farmers show tourists the tobacco and coffee crops. One of the cowboys that rode with us took the group to a hut where the tobacco leaves dry before they can be used to make cigars, explaining the process of harvesting the plant.
Shortly after, a farmer went into more detail about the tobacco harvest and making cigars. In Viñales, the farmers produce crops without the use of any chemicals since the area is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Center. Their cigars are also made without the use of preservatives, unlike the ones made by Cuban production companies.
Another farmer explained the coffee harvest and making honey, entirely in Spanish (and I understood everything!). The demonstrations were very fascinating and the farmers were very personable. I even bought some delicious honey to take back to the States. After relaxing and taking more pictures for 20 minutes, we rode again for half an hour to a see El Mural de Prehistoria, a mountain that has a mural representing native Cubans.
The horse ride got muddy because we passed through a small pond. We were supposed to hike to a lake close by, but the rainfall in the past week made the altitude too high for us to swim in, so we decided to go back to Havana.
Although the trip was cut short, I still enjoyed my excursion and visiting the valley!