When your horse is called Coco Loco, this cannot be an auspicious start to a three hour horse riding trek.
Many people, few horses – an exclamation from the owner, gives the game away. It goes some way to explaining why I am lumbered with a horse called Coco Loco! Also the name of a local cocktail.
Vinales is packed to the eyeballs with foreigners all wanting an experience of some kind and horse riding is one of the very popular experiences.
The clip clop of horses hooves down the street is in fact a bit of a signature note for Vinales. That along with people sitting in their metal or slatted wooden rocking chairs either out on the porch or up on the flat roof enjoying the cool of the evening.
About a 3 hour bus ride out of Havana, the trip was comfortable, but the day has been hot and we are a little travel weary. That can’t last too long though as the horseback excursion on Coco Loco and Mojito awaits us in the morning.
As a non horse rider, a horse riding trek, no matter how short, is unexpected even for me. Maybe not quite up there with snorkelling with sharks, but it can certainly go on the list.
After about half an hour, my pommel clutching grip starts to loosen and I worry less about having bruised hands from hanging on so tightly.
Red dirt tracks meander around the surrounding farmland where tobacco farms operate, I suspect in this area at least, deriving their income mainly from catering to the tourist experience. The limestone outcrops make for a spectacular backdrop. Birds of prey are prolific in this area and they hover and swoop wherever we are.
The campesino we talked to, a short but striking man, explained that farming is highly regulated and that 90% of his crop had to be sold to the Government.
Part of the horse riding experience is to stop at a little bar on a hill to enjoy a cold drink or a snack and enjoy the live music.
It appears that the vast majority of Vinales residents have long ago forsaken farming to be part of the tourism boom. Street after street is lined with houses offering rooms to rent. There are hundreds of Casas operating here. Even so, last night Vinales was full and people slept in the park.
In spite of the hordes of visitors, it doesn’t feel as bad as it sounds. Reminds me just a little, of experiences in Australia where people might travel for a couple of hours on a Sunday to throng the streets of a popular and picturesque village. Quite different of course, and here it is a daily event. But all of us are here with a common purpose, to participate, eat, drink, enjoy and in general spend a bit of money. Most importantly of all to enjoy Cuba.
Patience is the word in Cuba when it comes to the internet. Bars, restaurants, Casas have all moved a reasonable distance into the 21st century catering for travellers. Etecsa is still grinding along in another bygone century somewhere far away.
We queued for a good hour in the sun waiting to buy a login and password. In Havana, we paid top $ but got a card in seconds. Here in Vinales, you have to explain what you want even though odds are pretty high that every foreigner is after the same thing. The process then involves tediously taking passport details before handing over the goods in exchange for money. It explained why it took a good 5 minutes or more before someone emerged from the door and one more person was allowed to just get inside the building.
As it turned out, the first login I tried did not work, the second barely lasted 30 minutes out of the supposed hour. Woe betide if you only purchased one ticket.
Vinales is super full of tourists and numbers swell even more with day trippers, certainly over this Christmas season at least. While travelling onward as the mood strikes is the way to go in an ideal world, in the busy season booking your Casa well ahead could save some heartache and tears. In spite of that, Vinales offers yet another window onto the diversity that is Cuba and is worth a look if you have time.