Look beyond the horizon. What we see is often only a fraction of what really is. As with a lot of things in life, some things seem not to be worth it, but end up being very powerful experiences. So it was with the garden of Sr. Jesús in Viñales, Cuba.
In this short series on Cuba called #AloCubano, the Cuban Way, I’m sharing some of the invaluable experiences I’ve had – mostly in totally unexpected places.
Viñales – Parque Prehistórico de Referencia Nacional
My sister and I were just wandering around Viñales. We were trying to escape the throng of casa particular owners when we came across Sr. Jesús Arencibia Coro’s garden. The unique Parque Prehistórico de Referencia Nacional is somewhat hidden in one of Viñales’ side streets on the way to the illusive lago (lake).
As soon as Sr. Jesús noticed us, girls, checking out the huge dinosaur statue, wondering what the hell this small piece of land represented, he came to invite us in. Reluctantly at first, my sister and I entered the park to embark on a 1 ½ hour guided tour. Sr. Jesús has an eclectic collection in his garden. People from all over the world send him shells, fossils, rocks, etc., which he has encased in cement pillars for preservation. Besides this, he has a wide collection of endemic, medicinal and prehistoric plants.
The chance to meet one of the last Renaissance Men
I was really impressed by Jesús’ knowledge of the plants and specimens, as well as the connections he made of the history and anthropology behind them. In the midst of his quirky collection, he also talked passionately about the various education projects he runs for the kids in Viñales, his research projects, as well as the various books he has written – ready to be published. In my eyes, he is one of the last remaining Renaissance Men, a person who’s experience and knowledge span many different subject areas.
As a total research nerd, he inspired me to keep on learning myself.
We also briefly touched the subject of ecotourism, one of my passion’s when it comes to research and travel. We discussed the importance of mitigating the impact of tourists on nature and culture and how ecotourism could provide a different experience from the type of tourism currently provided in Viñales. Sr. Jesús mentioned that he tried to set up an ecotour in Viñales for people who want to walk between the Mogotes (super steep hills) and learn more about the region’s geography, biology, and its people. Unfortunately, the plan never made it through the local tourism board.
Micro Ecotourism in Viñales – Valle de Silencio
Currently, Viñales’ farmers provide a 5-hour guided horse riding tour through the Valle the Silencio. While this is a fun way to see the valley, you don’t really have the opportunity to learn more about the region’s background. Besides, you can easily walk around the Valley of Silence alone and save yourself all the tourist sales pitches for cigars, rum, or whatever else. Taking a tour with Sr. Jesús to hear all his stories about the region, its geology, as well as Viñales’ history and culture would be even better.
If you have the chance, I would encourage you to spend some time in the Parque Prehistórico de Referencia Nacional. Maybe if you’re lucky, this time, he might extend the experience to a tour around the Mogotes. Now that would be a chance of a lifetime.
Where to find it: Adela Azcuy No. 6 Norte, Viñales – Cuba
Whom to look out for: Sr. Jesús Arencibia Coro