Most of the group took themselves off for energetic hiking/ cave exploring activities in the Mogotes (limestone monoliths) – but as they all involved a lot of walking and I had absolutely no desire to hop on a horse, I decided to spend my time exploring the town. I’m always more interested in how the locals of any place live – and for me one mountain is much the same as another. Had a pleasant lazy morning at the Casa writing these blogs and sorting out the photos intending to download them quickly at the airport (well that was the plan) …. as that may be my last contact with the internet for a while. Escaped for some indifferent tapas and a cold beer, finally driven out by the continuous wailing of a toddler in the next house and the very loud shouting of older children hanging about in what is, actually, their own back yard.
The Lonely Planet says that virtually every house in Vinales is a tourist Casa – and this appeared to be true. A great number seem to be anticipating an influx in the near future with many buildings being extended front, back or upwards. Vinales does rocking chairs… rocking chairs everywhere, especially on the open porches but also in the living rooms! It seems to represent the laid back attitude of a community where time is not important and everywhere I walked there were people sitting on porches out of the sun just gently rocking to and fro – not doing anything in particular.
I tried to find a locals’ scene, and once again was frustrated. There simply is no ‘shopping town centre’ as we would understand it. Lots of stalls on the streets or on front porches selling touristy items (not as good as Trinidad), but I found only two stalls tucked away selling small amounts of fruit and vegetables. Here in the most fertile valley in the country, there appear to be no domestic vegetable gardens or allotments. Apparently government farms can sell surplus to locals, certainly the food we had at the farm restaurant last night was excellent. A couple of our group visited a tobacco farm on their walk where the farmer said that “90% of his crop was sold to the government, the remaining 20% was his to sell for himself”. I know… you do the maths!
I found the government ration store, the Internet card sales outlet/ hotspot (always painted bright blue) and a ‘general’ store with an eclectic mix of items for sale, but not much choice. Clothes in one corner, shoes in another, fridges over there, lighting in the fourth. No cleaning or cosmetic products, no obvious pharmacy – one of our group whose electric razor died, failed to find a replacement razor anywhere in town. (But such is the helpfulness of the Cuban Casa owners – lo and behold the next day he was once again clean shaven – the owner of the house had scouted round the neighbours to find a new razor for him.) The houses are reasonably well appointed – so where do they purchase things?? Our guide told me that people go to Havana to shop (3 hours drive away) but that national shortages of essentials such as toilet paper are common. A ‘supermarket’ had more bottles of rum than tins of produce on sale.
It’s quite strange to think that under-developed as Ethiopia is – it is easier to obtain the range of products one might need, (even if there is not a lot of choice) and the shops are better supplied. Every street has at least one artisan worker – many making be-spoke objects such as gates in metal, some in wood such as chairs, wardrobes and beds. Tailors with their treadle machines make and mend on every corner in town, and masses of small-holders sell produce direct from the fields. Mekelle town centre is a really bustling place compared to Cuban towns.
After my leisurely exploration – a siesta was essential especially as it is uncomfortably hot and humid. Out again at 6pm to meet the others for a sundowner at the farm/ restaurant we visited last night. Their Pina Coladas are to die for… they make the basics, then simply put a bottle of rum on the table for you to top-up yourself. We were lucky enough to latch onto another group who were having a tour of the gardens. The guide told us that during the ’starvation years’ that Castro permitted some people to apply to obtain government farm land for domestic food production. This restaurant owner was able to obtain an unused sloping piece of land. He terraced it and was so successful that he was allowed more land, he now grows all the produce he needs organically for his award-winning restaurant and sells the surplus to locals.