The day Sally slides off a horse

We set off behind the official guide (who was on his Czech motorbike) who said he’d drive slowly whilst we walked. Ten minutes later we arrived at a small dirt track where an older guy was waiting and who took us to our steeds.

It later transpired it was our official guide’s father! Pipo does the afternoon/evening rides and his son does the morning ones. I told Pipo I’d only ever ridden twice in my life before, once in Tucson, Arizona, 30 years ago on a similar sort of trek, and once on my friend Caroline’s horse which was so big I was terrified and had to get off after riding a few yards!

Pipo helped me get on my horse……coincidentally named Carolina! He assured me she was semi-automatic and was very calm and used to novices. IMG_7191
Bill rode Chupa Chupa (the name of a Spanish lolly!) and he turned out be a bit of a naughty boy with a mind of his own! Pipo showed us how to encourage the horses to go left and right and, most importantly, stop; I got the hang of this and Carolina was pretty acquiescent. Chupa Chupa less so. The valley opening up before us was stunning, with many small birds and even vultures circling. The horses preferred to walk on the drier edges of the track, as the middle at times was a very muddy, wet bog. It had been raining heavily for a period every night for the last 3 weeks and the heavily used tracks were becoming quagmires in places. But the drier edges were actually very narrow so Bill’s head had a few brushes with the native trees and my horse even slipped and fell at one point and I ended up with my foot under Carolina’s belly and sliding off but Carolina quickly righted herself and somehow I rolled back on the saddle and Carolina got to drier, flatter ground. Pipo was reassuringly concerned and checked nothing was broken and that I could move everything- my foot felt bruised but I  could move my toes and I assured Pipo I’d be fine. There were even more vultures circling overhead …….were they waiting for me?IMG_7207.JPG

We continued and eventually arrived at a coffee plantation. Twenty-three year old Dani gave us a personal talk about how everything is done, manually, from picking the beans when they are red, waiting 10 days for them to turn brown (roast) in the sun, then using a huge hand-carved wooden pestle and mortar, to grind the beans to break them out of the shells. The resulting beans are then roasted over a fire, all the while being stirred quickly, then you have the arabica coffee. We bought ‘a bottle’ of freshly ground  coffee- the Cubans find many uses for empty water bottles:

They have to pay a 90% tax to the government on all the coffee sold and also on the cocktails sold to tourists. I asked what would happen if they didn’t declare everything and he said they have no choice as the inspectors come by twice a week to check that the books tally with what’s left in the bottles.

We had two wonderful cocktails for $3CUC – a house speciality called Coco Loco (rum poured into a whole, freshly cut coconut so it mixes with the milk IMG_7199and then afterwards Dani cut the coconut for us to eat.

We also had an ‘atardecer’ (‘twilight’) with rum, fruit juice, grenadine, honey and white wine. Both were delicious.

Then…..back on the horses and we continued up the track.IMG_7209.JPG
Throughout the ride I continued to chat with Pipo- at one point he was saying how they have Chinese import CDs to listen to music but they wear out after a year or so- we told him that European CDs last much longer but that meant we realised we needed to upload our Cuban CDs as soon as we got back.

We stopped off at some caves where, if we’d had more time, we could have done some wild swimming (those of you who know me well will understand when I tell you that I was most disappointed that we didn’t have time!). Instead, we tied up the horses and clambered down to the cave entrance and carefully made our way through the dark opening. Pipo took my camera and showed us the ‘butterfly’ trick, with and without flash:

 We then remounted our horses…..

and carried on up to the tobacco plantation.

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