The plan for day three was to do a trip to Viñales, a small town south-west of Havana. Miguel, my tour guide for today, turned up at my Airbnb flat on time just after 7:30am. There were some problems with the car however, so the driver was busy organising a replacement.
While we waited for the new car, we chilled out in Parque Rumiñahui.
Just after 8am our driver, Marcos, pulled up in a beautiful blue Chevy, ready to begin our trip to Viñales.
Our drive for today, travelling 179 kilometres south-west to Viñales in north-central Pinar del Río Province.
Cruising down the National Highway after we leave Havana. I had organised this trip today with Havana Journeys, a tour company that had been recommended to me by my friend Jason.
The Chevy cruised pretty easily at about 80kph, thanks to the Hyundai diesel engine under the hood. As well as a decent stereo it also had air-conditioning.
Miguel said that classic cars like our Chevy sell for about $30,000 in Cuba. He said that fortunately as the government prohibits their export there is no chance of them being snapped up by foreigners anytime soon.
Passing an old Studebaker.
Arriving in Pinar del Río Province.
Taking a break at a rest stop with the Classic Chevy parked next to a modern Chevy SUV and a Chinese-made taxi.
The 'pregnant' palm trees, also known by the locals as 'Palma barrigona', being carved into seats by a local craftsman.
I hadn't had breakfast so had a sandwich with an espresso.
Back on the National Highway again to continue the trip to Viñales. There was minimal traffic on the highway with only a few cars and the odd tour bus.
We then turned off the National Highway and headed north onto the road to Viñales.
A tobacco drying barn. Pinar del Río Province produces 70% of Cuba's tobacco crop.
"Words teach, but examples lead", a quote from Che Guevara on a roadside billboard.
Horse and cart.
Getting closer to Viñales we passed one of the limestone mogotes (steep-sided hill) that are prevalent in Viñales Valley. The mogotes can be up to 300 metre tall and make the area popular for rock climbing.
Parking the Chevy at our first stop, Cueva del Indio (Indian Cave).
For CUC$5 you could ride a boat on an underground river through an electrically lit cave. The queue was an hour long though and it sounded abit kitschy so we gave it a miss.
Tourists coming out of the cave ride that was described by Lonelyplanet as 'underwhelming'.
Next stop was Palenque de los Cimarrones. The cave was used by escaped slaves as a hideout in the 1800's.
Some drums and fire dance as we exit the cave.
A recreation of a slave battling with a Spanish Colonialist. Although more for the tour bus crowd, it was quite interesting and worth the CUC$5.
We then drove on to our next stop, a tobacco farm. On the tank and along with Comrades Fidel, Che and Camilo is also the Granma, an 18 metre yacht that was used to transport 82 fighters from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 for the purpose of overthrowing the Batista regime for the Cuban Revolution.
Looking over the tobacco fields in Viñales Valley. The fertile soil combined with warm, wet climate make the area ideal for growing tobacco.
A tobacco farmer pausing for a portrait in the doorway.
Another portrait with one of the farmers.
We then were given a short tour of the tobacco growing and curing process. Tiny seeds from the tobacco plant.
Tobacco leaves hung up in the barn to dry, cure and age.
Air curing and subsequent aging in the tobacco barn allows for the slow oxidation and fermenting in the leaves and which produce various compounds that give the tobacco smoke from Cuban cigars their unique light, mild flavor, and high in nicotine.
Some of the prepared tobacco seeds.
The curing and aging process takes between 4 to 8 weeks in the well ventilated barns.
We were then given a demonstration of how the cigars are hand-rolled.
Specially selected tobacco leaves are used as the wrapper, and then other leaves are used for the binder and filler inside the cigar.
Marcos enjoying one of the freshly made cigars.
The end of the cigar was dipped in honey to add flavour and minimise irritation of the throat. I am not a smoker but the cigar was quite a surprisingly pleasant experience. I briefly contemplated taking up cigar smoking as a new hobby, if not for the unfortunate and unhealthy side-effects.
My guide, Miguel enjoying a puff on his cigar.
A roll of 20 handrolled cigars were CUC$60. Considering that branded Cuban cigars were upwards of CUC$10 each it was quite a steal. If they weren't so harmful to your lungs I think I would have definitely considered indulging in a few.
After the very interesting visit to the tobacco farm, we headed back to Viñales in the Chevy.
It was about 2pm so we headed to Paladar Casa El Campesino for lunch.
A cool drink and chips to start.
Miguel took the opportunity to have the Lobster. He said that seafood was basically unavailable for Cubans and was only sold to tourists.
While I opted for the roast pork.
After the decent meal, we headed out to the Chevy again to our next stop. Not before dodging out of the way of this speeding motor vehicle though!
Beware of schoolchildren and tobacco(?).
I was keen to see abit more of the countryside, so we stopped at a local family's house on the outskirts of town where they had two horses in the backyard.
I hadn't ridden a horse in over 20 years, but after a quick lesson we were on our way.
Waving to the local kids.
Passing a farmer on the dirt track. It was great to see the beautiful landscape on the back of the placid and easy-going horse.
Riding through a tobacco field. Going down a bit of an incline the horse broke into a canter. Luckily she slowed up though with a gentle pull of the reins.
And back at the house again, with my 'grinning gringo' pose.
The two beautiful horses back in the shelter.
Grandfather obliging for a photo in his straw hat.
We then continued on to our penultimate stop in Viñales, the Mural de la Prehistoria. Painted in the 1960's, it is described by the LonelyPlanet as either "impressively psychedelic or monumentally horrific". My initial reaction was definitely more of the latter than the former.
A farmer ploughing his field, ready for the next crop of tobacco.
It was starting to get late so we started the drive back. On the way out we stopped at a viewpoint looking over the Viñales Valley. Since 1999 the valley has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Marcos also invited me to get a few photo's behind the wheel of his classic Chevy which of course I couldn't say no!
Getting dark as we make our way back down to the highway to Havana.
Watching some Cuban-American music video's on the sound system.
Cruising back into Havana just before 8pm.
And back in Old Havana after a great and very enjoyable day in Viñales! After thanking both Miguel and Marcos for the memorable trip, I wasn't sure how much to tip them but they were pretty happy when I gave them CUC$10 each.
I knocked on the door of my Airbnb flat for the next two nights, and the host, Yanira, handed over the keys and gave me a quick tour. It was described on Airbnb as just a studio apartment so was quite surprised how big it was.
It was just around the corner from my previous Airbnb flat, so again a good location in Old Havana. At $40 per night it was again great value too.
For dinner I headed down to Plaza Vieja and stopped at Café El Escorial and finished the day with the tasty Bocadito especial and a piece of cake.
After a good sleep in and a morning jog along the Malecón, I grabbed some freshly made Churros sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon for an unhealthy but tasty breakfast.
It was my last day in Havana and my last chance to enjoy and see some more of this very unique and beautiful city.
El Mejor (The Best).
Queueing at the Cambio for some more pesos.
Dos perros (two dogs).
At Plaza de la Catedral, looking west to Havana Cathedral, built in 1727.
And inside the cathedral. Despite its grandiose exterior, the inside is relatively simple and even austere. Although originally very ornate, it was cleansed of excess ornamentation in the 19th century.
The flag of Cuba painted on a wall.
I then walked to the corner of Calle Obispo and Avenida de Bélgica to the famous El Floridita, a historic restaurant and cocktail bar in Old Havana. Originally opened in 1817 as La Piña de Plata (The Silver Pineapple), almost 100 years later it became a favourite of American expats in Havana, and hence the name was changed to 'little Florida'.
A cantinero (bartender) named Constante Ribalaigua at El Floridita invented the frozen daiquirí soon after WW1, and hence the bar's motto la cuna del daiquiri (the cradle of the daiquiri).
In the corner and at the end of the bar was a life-size bronze statue of Hemingway, a former famous regular at the bar.
Daiquirís by the dozen.
I opted for the Papa Hemingway special, a daiquirí made with grapefruit juice. Legend has it that Hemingway's record at El Floridita was 13 doubles in one sitting!
After the refreshingly cool daiquirí I continued my wander through Old Havana.
Hombre, cigarro y perro.
Casa El Remanso.
It was after 2pm and I was hungry for some lunch so headed to Paladar Los Mercaderes, one of the better restaurants in Old Havana.
Situated up on the first floor, it had a great view of the cobbled streets below.
For the starter I had the day's special, lobster taco's. Super tasty!
And for the main I had the Lomo de Pescado (fish loin in white wine, spices and light lemon cream) along with some moros y cristanos (black beans and rice). My most expensive meal in Cuba at CUC$43, but definitely well worth it.
A row of classic cars next to Parque Céspedes.
Handmade in Cuba. Some fridge magnets for home for CUC$3 for any five.
Diógenes y la luz at Factoría Habana, an art gallery in Old Havana. In the centre was a slightly unusual art installation consisting of a long row of crushed cans of tuKola (Cuban coke).
After a rest back at my Airbnb flat, I went out again for an evening stroll.
A Soviet era ZiL limousine.
Dusk in beautiful Plaza Vieja.
For my last dinner in Havana I headed to Café Lamparilla and had the chicken.
And for dessert I went to Museo del Chocolate on Calle Amargura for a sweet dose of Cuba's finest at the end of day 4.
In the morning I went out for a last run through Havana. A selfie by the Canal de Entrada.
A blast of seaspray at the Malecón.
And some locals casting for fish in the morning sun.
A Dutch flagged oil tanker coming into port and about to pass by Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro.
After a quick shower and packing my suitcase, I went out for one last walk through Old Havana.
And grabbed a Caffè Americano (yes, they still apparently call them that in Communist Cuba) at Café Havana.
Yanira came to the Airbnb just before 10am to collect the keys and organised a taxi for me to the airport to catch my 12:50pm flight.
Just outside Terminal 3 at José Martí International Airport where I spotted a classic Ford Thunderbird with a new dashboard completely carved out of wood! You just had to admire the Cuban ingenuity.
About to check-in for my flight on Delta Air lines to New York. The one-way flight from Havana to JFK was a very reasonable $142. My ticket stated that I had to pay $25 to check my suitcase, but luckily I didn't have to pay anything at check-in though.
Airside with my boarding pass after making it through immigration and security.
And about to board the Delta A319 after an amazing and incredible trip to Cuba!