I fell in love with Cuba on Day 3.
Cuba is a country in a state of arrested development, still stuck in the 60’s and 70’s. On one hand, it’s sad to see roads and buildings crumbling and their society getting by without all the accoutrements of a capitalistic “First World” economy. However, on the other hand, they are also getting by without the consequences of capitalism: the corruption, the over-development, the greed, the pollution, the fast-pace, the loss of independence. There is something still so pure about Cuba.
After 2 nights in Old Havana, with its decaying colonial charm and history, staying in a guesthouse (or hostel) on Calle Havana, we took the long, bumpy drive west, along the potholed and minimally maintained Autopista Este-Oeste, to Viñales. We were traveling with a group of 16 in a Chinese-built modern 24-seat coach with good shocks and air conditioning, though, so the ride was long but comfortable. On the way, we stopped for a tour and lunch (one of the best meals of the trip) at Las Terrazas, a UNESCO-listed biosphere and reforestation commune project built in the ‘70’s that is quite successful and charming. We were entertained by skilled musicians playing fabulous music as we lunched family-style at our long table on a covered patio overlooking the terraces of the surrounding forest that had been restored after French Colonial decimation.
After a winding climb into mountains, we descended into The Viñales Valley, past farms being tilled with ox-drawn plows, surrounded by the tall, steep-sided limestone hills, known as mogotes, which dot the sprawling valley floor like vegetation-covered bread loaves.
We drove past the main street, which is lined with colorful colonial-era wooden houses, and up 2 blocks to our guesthouses. Disembarking our bus, my love and I were led to our Casa, run by 2 tiny-statured sisters named Maritza and Marina, who yanked my oversized luggage from my grip and led us to our room. Maritza and Marina were smiling and trying their English with us as they showed us around. I responded with the best Spanish I could muster.
All the accommodations on this trip were intimate and personal. We stayed in family homes and our quarters were clean and sweet. Viñales was the sweetest. I felt like I had come into an ideal childhood bedroom, with carved wooden beds with ruffled bed skirts straight out of a 70’s T.V. show. Our bathroom had a hand-held sprayer that was basically a small rubber hose with a nozzle hanging from the ceiling. But you could tell there was a pride in its representation, as clean towels were folded nearby and fresh soap was in the dish.
Looking out the window, occasionally a car would go by: either a 50’s era American or a newer car, which was either Chinese, Russian or Korean.
People were sitting on their porches in rocking chairs, so I, too, joined in on observing the scene. Horse-drawn carts clomped up and down the street ferrying children from school, goods and supplies and workers. A man came around the corner calling out in Spanish whatever he was selling from his bag as he slowly walked up and down the street. Dogs wandered in and out of yards. Children happily kicked a ball around. The world had slowed down.
That night, our group was led down a dirt road to a local organic farm where we sat at another long table on an open patio for another incredible meal and conversation, while our local hosts proudly shared their world with us.
Later, I bought a small painting of the Vinales Valley at the Mercado des Artistes by a local folk artist named Adonis.
I was so touched by the sweetness that I wept.
Maggie Parker has recently moved to Manhattan from Los Angeles and delights in sharing her many years of yoga practice at Naam Yoga, 141 West 72nd Street in Manhattan http://www.naamyoganewyork.com Join her Slow Flow/Restorative class on Tuesdays 5:15-6:15. Please follow my blog!