We were enthusiastically welcomed to the home of Mercedes in Trinidad, a short hop from Cienfuegos. Like Havana, the old town is a UNESCO world heritage site where cobbled streets are met with the blues, yellows and pinks of Caribbean housing.
Having had no luck in Cienfuegos, we decided to try our luck with the wifi park in Trinidad and easily whiled away an hour reconnecting to the world. The system is open wifi spots at one or two places in each city to be accessed by buying a scratch card from the ETECSA office, so the parks look sort of futuristic in their archaic systems.
Our newest issue, we were starting to lose excitement at the menu options, fast. Whilst a cheese sandwich or fried vegetables had seemed possible as a diet for three weeks in the beginning, we were now struggling to read those words with enthusiasm on the menu. Also, being low season, the alternatives were often not available. Whilst I’m airing my gripes, cabbage is not a good replacement for lettuce and doesn’t make it a salad, and cucumber should not be cooked, ever. Snacking just isn’t really a possibility. You never see supermarkets and there is very little imported or packaged food available. As such we were being succumbed to a diet of routine and realising how much a fast food lifestyle of takeaway coffees and snacks on the run is a luxury. Luckily dinner was much more appetising. We found an Italian restaurant, San Jose and got very excited that you even had to queue for it, where were all these people staying?
The dark clouds seemed to be a permanent feature, threatening rain, still come morning I wanted to explore further the cobbled streets leading to Plaza Major climbed through winding streets. On each side of the small square, fronted colonial houses belonging once to the most influential families. Now they sold trinkets, pottery, art works. With loud cracks of thunder beginning to forewarn the storm which would occupy the rest of the day, the happenings on the street and the house fronts demanding my attention kept me wandering in a never ending loop. I ended up in a bakery just as the clouds let loose and watched the storm emerge. Within a few minutes the streets turned into rivers. The cobbled streets dip in the middle allowing all of the drainage from the houses to flow to the centre. The street runs down causing channels if fast moving water clearing the streets of debris at a pace, collecting momentum at every funnelling junction. As the water darkened it was even more intimidating to cross as it was approaching mid calf. Not least what was being carried down with it. I saw a bag of cement take off at pace and I also begun to wander where the questionable looking dog carcus from the day before would have ended up. We saw on the news that the rain had caused roads to flood around central Cuba turning our province of Sancti Spiritus into a little island. It definitely limited the atmosphere of the locals, if not our enthusiasm. Whilst most are driven inside, there was still some interesting things to observe.
In May, umbrellas are the accessory to have and bold is better. We have seen artistic exploits such as naked women and replicas of oil paintings.
Cuba have taken it upon themselves to create their own eponym ‘Bicitaxi.’ Bike taxis seem to serve their main purpose must be the rain as it is not efficient in any other way, particularly on cobbles… It looks painful for the driver and it’s not all that for the passengers either.
People live with doors and windows wide open, often with wooden or wrought iron balustrades separating their rooms from the pavement. They will sit on a rocking chair watching the world go by, or even use it as a place to conduct transactions and sell some fried food.
Everything is ‘mucho’ and for lack of a more apt word the gesturing gets bigger. ‘¡Mucho agua!’ ‘¡Mucho sol!’
Although Jose Marti and Che Guevara are everywhere, Fidel Castro asked never to be cast into statue and so evidence of him is limited in statues, portraits and street names.
Of the things we saw a favourite was someone on horseback who had pulled up at the wifi spot and was checking his internet. Wifi on horseback seemed to sum up Cuba’s individual attempts at modern technology.
With the rain driving us inside we had a tropical tea party on the terrace and binged on podcasts. When evening came we jumped in a bike taxi and slowly, slowly made our way up the hill for dinner with a view (if you used your imagination.) The customers were rather thin on the ground so we took ourselves and a pack of cards to a small tavern around the corner. Spilling out of the sides, this is where everyone was congregated, the friendly atmosphere helped by shared tables and little space. The exposed brick was decorated with tools and weapons used in the slave era of Trinidad, a rather sinister display of its history. Three French men joined our table and shortly after, our game. We laughed at the monotony of the relentless rain, the friendship testing moments of sharing an umbrella and the enthusiasm required to get up for breakfast at 7.30 only to be confronted with the question ‘what shall we do today?’
Mercedes, our host, could tell we were getting restless and organised us a trip to the Valle de los Ingenios the next morning. A man in a Mr Bean car picked us up. It still managed to pump cold air despite its first impressions, solid wood doors and stretched leather roof interior.
The valley brought produce and wealth to Trinidad who originally was a main producer of sugarcane. The green vista we were taken to first showed Trinidad’s arable surroundings. Much of the slave labour brought over by the Spanish ended up farming this area which was conveniently located close enough to the ports to export the produce around the Americas.
We were then taken to a plantation where a huge tower had been constructed to watch over the huge workforce working the land. At one stage this area was home to over fifty plantations and 30,000 slaves. A big bell in the front yard of the property called them back in at the end of the day. We climbed the tower, up and up the series of ladders leading to smaller and smaller rooms. In every direction greenery expanded on, absorbing the settlements which now seemed small when nestled into them. The train line served this area carrying people and resources back and forth from the Valle de los Ingenios. The train lines intersect the roads and despite being told the trains run, and traffic stopping to look each way, it doesn’t appear well used.
We visited the pottery stores where ceramics were made and colourfully adorned for tourists. The trade was originally brought over from Santander, Spain by the Santander family and has remained as a family enterprise right through the governmental changes.
Then, a miracle happened. The sun came out. The humidity was incredible with so much water around and so we enthusiastically grabbed some sun filled photos and guiltily retreated to the shade. The change when the sun came out wasn’t just blue skies, it affected everything. Suddenly there was music on every street corner, street markets lining the cobbled, children playing ball in the street. The hidden population were revealed again. People hung their caged birds outside their porches, enjoying the musical interludes. With that also came the restuarant enticers. We got a marriage proposal, it seemed aimed at both of us, but really, he was down on his knees. We also had a lady ask us to consider to leave some clothes behind when we left Cuba because of the lack of choice of fashion they get. Aside from the amusement of these requests, we knew where we were going, back to the Taberna of the night before to try and score more friends. We sat with a lovely Spanish couple who got very competitive with the introduction of snap and whiled away another lovely Trinidad evening. As much as we were growing fond of it before, with the sun back it truly ran away with our hearts.