Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2007

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

"Deseo la muerte de todos los pollos en Vinales."
My Spanish is good enough to convey my feelings to my hostess this morning, but bad enough to get it jumbled. I originally say "por" instead of "de" thus implying a wish for a death by chicken, not the death of the chickens themselves. Julie's predawn comment, "An unending night of chicken hell," would require a dictionary.

Vinales must be one of the loveliest towns I've stayed in. Mountains right out of a Fan Kuan landscape surround the place, and the lush tobacco fields and tended gardens along the dirt roads glow in the morning light. Even the poultry winging in the streets look wonderful.

But there is a dark side to Vinales. Our first premonition involves all the canines. Even in a country where unattractive (but good-natured) mongrels abound, Vinales is extraordinary. "'The dog trots freely in the street' -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti" Julie intones.

Other than growling at each other and at a bitch in heat, by day the dogs are a benign if ubiquitous presence. But by night, the poultry hoodlums come out, and they egg the canines on to rebellion. From shortly after midnight, what could be the quiet of nature is assaulted constantly by roosters and their hen flunkies. I count an average of 45 rooster crows a minute. The dogs join in at intervals.

About 4 a.m., I wonder if I'm hearing one of those endless discussions to be quiet:
Rooster 1: Be quiet!
Rooster 2: Yeah, everyone! Listen to him!
Rooster 3: If you'd shut-up buddy, it would be quiet!
Rooster 1: Who's talking now, ya little hen?
Dog 1: I'm going to bite the heads off all you frickin' chickens if you don't shut up!"

It goes on.

The animal argument is not the only potentially heated debate we encounter our first day. On arrival in Vinales, we're accosted by the usual card-toting mob. I've side-stepped most of fray when someone sees me check the location of Pedro and Elia's.

"This is your place? It's my family!" Several people look at the card and nod in agreement. "I'll take you." The guy then proceeds to lead me in the direction opposite to the little map on the card.

After endless brief discussions to assure me this is known to Pedro, that Pedro has a full casa, and that his wife is Pedro's sister, we're slowly drawn blocks from the centre of town to its outskirts. The whole thing seems wrong to me, but with each step we're of course further from doing anything about it. I inform Nameless Man that I will use his phone to confirm things with Pedro. He has no problem with that. On arrival at a perfectly fine casa, Julie and I agree it is not ringing true and I walk back into town and follow the map to Villa Buena Vista.

Of course we have been poached. Apparently this happens a lot, as Pedro and his wife Elia take it in stride and say if we're happy where we are, no problem. But I'm not happy. I hate being played this way, so ten minutes later Pedro and I arrive at the other place in a taxi to collect everyone.

To his credit, Senor Tourist Snatcher pleads ignorance the whole time: the business cards are similar (they're not), his name is Pedro and the senor's poor Spanish confused him, etc. Ironically the poacher's place is a bit nicer than our real location, but over the next three days we're given no reason to regret our move: first, the view of one of the odd hills here (mogotes) from the front porch is the best in town; second, Elia and Pedro are obviously experienced grandparents who dote and spoil the kids (and us); third, our location means we're closer to most of the walking paths into the valley, not to mention the town itself. And I'm sure the chickens are as loud all over town.
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