By Erasmo Calzadilla
A trip on an Astro bus – in addition to being expensive – is quite boring and bothersome, despite the comfortable seats. Nevertheless, it’s the surest way if you want to get to Viñales in time to do anything.
As is now a custom with Astro, the driver tried to liven up the ride by playing some syrupy ballads by Latin singers, which drove me crazy. I quickly realized, though, that any protest would be in vain, since many of those sitting around me were already humming those tunes.
With nothing else to do, I reclined my seat and took a snooze.
Nobody in Viñales knew I was coming. When the bus stopped, several guys rushed over to the bus offering to rent places to stay. This struck me as strange; after several years, I was returning to this town where never before had I seen the smallest sign of tourism.
Once off the bus, I made myself comfortable on a park bench to enjoy a bite to eat and the village’s deep silence, which creates a buzzing in your ears.
Viñales is a very simple little town, but not lacking in grace. It has few streets, but they’re very clean and lined with trees on both sides. The houses are almost all one-story, and usually have gable roofs covered with red tiles. Then too, it’s common to see their occupants planted in lawn chairs and chatting on their shady porches. It really didn’t seem that less than a year ago a hurricane had left this same town upside down.
Nevertheless, I suppose that Viñales residents are bored with that which I appreciate so much, because within a short time the loudspeakers at the cultural center broke the calm with the same monotonous Reggaeton tracks I was trying to escape from in Havana.
Now, loosened up and driven off by the Reggaeton, I set a course for the church to say hi to Tata, a good friend that I met on a previous trip and who worked as the receptionist there. But surprise! Tata had taken the same route as so many other youth from the town. She’s now in Europe, married to a Spaniard and pregnant. I suppose that Viñales felt too small for her, or maybe she found her true love.
I then headed for the house of my other old friend in the area: Dagoberto. I met Dago studying pharmacology in Havana. He was in those days, as were most of the people from his region, an especially corny dresser and extremely funny.
Through him I got to know Viñales and the rest of the guys in town, but Dago wasn’t at home either: “He walks love-struck in another municipality,” his mother told me.
Trying to avoid the solitude that had already begun to weigh down on me, I walked over to another place with the hope of being able to drag somebody to the mountain pilgrimage that I was planning. On other occasions there, I had had the best luck in meeting friendly guys and gals – people with backpacks on their shoulders and willing to break the barriers that usually separate people. But this time I didn’t find anybody.
I finally left alone for Pons, a not very well-known town but one surrounded by exceptional landscape. There, several miles from Viñales, is a family of campesinos that always welcomes me with great warmth.