The hiking tour

We decide to take the National Forest tour someone told us about, and tell our host. Specifically, I tell our host a bunch of strung-together words and he calls a taxi, which drops us off in a field with a sad and mangy horse surrounded by three men in cowboy hats and rubber mud boots. This is unexpected but not entirely out of character for Cuba, so we roll with it and say we want the walking tour, not the riding tour. One of the men slaps the fattest among them on the stomach and grins. The rotund guide grunts despondently and sets out, the two of us following in our sporty Earth Runner sandals. I ask if he can speak English, since our host assured us the tour would be in English. “A leetle,” he says, and then immediately switches back to Spanish. I decide that this is OK and it just means we get some language lessons in-context.

Our guide says his name is Joel, and begins pointing out plants and views, all in Spanish; mango, sugarcane, sweet potato, guava, avacado. He leads us to a tobacco farm, to a coffee-rum-and-honey farm, and to a cave. This takes three or four hours. I had been under the impression that this tour of the National Park meant we’d be hiking in some kind of jungle, but apparently no. Apparently, instead, I smoke a hand-rolled cigar dipped in honey, chew some sugar cane, and try to learn a bunch of new Spanish words, most of which I immediately forget. Collin’s Earth Runners break in the mud on the way back. “Dang,” he says “that’s my only pair of shoes.” He walks through the mud barefoot the rest of the way, rides in the taxi back barefoot with his broken sandals tucked into his waistband. I tell our guide that it’s fine and that at home, he hikes barefoot all the time.

We try to find him another pair of shoes in Viñales, to no avail. It’s Sunday, which means the shops that exist are closed, and even the open-air tourist markets aren’t selling shoes. So tonight, Collin will have to dine barefoot, and tomorrow, he will have to travel cross-country barefoot. “First world problems,” I say. “but actually, it’s more of a third-world problem, I guess.”

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