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Pinar del Río Province

History

Western Cuba's pre-Columbian history is synonymous with the Guanahatabeys, a group of nomadic Indians who lived in caves and procured most of their livelihood from the sea. Less advanced than the other indigenous natives who lived on the island, the Guanahatabeys were a peaceful and passive race whose culture had developed, more or less independently of the Taíno and Siboney cultures further east. Extinct by the time the Spanish arrived in 1492, little firsthand documentation remains on how the archaic Guanahatabey society was structured and organized although some archeological sites have been found on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula.

Post-Columbus the conquistadors left rugged Pinar del Río largely to its own devices, and the area developed lackadaisically only after Canary Islanders started arriving in the late 1500s. It was originally called Nueva Filipina (New Philippines), but the region was renamed Pinar del Río in 1778, supposedly for the pine forests crowded along the Río Guamá. Tobacco plantations and cattle ranches quickly sprang up in the rich soil and open grazing land that typifies Pinar and the fastidious farmers who made a living from the delicate and well-tended crops were colloquially christened guajiros, a native word that means - literally - 'one of us.' By the mid-1800s, Europeans were hooked on the fragrant weed and the region flourished. Sea routes opened up and the railway was extended to facilitate the shipping of the perishable product.

These days, tobacco, along with tourism, keep Pinar del Río both profitable and popul ar. Quiet and laid-back compared with the car-crazy capital 160km or so to the east, the relaxed Pinareños - despite the countless guajiro jokes - are some of the friendliest, most ingratiating people you'll meet on the island.