Valle de Vinales is where the Cuban tobacco farmers create the most famous and fragrant cigars in the world. The region is also known for having one of the most spectacular landscapes of all Caribbean, with rounded shape karsts stones that hide underground galleries and caves.

Just getting outside the lively Havana and traveling to the countryside, it reveals to me a different side of Cuban’s lifestyle. Loads of cultivated fields, mainly with tobacco, taro, or bananas and scattered peasant houses are shaping together a scenic rural landscape. Is not only Havana’s old neighborhoods where time just seems to stop in this country; the Cuban farmers are still using old-fashioned farming methods, especially for growing tobacco.

Cubanese farmer at work. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Cubanese farmer at work. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

In the small and peaceful village of Vinales, I am the guest of Senor Alfredo and his esposa Bertalina, friends of Leo, my bartender from Havana. He recommended me staying with them, even if their house is not a casa particular, meaning there’s no contract with the authorities to host foreigners. But this detail did not concern me, as I had the feeling that, if needed, senor Esteban could come up with the proper explanation for police.

Valle de Vinales from above. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Valle de Vinales from above. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

The next morning, I met Pedro, the guy with the rental horse services. We got ourselves a deal immediately as I noticed his mood for adventure. He took me outside the village and we rode through the surrounding green hills. The silent valley of Vinales, as some people call it, gives you a feeling of peace and serenity that even Milka cows would be jealous of their Cuban sisters.

Cubanese cow taking a rest. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Cubanese cow taking a rest. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

We crossed a large tobacco plantation and at the end of it we arrived at Romeo’s hut. Pedro introduced him to me as one of his friends. But, of course, friendship in Cuba can also mean business partnership and in that case, I was supposed to be their customer. After all, we were in the country of the cigar, where some manufacture it and some have to buy it.

My cubanese cowboys team. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
My cubanese cowboys team. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

I was curious to learn about the sophisticated process of manufacturing cigars so I asked Romeo about it. He talked about the soil preparation, harvesting, fermentation methods and which parts of the tobacco leaf would give a certain quality. He was explaining to me all of these things while in the same time rolling a nice piece of cigar. When this one was done, I tried it. Of course, Romeo’s cigar wasn’t as distinguished as Cohiba, but it certainly had a kind of fresh flavor. And even though it seemed like a good time for business, I only bought two pieces for myself. Even so, Romeo looked satisfied with the deal. He lit up a cigar too.

Romeo himself probar el cigar. Photo by Ovidiu Balak
Romeo himself probar el cigar. Photo by Ovidiu Balak

Later on, Pedro and I went to other parts of the valley and visited some caves. With the heat we had outside it was the perfect moment to cool down a little by swimming in the strange looking pool from the inside of a cave. Then we took the horses and we rode them to see more of the inspiring surroundings. As we got closer to the village, a warm sunset light enveloped the valley of Vinales.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Back in the village, senor Alfredo was waiting for me in the front of his house. After we parked the horses I paid Pedro some 10$ for his good guiding/rental horse services. Inside, senora Bertalina has some company in the kitchen; there’s Ofelia, one of her nieces, who came by to help with dinner preparation.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

So, probably being very excited about hosting a gringo, senora Bertalina arranged me to meet with her niece. She was hoping that a story con amor would emerge between me and the lady. Well, this time at least, it did not.

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