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by Aimara Fernández

You can feel the energy flowing from Viñales’s fossils and its magical past, albeit renovated by the omnipresence of its overflowing natural scenery.

The Cueva del Indio, the Caverna de Santo Tomás and the Palenque de los Cimarrones have all survived the hurricanes of time. The Mural of Prehistory depicts the evolution of this most unique region since prehistoric times. After visiting these sites, the smart traveller penetrates the heart of the land, the huge and mysterious valley. Little by little, the highway narrows down and becomes a trail. The smell of freshness, of greenery, of moisture is ever-present and the valley opens up before you.

The mogotes, or karstic hummocks, resemble small islands of rock and earth where hundreds of songbirds find shelter. Odd-looking fish became fossilized on the walls of the caves that served as dwellings for the aborigines, as well as hiding places for runaway slaves. When there’s a hurricane, everybody takes refuge in the rocky interiors. It feels like if the entire valley shifted and then went back to its original position. If you go beyond the valley’s horizon, you find El Palmarito, one of the longest cave systems in Cuba with underground lakes whose waters are very cold.

The valley’s community is composed of farmers, people for whom hospitality has not yet become an illusion. They are innate hosts and hostesses. It is customary to offer the traveller cool water that is filtered through a stone from an earthenware jar called tinaja. It quenches the thirst and inspires confidence.

The kitchen, which is always on one side or behind the house or bohío, is like an altar of shining pots and pans and clusters of greens. The taburetes— rustic leather-covered chairs—rest against the wooden walls waiting to take their places at the lunch table. Yucca, taro, plantains, corn, mamey, beans, mangoes, avocados and rice: from the ground to hands to woodfuelled stoves. The delicacies are cooked in large pots. Rice is the richest and most valued food. The variety of rice grown here is a pearly-white short-grain. Its integral purity gives it a distinctive taste and texture. November marks the beginning of the rice harvest that everyone looks forward to.

Dangerous wonders are the nocturnal electric storms. The sky is filled with very thin lightning flashes that quickly take shape to almost instantly disappear in space. The best views can be had from the mogotes.

On one of these large hummocks there is a hamlet with several families that form the community known as Los Acuáticos. Their philosophy of life is based on the healing powers, both physically and spiritually, of water. The youngest and healthiest women in Cuba, so the story goes, lived among the many springs and other wellheads, and held riotous celebrations. The oldest woman there always combs her long hair while she sings like a bird calling out for help before such overwhelming beauty.

Time goes by as if nothing else existed in the world. Nature marks the rhythm of life. Everyone wakes up with Nature and goes to bed with Nature.

During the rainy season, the soil becomes rich crimson clay. A person’s feet appreciate walking barefooted along this tricky ground and afterwards cooling them in little pools of water.

Every now and then, you may bump into a man who speaks the beautiful tongue of ten-line verses called décimas. He sings with the rhythmical feet of his verse, because he too is a lively traveller.

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