Vinales Valley – the heart of Cuba
The text below I wrote in Cuba in the evening after spending an incredible day in Viñales Valley. Although in my eyes this valley is heaven on earth, I best remember the hours spent on the tobacco farm.
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 colors to complement and contrast each other. 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 industrialized production of chicken meat to conquer 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 see around banana trees, coffee bushes and pineapple plantations, sugar cane and plenty 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 incredible to me. It looks like freedom, but only at first glance. People live in poverty, have only their beds, common kitchen and shared continuous farm work. They live all together- seven adults and two children. Helping each other helps them to survive because work is hard and constant, and income very few. 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.
We walk around in the small farm. When passing in the hallway, I see the doors to the rooms are open. There is nothing there- only 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. I rush through the kitchen – cast cement sink and top on which are clustered many and varied vegetables and fruits. Old refrigerator draws my attention. And there is nothing else. The dining table is located on the back porch. And this truly makes me envy the owners – the view to the dark green hills in the distance is so beautiful that can take your breath away. The women of the family are gathered in a nearby room and bustle around huge cauldrons. The smell of cooking goes beyond the premises and reach the plantations. Unfortunately, it is too early for lunch. Gander back to the yard and my eyes fall on colored laundry decorating the ropes. Just next is the solar panel.
The owner of the farm leads us to the barn. There are clustered tobacco leaves from the previous harvest, as well as 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, so he takes it away before rolling up the leaves with his rough hands. From this one 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 recognize them because my grandmother cared for her hens in the same way. The small, yellow bodies are still in my mind, and the typical, eloquently cheep of newly hatched chicks I could never forget.
We go out and I inhale the fresh, totally and unthinkably clean air of Viñales Valley. For me, it is the paradise on Earth. Clean, almost untouched of human intervention place in the world where you can remember who you really are. I sit on the porch next to our driver Guillermo on one of the rocking chairs. I want to stay here, at least for a moment, and to bring this moment with me when I get back home. The feeling of freedom, naturalness, and authenticity lies in the sunlit valley, among the domestic animals 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 long ago. And yet, why do I feel so much at home here!?
I smell the ready cigar while Ivan – yes, Ivan explains how in Cuba only the tobacco farmers were allowed to keep their lands after the Cuban revolution. Thus, he is the fourth generation tobacco farmer in his family. The funny thing is that he looks like a Spanish planter, though poor.
If you are planning a trip to Cuba, make sure to visit Viñales Valley. It is one of the still pristine places in Cuba where tourists are much less numerous. Come out of the beaten track and enjoy the simple life of local people. Will feel the return to nature and earth, and will be shaken off the usual bustle of civilization.
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