Horse riding in Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), Cuba

valle de los ingenios

We went on this excursion as a result of miscommunication. Marysia and Maria wanted to go horse riding. This is how it started. I didn’t care much. Adam didn’t want to go. And Michal from being indifferent came to a point of excitement. In a meantime we found out that Maria and Adam are afraid of horses and they want to go in a cart. This was easily arranged. And so Maria and Adam went in a cart and three of us on horseback. Destination: waterfall near Topes de Collantes.horses Trinidad

Valley of the Sugar Mills is a series of three interconnected valleys: San Luis, Santa Rosa and Meyer. As the name suggests they were a center for sugar production. I don’t know if you know, but Cuba became the world’s foremost sugar producer in XIXth century.  Most of the sugar mills are in ruins, intact structures endure at some sites, including Guachinango, where the plantation house remains, and the plantation of Manaca Iznaga, where the owner’s house, a tower and some barracones (the original slave quarters) still stand.

Horses CubaThis reminds me of Sugar Barons I read about in one of the books I read before coming to Cuba. They were the “Rockefellers” of Cuba. I found an interesting article with shocking facts, more as a trivia than anything else. Here are some of them, if you want to read it all click here.

  • One Cuban sugar baron tiled the floors of his Havana palace with Italian marble bedded down in sand imported from the Nile
  • Tomás Terry, the most successful sugar planter of Cuba’s colonial years, left $25 million on his death in 1886
  • Julio Lobo was known as the King of Sugar, not just of Havana but of the World, with an estimated personal fortune of $200 million, about $5 billion in today’s dollars
  • At age 21, just out of college, Lobo brokered the most lucrative sugar deal at that point — worth $6 million — with the British firm Tate and Lyle
  • In 1957, over fourteen thousand new cars manufactured in the United States were sold in Cuba and some 200 000 cars were registered on the island (1958 national vehicle census (reported in the magazine El Automóvil de Cuba). BTW some ifty thousand of those same vehicles were still in use in 2010, although not a single spare part was shipped to Cuba from the United States between October 1960 and late 2010.
  • In the decadent jet-set heaven of 1950s Havana, the only place to be was Tropicana, a pleasure dome where the shows (and showgirls) were dazzling, the gambling was high-stakes, and the revelers included Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth, and J.F.K.
  • In 1956, the Tropicana nightclub premiered its first promotional flight from Miami to Havana on Cubana de Aviación—it was billed as the “Cabaret in the Sky.” The front seats of the plane had been taken out so the musicians could all fit in with their instruments – piano!!! bongo, drumms, trumpet. The passengers started off with pink daiquiris, and then, as soon as the plane took off, Rolando and Ana Gloria bounded out and started the show. They came out singing and dancing, prancing down the aisles, pulling the Americans up from their seats to dance and sing with them. Can you imagine???!!! That’s how they brought Nat King Cole to Havana that March, the first of three times he performed at Tropicana. ( our taxi driver in Havana told us Tropicana is now a place for old people. I still wish I have seen it! More on Tropicana here)

Back to our trip. Two Italian girls (first time on a horse) came with us. They spoke very good German as they lived near Austria’s border. At the beginning the guide had to prod the horses that didn’t want to keep up. I noticed mine and Marysia’s were always the first to lead. TrinidadEither one or the other. It took me some time to get used to being in a saddle again. I tried rising trot and saddle seat (or basic position). The latter is used in gallop mainly as far as I remember. Let me just say I I haven’t had such bruises on inner tights in my life! Anyway on the way to the waterfall the cart went different way as part of the road was impassable for vehicle. We stopped on the way and had some refreshments (cerveza for me) where they offered us dinner on our way back, but we decided against it.

Rainforest CubaAfter trotting along muddy roads, crossing streams and field gates we entered the rain forest. The path was marked out by sharp edged stones. I got worried something might happen to our horses but we got through fine and dismounted them in previously prepared place. Trekking was now ahead of us. We passed the stand with manually roasted and grounded coffee and headed for the waterfall. The path was narrow and sometimes barely visible. I felt a bit like those first explorers as the nature around seemed untouched by human presence. No litter, no bins, no benches, no concrete. Just water, stones, trees, lianas, plants, sun and fresh air with this distinctive smell.

And there it was. Waterfall.

Waterfall CubaThere was naturally formed pond and cave where we could swim and enjoy refreshing water. More and more people were coming so it became less and less magical. I remember us girls could see it as a scenery for a perfect romance. Let me enjoy this notion.

Trinidad waterfallOn the way back our horses regained the will to live, or rather, seen in the imagination the end of slavery and we managed to gallop. This felt really good. Like I broke off the leash. It was worth all the bruises and John Wayne’s walk for the next week. At least for me that is. Adam and Maria complained about their cart. It was uncomfortable, they thought they gonna fall over more than once and they had to get off from time to time because the cart would be too heavy otherwise.

You know how they say the journey is more important than the destination. What I love about my travel is that I’m almost always on the way. To see more, to experience new. New thoughts, new faces, new feelings, or the same ones just transformed by the change inside me. Every travel changes me as I try to leave my convictions behind and absorb. As today is the New Year’s Eve I wish you all:

Experiencing the diversity of the World and overcoming the fear of what is different and unknown, as this truly is, in my opinion, what makes life worthwhile. Happy New Year!


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