March 8, 2017
After a day of driving from Santa Clara, we finally reached our hotel in Viñales, Rancho San Vicente, at about 6:30 pm, and there were already six tour buses parked outside. After signing in we went to our room, which was a sort of row house in a block of four on the far side of the road. The room was well-appointed but some of the lights weren’t working because they were plugged into bad sockets.
Rather than eating at the hotel, for dinner we walked a short distance along the road to Restaurante La Rosa, a very new-looking place. The meals there were very inexpensive but very tasty, and both of us had piña coladas, which were very good. After dinner we returned to our room to get ready for our day at the beach tomorrow.
March 9, 2017
Going to the beach was something new for us on this trip, but it seems like you can’t go to Cuba without visiting the beach. So we were up early again, so we could get to the ferry before the crowds arrived. We had breakfast, and then we had a few minutes to spare. So we walked down to the little creek next to the hotel grounds, where we watched a pair of Cuban Green Woodpeckers excavating a nest site.
At 8:15 am the bus departed, to take us down to Palma Rubia on the coast. Once there we had about an hour to wait until the ferry left, so we spent the time checking out the fish swimming by the dock and the birds in the nearby fields.
The boat left at 10 am and it took a bit over half an hour to cross the channel to Cayo Levisa, in calm seas with no wind. Upon arrival we were given a welcome drink of watermelon juice and then a brief orientation of where things were. Cayo Levisa was a typical beach resort with bars and restaurants and a white coral beach, so we and Ruth found ourselves a palm-leaf umbrella and three lounge chairs and settled down.
We didn’t do much and there wasn’t much to see, so eventually Rosemary went into the water for a swim with Margaret and Fiona, floating around for quite a while in the warm water. But Ruth and Paul never went into the water. Lunch was at 12:30 pm, the usual Cuban buffet lunch. At least it was included in our tour price.
After lunch the three of us decided to for a walk along the beach, instead of just sitting around. The high tide mark on the beach had a row of shells, at first just scallops but later snail shells as well, and there were several types of crab. After a while we reached the end of the beach, where there was a sign pointing to “Punta Arena”, so we carried on along a path through the mangroves. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, rather than sitting on the beach.
At the point there was a flock of Black-bellied Plovers flying around, and also a group of well-camouflaged Wilson’s Plovers chasing each other around with strange churring calls. There was also a make-shift bar, which actually had a barman who was eager to sell us mojitos and Cuba Libres. We declined those and headed back. The return journey didn’t seem to take very long, which was good because we were getting a bit hot by now.
Rather than sitting on the beach we went to sit in the lounge area near the dock. Here it was cool because a breeze was blowing through it. We still had a while before 5 pm, which was when our ferry was scheduled to leave. The return trip was a bit windier; the two of us got a seat on the upper deck but Ruth was on the lower deck and got soaked by a wave breaking over the boat!
Back at the hotel we had showers (our water was nice and hot) and then the whole group went for dinner. We decided to go to the same place as last night, and tonight we had a buffet-style meal with plates of various foods brought to our table for sharing. We had a good time sitting around chatting and laughing with everyone. Once done we returned to our room to write up our journals before going to bed at 11 pm.
March 10, 2017
Today was the last day of our tour. But we weren’t slacking off, we had another busy day. Right after breakfast we went on our first excursion, a visit to the Cueva del Indio.
It was just a short walk along the road from the hotel; it wasn’t open when we arrived but José had made a deal that our group could go through early. Soon some of the staff arrived, and our local guide took us down into the cave. This cave was a very large one with well-lit walkways which we followed down to an underground river, where we boarded a motorboat to complete our journey.
The boat took us for a short tour of the underground river, with the guide pointing out interesting features like the upside-down champagne bottle. It was a nice little trip.
Then we checked out of the hotel and met at the bus. We were off to Viñales, where we met our local guide and did a walking tour. Here we were in the heart of Cuba’s tobacco industry, where the best cigars come from. Our guide took us through the fields, pointing out various kinds of tobacco plants and explaining the harvesting method. The area is a World Heritage Site, so all harvesting and manufacturing is done traditionally.
We watched the workers harvesting the leaves and hanging them over a wooden pole, which was then hung in a barn-like structure to start the drying process. After leaving the barn we headed over to the farm house to watch the farmer roll dried leaves into cigars. We were given the opportunity to try smoking a cigar too, but let’s just say that neither of us will be taking up cigar smoking!
On the way back we stopped at a bar which specialized in Coco Loco cocktails. It’s made by cutting the top off a fresh coconut and adding rum; it’s not one of the better rum cocktails according to Paul, who tried a lot of them. While we were there we were entertained by their pet hutia, who was named Panchito. He was very cute and seemed very interested in some of our day packs.
After a half-hour stop in Viñales we headed out, stopping for lunch at a roadside café named Balcón del Valle. It had a lovely view over the Viñales valley and the mogotes, the bumpy hills around the valley. The sandwiches were not that bad either. But after that the rest of the afternoon was spent heading back to Havana.