This text I wrote in Cuba in the evening after spending a day in Viñales Valley. Although in my eyes this valley is heaven on earth, I best remember the hours spent on the tobacco farm. (NOTE: I was in Cuba in 2015, since then, many things might have changed.)
Viñales Valley is the most fertile area of Cuba and you can see that in the abundant greenery that surrounds you like a sea. Tobacco fields are spread out among the karst hills as a work of art – beautiful, large, bright green leaves on the background of orange fine soil. It looks like the artist especially has chosen these two colours to complement and contrast each other.
Vinales Valley – the Heart of Cuba
In Vinales Cuba, these fields are proof of the hard work of Cuban people and their love for the land and nature. Here chickens still have that forgotten taste that they had before the industrialised production conquered our table. Hens of any type and size are strolling around us and the domestic black pig is tied in the shade of a large tree.
We are surrounded by banana trees, coffee bushes and pineapple plantations, sugar cane and many other fruit trees of which I even don’t know the names. We pick fruits directly from the trees and try their unfamiliar taste. This life seems so incredibly simple to me. It looks like freedom, but only at first glance. People live in poverty, have only their beds, common kitchen and shared farm work. They live all together – seven adults and two children. Helping each other helps them survive – work is hard and constant, and income very small.
Yet these same people welcome us with a smile, spend time to answer our endless, perhaps trivial, questions, and without haste make us feel welcomed on the other side of the world.
A Glance to the Cuban Households’ Intimate Life
We walk around the small farmhouse. And I feel like an intruder that has been given a chance to peek into the intimate life of this family.
When passing in the hallway, the doors to the rooms are open. There is nothing there – only a bed and bedside tables. No dressing, wardrobes and even chairs. No luxury. There is no space for it, space is limited. Along the wall, in the hallway, are arranged rocking chairs. The same that we find everywhere in Cuba and are made of solid, dark wood. Usually, chairs rest on the house porches but here even this is a luxury.
What Bad Luck! It’s too early for Lunch!
I rush through the kitchen – cast cement sink and top covered with different vegetables and fruits. Old refrigerator draws my attention. But there is nothing else. The dining table is on the back porch. Despite their poverty, I envy the owners – the view to the dark green hills in the distance takes my breath away.
The women of the family are gathered in a nearby room. There is a bustle around two huge cauldrons. The smell of cooking goes beyond the walls and reaches the plantations. Unfortunately, it is too early for lunch. Going back to the yard and my eyes fall on coloured laundry decorating the ropes. Just next is the solar panel.
Sharing the Tobacco Secrets
The farm owner leads us to the barn. There are clustered tobacco leaves from the previous harvest. Also, everything needed for the processing and drying them. The host sits on a small wooden chair to show us how to make cigars. Explains to us that most of the nicotine is in the midrib of the leaf. He takes it away before rolling up the leaves with his rough hands. From this a person can die, he adds, holding the thin, seemingly harmless midrib of tobacco leaf in his hands. He looks at me in the eyes and winks.
I hear a slight squeaking in the barn. In one corner, under the sheets are squeezed chicks. I can’t see them but recognise their little voices. My grandmother cared for hers in the same way. The small yellow bodies and the eloquent squeaking of newly hatched chicks are things I could never forget.
Vinales Cuba – Nature in Its Purest Best
We go out and I inhale the fresh, totally and unthinkably clean air of Viñales Valley. To me, it is the paradise on Earth.
Clean, almost untouched of human intervention place. Almost no signs of civilisation to alter your perceptions of who you are, should be or are not. No rules to follow and no influences to bear. Not for a short time visitors anyway. I’m not naive, only a dreamer.
I sit on the porch on one of the rocking chairs, next to our driver Guillermo. I want to stay here, at least for a moment. And I want to bring this moment with me back home.
Hard to Say Goodbye to the Sunlit Valley of Vinales Cuba
The feeling of freedom, naturalness, and authenticity lies in the sunlit valley – among domestic animals resting in the shadows and the green leaves of tobacco. I want to stay. But I have to go.
Increasingly, I think I could live in this country. But I wonder – will I have the courage to live a simple, so poor life? Hardly. Capitalism spoiled me a long time ago. And yet, why do I feel so much at home here!?
I smell the tobacco of the cigar Ivan just rolled. He explains that only the tobacco farmers were allowed to keep their lands after the Cuban revolution. Ivan is the fourth generation tobacco farmer in his family. The funny thing about him is that he has a Russian name but looks like a Spanish plantation owner.
If you are planning a trip to Cuba, make sure to visit Viñales Valley. Come out of the beaten track and enjoy the simple life of the local people.
SHARE THIS ON PINTEREST