We stepped out the front door of our casa particular into the dazzling morning sunshine. Our host, the lovely (if slightly mothering) Basita had arranged for a couple of bikes to be left for us to use for the day.
Eager to get going we jumped on and began cycling towards town, past the row of quintessential Cuban houses lining the street; low-rise and brightly painted with oversized rocking chairs on the porches, their well-manicured gardens were planted with giant aloe vera plants and cheery flowers. Children ran down the street alongside delighted dogs while elderly residents rocked gently on their colourful sillones, each generation giving us a friendly wave as we rode past. A brighter scene was hard to imagine.
Reaching a junction just before town we turned back on ourselves and headed down a parallel road which would take us out to the countryside. The number of cars began to dwindle and we settled into our 5km cycle along the quiet country roads.
The Viñales Valley is known for its unusual topography. Towering, limestone mogotes pop up from the flat, agricultural landscape and an almost pre-historic atmosphere is created: it wasn’t too hard to imagine a Tyrannosaurus Rex rounding the corner or a Pterodactyl soaring over one of the rocky outcrops.
The scenery only grew more beautiful the farther we cycled. Enormous ceiba trees would appear in tranquil farmsteads casting some much-needed shade for a weary walker or a resting worker; up-close we could see foliage clinging desperately to the imposing mogotes in a bid to reach their flat plateaux.
We had decided to visit the Cueva del Indio, an ancient indigenous dwelling with an underground river running through its tunnels. As a popular tourist sight we thought we’d have no problem finding the place. We had forgotten that we were in Cuba and that signposts are not the easiest things to come by. And so it went that we blithely cycled by. Up and up we went, climbing a steep hill before descending into a small village where we finally stopped and second-guessed ourselves.
Stopping to ask someone where we would find the cave they looked at us with pity and told us it was about 2km back in the direction we had come from. My face crumpled into a look of despair. By this time the sun had well and truly risen; the heat was intense and the thought of cycling back up that hill was not an appealing one. It was a painful, sweat-drenched journey which required an enormous amount of effort and a few emergency pit stops, but we made it. Just in time, in fact.
The last entry to the cave was in 30 minutes. We left our bikes in the care of a friendly gentleman, who had agreed to watch them for a few pesos, and quickly ran up to the entrance to buy our tickets. Stepping into the cave we were grateful for the cool air and the hot bike ride soon became a distant memory. A short boat ride took us through the cave’s dark waterways and we emerged on the other side, refreshed and ready to get back on our bikes.
Cycling leisurely back to town we soaked up the peaceful atmosphere and the (once again friendly) sunshine before finally arriving back in the relative hustle and bustle of Viñales.