Cuban Countryside: Viñales and Las Terrazas

After our time at the beach in Varadero, we left the larger group and set off with a guide and driver to the countryside.  We arrived in Viñales after a beautiful five hour drive and began exploring the life of rural Cubans.

We stayed at Los Jasmines Hotel, which overlooks the Viñales Valley.  The beautiful views contributed to the quick recovery of my sore throat, for sure. The Valley is the center of Cuba’s tabacco growing culture and has recently transformed into a tourist hub for those seeking outdoor adventures.D1C51618-3002-45E4-B7C7-8DCEFE70C42B We enjoyed several farm to table meals at rustic farms where the fresh veggies were grown on site. FCA080DD-C576-48A8-BF7A-73DAF04D7D81F62F20B2-FC21-4A0E-9573-F9FBC841BB65A80BCC05-28A4-4F94-AB66-C6E77037FC03They kept bringing out plate after plate until there was no room left on the table.

Steve enjoyed the planned hike to the village of Los Acquaticos while I stayed at the hotel and rested.  His 4+ mile trek took him up into the mogotes (limestone monoliths) to meet the 87 year old Sixto, who supposedly is the last person on Earth to know the source of the nearby healing waters. A534104F-842D-4A21-BC66-C84D0A6A2000.jpegThey couldn’t get it out of him, but they enjoyed fresh pressed sugar cane juice and coffee as a reward for the hike.2157D62A-AD82-422D-AB15-72DB47F27FE8B51D0A24-D663-403C-81AF-A5CA3C1BB425

Along the way Steve took in the classic sights of rural Cuba. In many ways it’s still operating like it was 100 years ago. FFFE77F7-C442-45C4-BD23-0C8D2CA8261DC6828573-F127-477C-BA6B-C01FBDBCE5354E0E3D05-2F1F-4089-8747-9C9BB5C5AC1BFDB34A98-894E-4AE7-9F5C-5C5C78EAB5074B928388-D89F-462D-9A6F-491DDC14A451

In the afternoon, after another farmer’s lunch, we visited the Cave of the Indian (Cueva de los Indios).  4B9155BA-034A-4B8B-B7E3-914C851D882E.jpegCompared to other caves we’ve visited this was pretty minor, but the boat ride in the cave set it apart.52F8FF95-7145-47C6-98E6-121458A76197A7FD29EF-BC9A-45A4-A4E3-6334BF0B3D2AFFD7078F-BE3E-4347-9679-BD358DA784DD

Another highlight of our time in Viñales was a visit to Benito Camejo’s tabacco farm. We hung out with farmhand and cigar rolling expert Ismael who taught us how to smoke the cigars we watched him roll. 1959B691-BA71-49A3-B915-40F58FEC564E.jpegWe’re not smokers but didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to smoke a cigar rolled right before our eyes.

Of course it was followed up with some Cuban rum and a walk around the farm to inspect the oxen and the tobacco plants.59CFB64E-5098-47EA-A46E-9B8EBCFA5A18.jpeg

Our private guide Santiago and our professional driver Rafael have taken great care of us and have helped us understand some of the mysteries of this land. 6B30C2C9-9E8D-4117-B7DA-08B934BED417.jpegIt’s always great to have friends along that help you understand the customs and history of a place. These guys were good!!

Our final night in the countryside was spent in the government-developed, sustainable community of Las Terrazas. 18B10CA7-8930-4BB4-A7CD-0DAF14F58F3A.jpegThe idyllic setting was the perfect place to relax and reflect on the many things we have seen and learned on this trip.

While in the area we visited the Baños de San Juan, a riverside park that provides a nice place to cool off (too cool to get in the water while we were here).

We also stopped at Rancho  Curujey, a lakeside picnic area also part of the Las Terrazas complex. 

Finally we toured the ruins of the Buena Vista coffee plantation which was built in 1801 by French refugees from Haiti.

To this day you can see the house of the original owner and the slaves’ quarters.

We saw a lot in three days, considering the sore throat, fever, and then some stomach issues. It’s all part of the travel adventure. Next up, one more night in Havana.

Varadero, Cuba

Our last few days have been spent in the beach resort area of Varadero, at the all-inclusive Iberostar. All inclusive resorts are nice because, well, everything is included. Steve could drink an unlimited amount of rum and food is available 24/7.

It’s kind of like a cruise on land. We even had dinner one night at the Japanese restaurant and learned to make rum drinks.

9F6FBC54-EAFD-477F-90D2-C58018AFF070The cool thing is that we are still on “program” with Marathon Tours which means we have one or two excursions per day available to us that allow us to “support the Cuban people.” This is where the real fun is.

One excursion included a trip into the town of Matanzas which is the location of Cuba‘s oldest baseball stadium Palma de Junco.D51C25EB-278D-4CEC-A076-2575B391A8C4 It’s also home of the newly created Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball is huge here, and we were able to meet a Hall of Famer, Jose Estrada Gonzales, “Pepito” and get our picture taken with him, along with a signed ball.

We watched up-and-coming Cuban baseball stars practice and then got a turn at bat.339BFDAF-E0B4-4B23-9F54-221D1A4F6F84.jpeg10158526-748A-48FD-9ED2-E76E86281B7B0501DC00-D4EF-42D9-A08B-88E1B211D475

From there we did a walking tour of the town and interacted with locals on the way. I always have candy in my purse. Sweets and a smile is a good icebreaker worldwide.

Another excursion was a trip to the Cuban Dance Academy where we watched and then danced with folkloric dancers. 3BE080C7-114C-4C58-B3AF-7D236809AA16
Our time in Varadero was relaxing and rejuvenating after the race but now we are headed into the countryside to explore another slice of this mysterious island.C60130EF-5CAE-4A1F-ABC5-A04DFC40D146

Marabana Marathon & 10K

Steve completed his 11th marathon on the year today under stormy Cuban skies. The Marabana Marathon was a fun one in many ways.CD0AB0A1-D5B9-49C9-8D15-C523DF529B32

We were bracing ourselves for a hot and humid morning of running. C3E08F86-ABB4-4F5C-B044-208C69E04089However we awoke to pouring rain. It cleared up for the start which included runners from the 10K, half marathon, and marathon all starting at the same time. No corrals, no staggered starts, it was just a free for all.724280EE-20A9-4C3C-9B9E-E2FA2D7B5D5A

In the crowd were runners from around the world along with thousands of Cubans. We met people from Mexico, Iceland, France, Colombia, and from all over the USA. DBB83F01-875F-434E-8841-94146EB8B148.jpegYou could usually tell the Cubans from the other runners, however,  as they were wearing flat, Converse-like shoes or something else that looked uncomfortable for running. Shoes, especially running shoes, are hard to come by here. That explains why we were asked for our shoes numerous times during and after the race. We took a few photos of the recipients of our discarded gear.

About 30 minutes into the race it started raining. The beautiful rainbow turned into a torrential downpour that left us soaked from head to toe.

While that may sound awful it was actually a blessing as it kept us cooler. Once the sun came out later in the morning it was pretty steamy.

I finished the 10K before it got too hot and Steve finished the full marathon a few hours later.

We both agreed that running in Cuba was a fun, incredible experience. Between the view from the malecon to the warmth of the people, the entire event was great. Sometimes chaotic and confusing (signage was non-existent) the race was a microcosm of this country.63DBDAAE-9693-4302-AED6-FD21AC402629

We’re off to the beach!!