Wednesday, 3 June 2015
Hotel Los Jazmines is located on the outskirts of Viñales, about 4 km along the road back to Pinar del Rio. On Wednesday we planned to walk there in order to re-capture some of the views we had glimpsed on the bus into town.
The roadside was a bit boggy but the weather was not too hot, and the views back down the valley grew more stunning as we progressed. There was sometimes little room next to the winding road, and there were frequent buses, trucks, and taxis so we had to be careful.
When we reached the top of the hill, there was a lookout and information centre with lovely views back down the valley. We tried to read the displays but were subject to an intrusive sales pitch for tours that we had already sampled. So we shifted around the corner to El Balcón Del Valle, a small paladar with tables on wooden platforms that jut out precariously over the edge of a drop, affording sweeping views of the valley. We stopped for a cool drink. It was a charming spot, and we were the only tourists there, which was a surprising bonus.
After an enjoyable rest we walked the last few hundred metres to the hotel, which had a covered patio with stunning views. There were tourist trinkets on sale, but nothing tempting save a cookbook with some recipes that we were keen to learn. We had no more room for books in our diminutive packs, however.
Before long, the weather started to look threatening so we started our descent back along the winding road into the valley. We had almost made it back to the Etecsa office when the heavens opened and the footpath turned into a muddy stream. We sheltered in the entrance of a small house. On closer inspection we noticed a wet pile of discarded cardboard off-cuts, and surmised that the house was in fact a workshop for disabled people who made the bases that were used to serve the peso pizzas we had sampled on the main street a day or so before.
During a lull in the storm we ran along the last few blocks into town. We made a bee-line for the tapas bar and shared a prime spot on the veranda with a German man called Marco who struck up a conversation with us. He ran a business that organised tours in Cuba. He said he was surprised to find that we were still smiling after five weeks on a self-organised tour in Cuba. We talked about some of the highlights of our trip, and he offered us some useful tips about what to do when we returned to Havana.
When we returned to the casa, our host, Midalys, had prepared lobster for dinner, but she had not heeded what we had said about serving sizes. We managed to finish most of the lobster between us, but several side dishes went untouched.
After dinner we went out to hear some music, but we chose a different venue on the main street. There was a band with double bass, percussion, guitars, and flute, and they played traditional Cuban music on acoustic instruments. There were few people at the venue, and the band seemed to be discouraged by this. We bought a CD to cheer them up. Some local dancers went through a salsa routine in one of the breaks, and they then invited us up to dance. Susie went first, and she did very well. It was impossible for me to avoid a spell on the floor with the female dancer. I did my best to follow the basic steps.
The band packed up early so we made our way home well before midnight. Shortly afterwards we went to bed, but we were soon woken by the sound of a surprise party on the patio outside our room. Some of Midalys’s family and friends and neighbours had arrived with a cake, a guitar, some drinks, and high spirits. Midalys knocked on our door and invited us to join them.
We sat out on the patio enjoying the festivities for a while, sipping a sweet rum liqueur that was mixed with cola. There was also an ostentatious sponge cake laced with bright blue cream.
A young man played a song he composed on his guitar. I was invited to play, so I sang a couple of verses of one of my own songs which seemed to be received well except by one muchacha who stuck her fingers in her ears.