July 4, 2019

ROB O'NEA/Paradise
This rock face in the province of Pinar del Rio was converted into a depiction of the evolution of life on earth in the early 1960s.

ROB O'NEA/Paradise This rock face in the province of Pinar del Rio was converted into a depiction of the evolution of life on earth in the early 1960s.

High on the list of touristy locales in Cuba is the town of Viñales. Located about three hours west of Havana, it’s still my favorite place, despite the fact that the “black socks-n-sandals” crowd, along with the uber-hip “front and back backpackers” fill the main drag every single day. I still believe that it’s just too gorgeous a place to be ruined that easily.

Dangling from ropes, a pair of painters touch up the head of a dinosaur which is near the center of the ‘La Mural Prehistorica,’ (prehistoric mural), outside Vinales in Western Cuba.

First of all, you won’t be offered fake cigars every two minutes, a welcomed change after a few days in Havana. The pace of life in the Cuban countryside is noticeably slower, and the general attitude is far more mellow, but when you get right down to it, other than soaking in the jaw-dropping beauty, there really are only a few proper “attractions.” You’ve got the Indian Caves, horseback riding, trips to tobacco or organic farm tours, even a silly zip-line tour, and this week’s subject, the Prehistoric Mural.

The landscape of Western Cuba is very unique, and without getting into some boring explanation about geology, a topic I doubt I could give proper credit, suffice it to say that there are huge, soaring chunks of limestone throughout the Viñales Valley. They’re called “mogotes,” (moh-goh-tays), and they’re made of limestone that has had water coursing through them for millennia. At the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, the former Director of Mapping at the Cuban Academy of Sciences, Leovigildo González Morillo, was commissioned to create the “Prehistoric Mural,” which depicts the evolution of life, basically from snails, to dinosaurs to man. With the side of a mogote stripped of scrub brush, it took a team of painters roughly three years to complete.

However, if you base your travels solely on TripAdvisor, which I hope is not the case, you’d probably not give this place a chance as “the experts” have roundly panned it. They bashed it so hard, that I actually took a few minutes the other day and tossed my two centavos into the reviewing mix. Tourist after tourist complains about the whopping $3 entry fee (boo-hoo), which, by the way, includes arguably the best piña colada you’ve ever had, with or without unlimited rum. A few people even complained about the friendly, retired, 80-something-year-old farmer who offers short rides on his ox, to which he gives commands in both English and Spanish.

If you go, don’t expect too much, but do take a closer look at the surface of the mural. The creators either cut or painted grooves into the rock that creates something of an optical illusion of size and shape (seen in the photo with the painters), and remember, it’s only three bucks. It’s a great opportunity to relax and live a little at the same time. There really is more to Cuba than old cars, mojitos and Salsa music.