Next day we woke up after 2 hours nap to catch a morning bus to Vinales. Arriving at the bus station 40 min before the buses scheduled departure, we got stuck in a queue to buy tickets for our touristy expensive bus waiting for locals to buy tickets for their locals bus. By the time we reached the cashier, she spontaneously stood up and went away to solve another passenger’s problem. 20 min until bus…15…10 min…She returns just to let us know that there are no more seats on the bus…Very rudely. What a b…! Never mind, we went out of the station, found two germans and caught a taxi for 2 cuc more and got there at least an hour before our full bus got there, which gave us more time and opportunities to shop around for a casa. Our casa in Vinales cost us 20 cuc per night for a room. The cassa owner would advertise it as a very friendly place with a pool, where you cn relax in hot weather. Sure thing you can, but it doesn’t mean the pool will save you from the heat, since there is no water in it. Eventually the pool would get filled with dodgy soapy non transparent water. Not very inviting. Anyhow, we didn’t have much time for a leisurely sit in a pool, because beautiful Vinales waited to be explored.
On the day of arrival we didn’t do much, because we were pretty tired after a pretty active previous night. So we strolled up and down the main street, checking out local peso pizzas, local people and other casas for comparison. Nothing exciting, except for an enormous amount of rocking chairs that Vinales town posseses and an enormous amount of tourists. The pizzas turned out quite bad and Vinales didn’t offer any cheaper or better casas.
Next day, after a proper 10 hour sleep in we started our hike late. Trying to find a 16km track that has been described in the latest Lonely Planet, we went up to a fancy hotel up the hill with a nice pool and brilliant views over the valley. There we found out that the track used to start there, but not anymore and that of course it is better to go with a guide. Not sure for what reason- just better. Lonely Planet for Cuba in terms of giving good advice for an independent traveler has been really disappointing. We went back into town and started from there on our own. With some help of a rather useless LP map of the area and with the help of friendly locals we managed to find our way through tobacco farms, dry orange dusty roads and paddocks to two caves, both of them mentioned in LP.
First was just a tourist rip of, where we didn’t even bother to go in. Next cave was about 5 km more up the road. By the time we made it there it was some time past five and the cave was closed for visitors. Nevertheless for a small fee workers are quite happy to let you in to see the whole cave by yourself without 100’s of tourists that come here daily. Lovely. We did miss out on the boat ride, which turns out to be a 2 min ride anyway. We were thinking over pina colada in a nearby bar how to get back home, because it started to get late and then..sie Germans, of course, saved us again. This time a couple of them had a rental car and they were happy to give us a ride into the town.
Evening went by quick with a good chat and rum with our room neighbours. Next day we took off earlier in the morning to explore the remaining part of the national park (judging by LP map) towards Dos Hermanos campismo and Los Aquaticos. It was a nice start to the day. Clear skies, not too hot in the morning, amazing colours and friendly locals, who spoke spanish so quick and with a specific accent that we just smiled and nodded in response.
On the way to campismo we found a pina farm, horses, turkeys and other bits. Campismo looked quite decent and I would probably prefer to stay here right in the national park in a private cabin for half the price. Next time. From Dos Hermanas we continued on to Los Aquaticos.
As already mentioned, LP map is totally useless, so only with help of locals we got to a village that we thought probably is Los Aquaticos. By the legend, Los Aquaticos were people who discovered the healing abilities of the local underground water, that comes up through caves in surrounding mogotes. Since about 10 years no one is left in the village who is still practicing medicinal water drinking, because the last true Aquatico died- maybe the water wasn’t that healing after all?… The guy who we met on the way proposed to take us to the cave and swim in the healing waters instead. We did that and it was the greatest experience in Vinales. The cave is 26m deep and 4km long. After descending 5 or 6 meters down, our guide pulled out some previously prepared bottles filled with kerosine, lit them up and down we went. Nice and spooky. Eventually the track would stop and continue through a corridor filled with water. We jumped in our swim wear and continued on until we reached a wide opening with pool. Apparently in raining season the corridors are filled with twice as much water, which makes it impossible to walk. Also gushing water brings in a lot of logs and pieces of wood, which makes it tricky to walk through the cave. To go all the way through the cave and get out on the other side it is necessary to have scuba diving equipment. We didn’t have it, but were pretty happy with the experience of swimming in total darkness 26 m below the ground, in a still and silent cave.
We went back, tipped our guide, his wife showed us junta (I think that’s how it is called)- a local animal that they hunt with the help of little dogs and started our way back. After 10 or so minutes walking I realised that I had left my watch in the cave at the very bottom. Back we went. Now I think I can be a tour guide, because I know where the cave is and where the kerosine bottles are. This is the best of all three caves that we have seen in Vinales. It’s name is Cuave de Palamerito.
The rest of the pictures are here.