Today we boarded our mini-bus and headed west from Havana to Pinar del Río Province. We had a couple of hours to discuss our trip and compare notes. Everybody seems to be happy with our expedition so far. Upon arriving in the City of Pinar del Río, we visited the Fábrica de Tabocas, a quaint cigar factory housed in a former jail. We walked through the buildings and viewed the various processes of producing world-famous Cuban cigars. I spoke with the company nurse, who told me that she was responsible for the health of the tobacco workers and continuously screens them for health issues.
After that we traveled to Viñales Valley in Viñales National Park. This area is known for its mogotes, which are unusual mountains with vertical walls with round-top domes, rising out of plateaus. They can rise above the flat surroundings as high as 1000 feet, and are found in only a few other parts of the world. The same limestone geology that produced these mountains also accounts for the numerous caves and cavern systems throughout Cuba. Viñales is becoming world famous for spelunkers (cave explorers) and rock climbers, who stay at the many bed-‘n-breakfast inns in the area.
We had lunch at the Prehistoric Mural, which was commissioned by Castro, and is over 200 feet high. After that we visited Indian Cave, named for Indian remains found inside. The main cave is about 3 miles long, but we walked only the first half mile, then came across an underground river. We boarded a motorboat for our trip on this subterranean river that runs deep beneath the surrounding mountains. Eventually we floated out a slit in a vertical wall. If we would have missed our dock, we would have gone over a waterfall. No worries. The Cubans are all aware of the importance of making sure nothing bad happens to visitors.
On our return to Havana, we had time continued to discuss the Cuban health care system, including how import it is for visitors to be professionally cared for. Since last year, Cuban medical insurance is mandatory for foreigners visiting the country. The price is usually included when visitors buy airline tickets or tours.
There is an increasing amount of medical tourism, where foreign visitors travel to Cuba for specific medical and surgical treatments. I expect many Americans will choose to visit Cuba in the future for certain medical care. Many now go to The Philippines and India, half a world away. Since Cuba is much closer, and the culture is far more familiar to Americans, I expect this sector of the economy will rapidly expand in the near future.