March 15, 2017: Vinales, Cuba – A Life in the Valley

It’s tempting just to share photos from today’s hiking and let the pictures speak for themselves.  

The mogotes are stunning, complimented by the rich red soil that’s so good for growing the tobacco that, along with tourism, serves as Vinales Valley’s lifeblood.

I hiked around the valley in the company of a guide, on my own, and with a new friend named Ebrahim  (an American med student, originally from Ghana) for nearly ten hours today.

IMG_5060I visited a tobacco farm.  Like all Cuban tobacco farms, the campesinos are given an annual quota.  The government buys 90% of their crop at a price centrally named.  They keep 10% to sell directly to tourists at a market rate they determine.  That other 90% is folded into the national cigar brands that get exported all over the world so famously.  I smoked my first and likely last cigar this morning.  It was was dipped in honey, which was the best part by far.  Though I’m sure that as far as cigars go, this one was pretty fine.

IMG_5091Aside from the sublime scenery, the best part of the day may have been Ebrahim, who called out a “hello” from down the street, and then was suddenly my friend.  He did the same thing with many Cubans we met, asking with a big grin to take their portraits with his iPhone.  Every single person said yes with maybe an even bigger grin.  He showed each Cuban the result, and each laughed or nodded with approval.  He’s a special guy, it’s clear, but this is also a special place.

IMG_4824I can’t imagine the same thing working in the USA, for example.

I’m glad that there are places in the world where people are just people, and such simple opportunities for friendly interaction are met with friendly enthusiasm.