Cuba is a country where chickens roam free and, at night, nest in the trees as they’ve done for thousands of years. The Valle de Silencio is a place where there are lots of chickens in trees. It’s also one of the most beautiful and enigmatic places we visited in Cuba. A sunset walk through the countryside with a knowledgeable guide – who was moonlighting from his job as a radio journalist – was a highlight of our time in Viñales.
It’s not like there’s a lot of noise or traffic in Viñales, but walking into the Valle de Silencio is like entering a different, quieter world. How long that will last in the face of ever increasing tourism is anyone’s guess, but Viñales’ Silent Valley will live long in the memory.
We took a 1950s Ford into the countryside, stopping at the entrance of a dirt road that led past a couple of wooden houses. It’s a cliché, but the Valle de Silencio seems frozen in time. We hadn’t gone too far before passing a field with two horses sheltering under a tree in the corner, and a farmer ploughing with two oxen. A sight that you might have seen any time in the last few hundred years.
This is tobacco country, with 70 percent of Cuba’s tobacco crop grown in this province. On our three hour walk we saw plenty of wooden huts with palm thatch roofs, where the tobacco leaves hang to dry for two months. The leaves are then fermented for another month or two, before going into a warehouse to age for anything from one to five years. Cigars require a lot of commitment.
Our walk would end at a small farm where we’d get the chance to have a home-grown, hand-rolled, eco-friendly rustic cigar. This is also a chance for the farmer to earn a little extra money. The government takes a whopping 90 percent of the tobacco crop, leaving 10 percent for personal use or to sell to tourists. It was good to get the low-down on what it took to get the tobacco from seedling to cigar in my hand.
Our walk took us down red earth roads, spotting the occasional horse, pig or cow; men with machetes walked past; and colourful houses were dotted here and there. All the while the landscape was spectacularly illuminated by the soft, magnificent light of the descending sun. This is a landscape to rival any in the world.
We finally arrived at a small farm on a hill overlooking the valley, as the sun set we were given a virtuoso demonstration of cigar rolling by one of the farmers. I know there’s a lot of skill involved, and all the tobacco leaves have to be rolled in the correct order, but he made it seem ridiculously easy. As darkness consumed the views of the Valle de Silencio, we made our way to the waiting 1950s Ford and back to Viñales.
Where we stayed in Viñales:
Villa Yaset and Yanet
Pasaje Rafael Trejo 2 No. 5-A
Viñales, Pinar del Rio.
Tel. (53) 048 63 5379 / Movil. 0153642661