Most of our stay it was raining in Pingyao. The streets and buildings were mostly grey still not without charm. As most sites however it looks even more charming in sunshine. Pingyao Old City was constructed in XIV century and was a financial center for the whole of China. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is plenty of museums to see, all located within traditional Chinese houses, dwellings and temples. Wanfo Shrine, the main shrine of Zhenguo Temple, dating back to the Five Dynasties, is one of China’s earliest and most precious timber structure buildings in existence.
Great Wall of China (万里长城) one of the most recognizable structures in the World. It was originally a series of separate sections build by individual states. Later joined together and made bigger and stronger, are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. The wall enabled speedy communications via smoke, flares, drums, and bells, as well as allowing for the rapid transport of troops across the country. It begins in the east at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province and ends at Jiayuguan in Gansu province to the west. Its main body consists of walls, horse tracks, watch towers, and shelters on the wall, and includes fortresses and passes along the Wall.
In the morning we headed for breakfast and coffee and then to exchange some more money. I know in some guides and in Internet you can find information saying it’s difficult to exchange money outside Havana. This is no longer true. In all tourist destinations we found banks that would exchange money. We ended up once in the middle of nowhere (I’ll tell you the story later on) and there was nothing there and so no bank either but this is jst because we went off the beaten trail.
Maria at this point felt bad and decided to wait at home. This is crucial to further story. I tried the most delicious lemon cake in the shape of triangle. It had layers of waffle and cream and surprise, surprise was not all that sweet. Very fresh, melting in your mouth and paid for in Peso. We took a taxi to bus station to take a bus. Of course as could be expected in front of bus station we were beset by the taxi gang and almost convinced that for the same price they will take us straight to the front door so we do not have to worry about looking for our Casa… We did want to see what the bus is like so headed straight to the Viazul ticket office. We would have to wait for the bus and the price was the same as taxi per person. Still distrustful we decided to check out the car first. And there is was our vehicle – big, old, blue American car – we couldn’t wish for anything more!
What was special about this particular trip? Well, first of all we went to get petrol for our car. The driver said we all should stay away and he will take Michal with him so he can oversee that he is not stealing anything from our luggage. He asked us to pay the third of the amount owned so he can pay for the petrol. Very weird. In the end we all stayed in the car while the driver went to some house, which by the way looked more like a farm than gas station, and brought petrol with him. You know what it means. This is when we found out that the infusion of the tank is in the trunk just below our luggage. So watch out as your things might smell of petrol if the driver is not careful enough.
Second thing was that there was a strong smell of the petrol in the car which made Marysia sick, also we couldn’t close the windows and the wind started to be annoying after 2 hours of driving. When I tried to lie down suddenly I was thrown up in the air… just a bridge… and it happens at every bridge. I was looking long time at the highway we were using trying to find the difference between Cuba and Europe. The biggest difference is… traffic! So little traffic and so much space in Europe you only get in the middle of the night in less popular routes. Second difference is that in Cuba highways are also for carts drawn by horses, oxen and donkeys as well as hitchhikers and random farmers turning at any point on the green belt between the carriageways. We were overtaken by a car with a fridge in his trunk. Whoever remembers Poland before 1989 is not going to be surprised. I have to say I’ve seen much more overloaded vehicles, but never traveling at such a speed.
The driver told Maria on the way that he has a wife and two grilfriends and they all know about each other. He also suggested that if she’d like she could become his girlfriend as well. Following the conversation I hear that a man should have one woman for the day and one woman for the night. I was wondering a loud what would be the difference between them. Adam suggested ‘one of them is not working during the day obviously’. Hahahhaa I don’t know what you thought but I was thinking more in a mother/housewife versus sex godess way. Draw your conclusions.
On the way we stopped in Cafeteria serving sugar cane juice. We watched how it’s made. It tastes nice, much batter than fresh coconut for me, but not exceptionally nice. You can see on the pictures traditional machine used to produce it. Later on in Vinales we saw the oldest one dating back to was it XVIIIth century?
When we arrived in Vinales or driver insisted in showing us his house first before he deliveries us to our destination. After long persuation we reluctantly agreed. So we turned into a short street where the buses from Havana park and there on his corner was his house. So much for the huge advantage to be delivered to the doors of your casa instead of bus station. We went in had a look and even though it was very, very nice and had a terrace on the roof we decided to go to place recommended by Sara. We all got back to the car and the driver took us to the end of the street then turned around and stopped two houses before his own. Very awkward. The house was further down the street. To be honest we chose it mainly because Maria was afraid of wooing of the handsome driver.
Viñales is a small town and municipality in the north-central Pinar del Río Province dominated by low mountain ranges of the Cordillera de Guaniguanico such as Sierra de los Órganos. In 1999, the Viñales Valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a cultural landscape. The characteristic feature is spectrum of rocks/hills rising like islands from the bottom of the valley called mogotes. What to see? Museo Municipal, Casa de Caridad Botanical Gardens, Museo Paleontológico, Palenque (a Maroon village) and the caves (Cueva del Indio, Cueva de José Miguel, Cueva de Santo Tomás) in Valle de Viñales National Park, which were refuges for runaway slaves. I read in one of my books that walking in the street we will be offered by a local to visit his tobacco farm and then be able to see how the cigars are made, but this did not happen. I can’t say I regret.
We paid 6 CUC per night each, booked in (the host needs to fill out a book with or details and get our signatures) and went for a meal in the town. I will write now a bit of our house and then the next post will be about sightseeing the caves. In Vinales Maria got really sick and did not go cycling with us. Most of us put the blame on food in Havana, but this was not true as Maria’s sisters and mother were suffering from the same sickness back in Spain (we found out about it when we came back). One night it got so bad we woke up our host and asked her to call in a doctor. He was in fact her brother and came to see Maria within 10 minutes. Examined her carefully, asked different questions and finally told her to drink physiological salt with water and prescribed an antibiotic. She was not to eat any sugar only dry bread and natural juice from pears ora apples. It all ended well. The doctor didn’t want to take any money but I think he could use what we gave him to help others. I know gys gave him some things we brought to give away as well.
We stayed in Vinales for two nights and every time at 4 am a rooster would start crowing near our windows and then another one and another one until it was dawn. Then a pig wold join in to ultimately deprive us of sleep. Marysia tried to reason with the chickens but they must understand only Spanish because I hate to think they were naughty.
We decided to order lunch at our Casa. It was like a feast. Each one of us could choose between chicken, langosta, shrimps and pork. We got plain rice, black beans, vegetables, fried bananas and fruits and juice with it. We could not eat it all.
In the garden of our Casa there was coffee growing. We only found out because the friendly doctor helped out his sister with getting rid of outer shells. Well first it’s called a coffee cherry. You need to remove the pulp (shell) leaving the seed or bean and then dry it. We saw the doctor half naked hitting with a huge wooden cudgel (pestle) something placed in a wooden mortar. First we were shy to take any pictures but the the doctor showed us both what he was doing and where in the garden the coffee was growing. Nice of him.
At this point I made some notes in my diary about the quiet life people live. We would perceive our host as quite poor judging by the quality of the things around us and apparent makeshift. At the same time she was better off than Cubans who have no income from tourist and I don’t think that better quality things are necessary to achieve happiness. Maybe just the opposite. They are a distraction from living your life, make you want to be in the future or think of time in the future when you will possess something that promises happiness but rarely delivers it. It seems that those people have everything they need, but I couldn’t talk to them so this is just my presumption rather than observation. Ok, this is it for now. Next post is going to be about the dancing and caves. See you then.
These were the words of our guide in My Son. You should hear his low voice, accent and intonation. It reminds me of Samurai talk in Kurosawa movies. P. can really do this talk.
In the morning of our departure from Hoi An we went on a day trip to My Son, a spiritual hear to the Kingdom of Champa.