Monday, 15th December
After breakfast we said farewell to our hosts at the casa in old Havana and jumped in a couple of taxis bound for the Viazul bus station. The ride took around 20 minutes and we got there half an hour before our bus would be leaving for Trinidad at 11am. It’s a six hour bus ride to Trinidad from Havana with several stops along the way. We could check our luggage onto this bus so we did so. It’s obvious that this bus is just for tourists, I guessed as much by the price tag of the tickets being the equivalent of around a months wages for a local. I’m it sure we couldn’t take the local bus if we wanted to anyway, there are still some restrictions on what we can do as tourists here. Whilst waiting for the bus I picked up a copy of ‘A brief history of Cuba’, curious to read their take on the events that shaped this country. We boarded the bus and although we did have allocated seating it was a free-for-all so we just sat anywhere and being the last to jump aboard were spread it over the bus.
The journey took us through some typically caribbean terrain, all fairly flat in this part of the island. We made a stop for lunch for 45 minutes at a roadside restaurant and had a toasted sandwich each, made by a ‘sandwich chef’. I wasn’t expecting a stop so it was good off the bus to stretch our legs and get some food. They don’t really do snacks in Cuba so it’s not like we could stock up on things to eat on the bus before we left like we have done in other countries. We eventually got to Trinidad at around 5pm and were left at the main bus station in town. As we pulled in Kirsty noticed a man holding up a sign with my name on it (the rooms were booked in my name) so after getting our luggage we went with him towards our next ‘casa particular’.
We travelled the short ride to the casa in three tricycles, a popular method for getting around town here. They are basically mechanical pedal-powered tuk-tuks. We even had some tunes on our ride with some kind of car stereo contraption wired up, I think to a dynamo. We arrived at the casa to be greeted by the owner Mario. He’s a very friendly chap and was very eager to get us settled in so after getting our rooms and keys we sat down to a juice whilst we thought about what we might do here in Trinidad. We have two nights and essentially one full day here. It became clear that Mario could arrange anything we wanted to do so that helped. Trinidad is one of the first cities of Cuba and was founded in 1514 and is one of the best preserved cities in the Caribbean from the time when the sugar trade was the main industry in the region.
We arranged to have dinner in the casa that evening at 8pm so that left a couple of hours to go exploring beforehand in the moonlight. Trinidad is a smallish town and looks colonial with all the cobbled streets and colourful houses. We found the main square (Plaza Mayor) and had a couple of piña coladas from a hole-in-the-wall bar whilst sitting on the still-warm cobblestones, admiring the ambience and chatting. We were joined by a couple of dogs also taking advantage of the warm cobblestones who curled up for a nap besides us. I think they were also hopeful of a stroke of their fur or some food but alas we had none to give and weren’t that keen on stroking a stray having seen the ones in Chile not be so friendly.
Dinner in the casa was a large affair with black bean soup to start followed by salad, pork, rice and plaintain chips followed by fruit then some cake. We were definitely well fed for the 5 pesos or so it cost. These casas are great value places to stay and often the best food you get in Cuba is in the casas or so we have be told. After dinner we were joined by a couple of Mario’s grandkids who caused a small amount of havoc around the dinner table whilst we were trying to play monopoly deal. We attempted to bring them into the game but the language barrier and their desire just to muck around did not lead to a successful game. Instead Doug tried unsuccessfully to impress them with some magic tricks and they took amusement in what little spanish we had. Eventually they were called away by their dad then Mario appeared again this time with a box of cigars, the fancy ones (‘Cohibo’). He was offering the box of 25 cigars for 80 pesos. These go for around 500 pesos to tourists in the shops here so it seemed like a good deal but none of us smoke and even for a souvenir it seemed a little on the excessive side. Still, he seems like a connected man. We all turned in around 11pm after arranging a salsa dancing lesson for tomorrow and also our next ride to Varadero by private taxi. A more efficient way than the bus, taking half the time and only a couple of pesos extra.
Tuesday, 16th December
We began the day with breakfast outside on the patio of this lovely house. Mario fed us well with fruit, juice, coffee, toasted sandwiches and eggs which set us up well for the day. We didn’t have any particular plans for the day except for the salsa lesson which was scheduled in for 5pm back at the casa. For the rest of the day we were content to wander the streets and see what Trinidad had to offer. Full from breakfast we set off towards the Plaza Mayor, in the centre of town, figuring that’s where all the action would be. It’s warmer here than in Havana and very pleasant weather to stroll around in. Before we got to the Plaza Mayor we got side-tracked in a souvenir market and ended up completing our Christmas shopping and buying a hat each, ready for the beach in Varadero, our next stop. It was a good market with all the usual trappings and objects but it felt more ‘home-made’ than most. I don’t know how true that is though. After walking around the market we felt the need for a sit down on the steps where we loitered last night beside the church and had a takeaway cocktail each. There are clearly no objections to drinking in public here.
There are many museums in town but the one that people say to go to if you just go to one is the ‘Museo Historico Municipal’, the former home of a sugar baron, now a museum of Cuban and Trinidadian history. The artefacts were interesting but not as interesting as the house itself and the view that we were rewarded with after walking up the tight and narrow steps of the watchtower. We could see right down to the ocean from there being only 15km or so away from the water. Trinidad is apparently the best example of a colonial town in Cuba, being the best preserved and it is is a very beautiful, laid back town.
We didn’t hang around long in the museum and walked out at around lunchtime. We found a place that suited us for lunch close to the main square which had an internal courtyard for outside seating. ‘La Parrada’ had a whole suckling pig roasting on a spit over a fire in the centre of the courtyard and of course the house speciality is roast pork. I got a go at turning the pig and we all had the pork in various forms, Kirsty and myself opting for a plate of roast pork, rice and beans and yuca. The others opting for a roast pork sandwich. We also had of course some rum cocktails to go with the food and Doug and myself treated ourselves to a slug of seven year old Havana club rum as a digestif. It was a nice meal and made all the better by the music and salsa dancing that was going on in the background. Of course you have to tip the musicians and dancers and being the only people in the restaurant means there’s no getting away from it. We are happy to though when it’s clearly good and adds value to our enjoyment. Kirsty and Doug got a quick salsa lesson thrown in as well when they were dragged up for a quick spin.
Before our salsa lesson we still had a few hours to spare so after some of us visited a ‘Cadeca’ cambio house for a top up of some pesos and others hanged back at the casa for a rest, we caught a taxi to the beach. The beach is around 15km from the town of Trinidad and a short cab ride of 15 minutes or so. We went in convoy, in two cars organised by Mario, that would wait for us to take us back for our salsa lesson after our beach visit. The beach was reminiscent of an eastern European beachfront, or what I imagine one to be like. lt had very dated looking mustard-coloured hotels and beach apparel. Doug and Melissa went for a swim whilst the rest of us got a cocktail and reclined in some beach loungers. It’s a nice beach there, clean with clear water but not quite warm enough for myself to get in. After our half an hour was up we had to hightail it back to the casa for the salsa lesson arranged by Mario.
We had the lesson in the back garden of the casa and the teacher took us through the first two basic passes of salsa which we got the hang of, some quicker than others. It’s not an easy dance and having now tried our hand it gives a greater admiration for those in the restaurants who make it look so easy. The teacher was stern but fun, being strict but at the same time making fun of us. We salsa’d through our hour lesson, all feeling puffed out by the end. I got confused by how much I could move thinking I should swing to the music but apparently that is the women’s job and the guy dances with a straight back but somehow still in a way that still conveys the rhythm of the music. I’m sure I’ll get it soon, we’ll have opportunity to practice as salsa is played everywhere here.
After dancing we had dinner in the casa, another feast of a meal, then headed out to sample some local Trinidadian nightlife. We first made for the Plaza Mayor and ‘La Casa de la Musica’ on the recommendation of our salsa teacher. This is where most of the tourists in town gather to watch and participate in some dancing, both salsa and creole. We saw some pros strutting their stuff but feeling like too much on show we opted not to dance ourselves but just to watch and chat. This place is set up outside, beside the church, with a stage to dance on and is a nice place for a few drinks. At one point I went to the toilet and having no coins had to stump up a three peso note for the pleasure. I tried to get some change but was met with a blank look even though I know my spanish to be not that bad. Anyway, it did teach me always to keep some coins in my pocket though as pretty much every bathroom is manned by a cleaner who you have to pay to use the facilities. Like most countries we have been to but the value of their currency is higher here so you end up giving more than you would like to. That was basically US$3 for a toilet visit. We stayed for one then went on to the next place, the ‘Salsa Bar’ where there was a band belting out the tunes, or just one long tune as the bassline and beats never stopped. There wasn’t much dancing going on at this one, just the odd table getting up by their drinks for a spin and we only stayed for the one. Tomorrow we have a taxi booked to take us all to Varadero at 10am, organised by Mario of course. Trinidad has been fun, now for some beach action in Varadero, a resort town in the province of Matanzas and one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean.