Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sleepy Viñales

A small relaxed city of 15 thousand people, 27 km from Pinar Del Rio. Judging by all the big tour-buses that were dropping off their load in the mornings and picking it back up before sundown, it seemed to be a popular day-trip destination for tourists from other nearby cities. It felt that almost every second person in Viñales was a German tourist, you could hear and see them everywhere. And exactly tourists, not travelers: age group 30-50, armed with Lonely Planets, bags around their waists and ice-creams in their hands.

Viñales is a sleepy little town, full of small houses, chickens running wild and awfully skinny, but friendly dogs dozing off in every spot of shade they can find. Local people seem to be taking it super-slow there and are not really bothering themselves to be pushy. Most houses are one storey houses with a little patch of grass in front of them, fully equipped with garden-chairs and flowerpots. The houses are so small and compact, they look like tiny garden shacks, but are in reality surprisingly spacious, with backyards and stuff. They are built in maximum proximity, so not much privacy there. I think about half of the houses in Viñales are casa particulares, market response for big number of visiting tourists i guess.

Viñales is renowned for it's nature - mostly for round-shaped mountains and a lovely countryside. Well, if you're from a big cement city like NY or Frankfurt, this landscape might be breath-taking for you. But i think that for an average Estonian who knows how a real forest looks and feels like, the local landscape is quite unimpressive, except for mountains that is. It's main quality is that it's .. different. In a "dried-into-various-shades-of-brown" sort of way. I liked visiting the cottages of the local farmers though. Real people were living and working there, not museum props. I will post photos & comments of my Viñales country-tour later.

My casa particular was a nice little clean 10-15 m2 euro-renovated room for tourists, but the family was very friendly, the wife an exceptional cook and the husband best bartender in the city. "Lonely Planet" has even recommended the hotel where he works for it's drinks, so needless to say that i was well equipped when it came to mojitos or other cocktails :). In Cuba thrives a referral system - every casa owner knows definitely some other casa owner in the next city/village and you don't have to worry about anything. They will often meet your bus, help you with your luggage etc. And price is previously agreed already, you don't pay an extra 5 or 10 CUCs just for somebody referring you. I guess later between the owners couple of CUCs may exchange hands but your price is still fixed, so it doesn't really concern you. Of course you can search for a casa yourself too and it's quite easy to find one. But in my opinion, with referral system comes a certain "level of security". Due to lack of the internet and other well-established ways to make yourself internationally known, the word of mouth is pretty much the only way for any advertisement at all. And casa owners rely on tourists recommending them further so they are not about to risk that by sending you to a random casa, where your stuff gets stolen or food is terrible.

In one of the evenings there was kind of "Open Mic"- type of event on the main square where different hip-hop and reggaeton artists were taking turns. The concert was quite amusing, mostly in terms of how bad the singing was. The reggaeton guys were actually quite nice, but the rappers were not so good at all. The local gangstas were not really gangstas enough to be believable and them rapping there with dark sunglasses and baggy t-shirts going down until their knees turned more into a stand-up comedy rather than musical experience. I specially liked one guy who seemed to be establishing his very own singing style or kind of a signature and kept screaming in random moments during singing: "Es rap! Rap PURO!" ("It's rap! PURE rap!").

My casa was about 10 minutes walk from the main square and as i was walking home i thanked God that i had not opted for a central city casa. Houses in smaller Cuban cities do not generally have glass-windows, they have kind of super-sized wooden or metallic blinds that you can open and close at your own convenience. So you can imagine yourself about the level of sound isolation. I generally have to sleep with ear-plugs, but that "Rap PURO!" concert would've definitely been present in my dreams.

When i walked one evening around 10 pm on the street, every house seemed to have been lit by a TV. And since Cuba has only couple of national channels and no satellite TV, it was pretty much the same show running in the same time in every house. At that particular moment one soap opera was on (they call them telenovelas) and because most families were obviously watching the same soap and blinds were all open, i could easily follow the dialogues by walking on the street. I even watched one episode of some soap with my casa family one day. That was very nostalgic 50 minutes. I haven't watched any soaps since basic school and soaps are the very shows responsible for the best part of my Spanish vocabulary. They don't teach stuff like "I'm pregnant!" and "Murderer!" in the school.

Buying cucumbers from a vendor-on-wheels

Casa of Lele & Alberto:

Calle 7ma No. 21 e/2da y4ta, Viñales
Tel. (048) 69-66-74

Alberto and Lele

Dinner in the casa

The room looked a bit funny, specially the inside curtain-decoration, but was very clean and comfortable because it also had a fridge and AC. It was a separate little house next to the main house.

Price was 20 CUCs / per night / per room
Dinner 7 CUCs and breakfast 3 CUCs.

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