Today we had a very interesting trip traveling by bus west from Havana to the province of Pinar del Rio. In the town of the same name, we visited a facility known as Amor y Esperanza (Love and Hope), where local children are encouraged to express themselves through art. Many of us purchased original artwork at very reasonable prices. We donated several bags of various items, then paid a visit to the Guayabita Rum Factory. After that we stopped at Vegueros Tobacco Farm and learned about the production of some of the world’s best cigars.
We continued on up into the mountains of Viñales National Park, sometimes referred to as “Cuba’s Yosemite Valley.” The valley floor was flat, with vertical cliffs jutting vertically into the clouds. (I have visited here in the sumer when thunderstorms created dozens of temporary waterfalls cascading to the valley floor.) We had lunch with drinks and music, then drove on to the Indian Cave. We walked on a trail, then up some steps to the cave entrance. The path inside the cavern was fairly well-lit, and we had to stoop down and twist our way through tight passages between the stalactites and stalagmites (cave formations). Eventually we came to an underground river. We climbed aboard a boat to finish our tour. Our guide pointed out numerous formations that looked like people, animals, cars, etc. As we floated out of the cave on the other side of the mountain, we headed for a waterfall. Of course we were able to dock our caveboat just before plummeting over the falls.
This excursion illustrated an important geological fact about the main island of Cuba—it is primarily made up of limestone and has extensive cave systems, some over 30 miles in length. Right after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, much of the Cuban military command was relocated deep inside these caverns. A subsequent full US invasion would have been much more difficult and complicated than anticipated. By the way, the area around Viñales is now an internationally-known center for both rock-climbing and cave exploration.
After an interesting day in the beautiful westernmost province of Pinar del Rio, we headed back to Havana. We had a late dinner at La Moneda Paladar. After that, about half our group went to sleep; the others walked around Old Havana listening to more street music. Tomorrow we will visit Hemingway’s countryside villa, then head for the beach in the afternoon.