Cuba's biggest hotel

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

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Thursday, February 8, 2007

I realize halfway through our stay in Vinales what makes this village so special. Beyond its obvious stunning geography, Vinales is the worthy recipient of low-cost architecture and a fluke of development.

The two hotels in the area are kilometers out of town (I know; I walk to one of them before sunrise one day), so the only tourists in the area are the type more inclined to mix it up with Cubans in casas particulares. But unlike other casa-heavy locations we've been in such as Trinidad, Santa Clara or even Remedios, there is no colonial architecture here, no casas walled to the street with cool inner courtyards. Instead the village dwellings all have porches facing the street, inevitably populated by rocking chairs. The coolest part of the house, the porches are where everyone, tourists and locals alike, sits watching everyone else walk by. Finally, virtually every house in town is a casa -- it's been called Cuba's biggest hotel -- so the convertibles are spread amongst the populace.

The result? More Cuba-aware (less touristy) travellers, less financially screwed citizens, virtually no begging (you make better money with a casa) and a real integration of travellers into the day-to-day pulse of the town. It's a beautiful accident, and I'm glad we stay around the sleepy place to soak in and appreciate it.

We almost didn't get the chance. Our first full day in Vinales, we met a nice family from Denmark while waiting for the minibus that drives to all the points of interest in the area. Soren and Alexandra had that easy-going travel vibe that can sometimes seem like a life preserver when travelling in foreign-language countries. Their kids, Felicia and Tilda, preceded our kids by a year, so it was such a pleasure to watch Lucy and Felicia mingle, making up their own shared gibberish (before discovering they both knew Happy Birthday, which they sang over and over in the bus).

After sharing a boat ride through the Cueva del Indio (Cave of the Indian) and lounging about together poolside at Hotel Los Jazmines during lunchtime, taking in the astonishingly beautiful view of the valley below us, I could feel the pull to just pick up plans and trail along in this family's slipstream. The next day, they planned to head north, to an unspoilt beach. That sounded very inviting.

But it's never good to press yourself too much on other folks on the road. We all caught the next minibus and enjoyed an afternoon together -- making fun of the 1960s Prehistoric Mural (packed absolutely full of tour buses), eating ice creams outside the town's frequently closed main grocery store. Then we exchanged emails and went our separate ways.

At bedtime, Julie annonces that Denmark is on her list of future holiday destinations. The Travel Plan is always a welcome topic of discussion (or rather, monologue), as not only is it funny to hear her ambitious and uneconomical plans, but it's a sure sign that things are good in the McClung view of the world -- otherwise she'd be plotting house renovations. So far this trip, she's mentioned her ambitions to:
- hike the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland with the kids
- drive across the prairies to her family's old place in Saskatchewan
- ditch the little kids and bring Emma down for an exploration of Cuba's eastern end, around Baracoa
- do a house exchange with someone in France
- tour eastern Canada's Cabot Trail in the fall
- return to our honeymoon destination, Prince Edward Island
- do reciprocal visits with Copenhagen
- return to Hong Kong and spend a month exploring from a base on Lantau
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