This is the first town we’ve hit on the major tourist loop — Havana – Vinales – Cienfuegos – Trinidad, most tourists follow this loop then go on to a beach resort. We are glad we started in the east on this trip, for one thing is has been wet in the west and we have had fine weather albeit chilly for a couple of days in Camaguey, and also because we hope the tourist high season will be easing now. It seems that all the Europeans decided with the embargo about to lift that they must rush to Cuba and see it “before the Americans change everything.” Sure hope that doesn’t actually happen, this country is so wonderful as it is. And we get the idea that the Cubans are worried about this too.
Trinidad is one of the most historic colonial towns in Cuba, quite small and mostly unchanged over the years. The streets are still real cobblestone, of the random rock variety, very hard to walk on. Buildings are small and nondescript from the outside, though brightly painted in an array of pastel colours, but through the always open doors and window shutters we glimpse beautiful tiled floors, high ceilings, and the ubiquitous gorgeous caned chairs, mostly rockers. There are lots of horses here, people ride through the streets, horses pull carts, and last evening we saw a man park his horse and have it shoed right outside the house of the farrier who was clad in a leather apron and rubber boots. When I stopped to watch, he offered to take me riding the next day.
Last evening we took a loop away from the Plaza Mayor, the main square, up through an area of barrios to get some photos in the beautiful early evening light with lovely vistas down the twisting cobbled streets with their multicoloured houses, antique cars lovingly restored, horse carts and horses. Everyone sits in the evenings on their stoops, kids are playing in the street. The most mellow dogs here, they run freely but are healthy (but they need a neutering program badly) and seem to belong to people. Kids here have been infected by that French “bonbon” idea (I always wanted to find and murder the first Frenchman who gave out candies in India) but they ask for “caramelos” or pens. The pen thing is pretty much universal in the world, they have lots of pens, the little kids in the barrios are even playing with phones and tablets, but as one old guy who had good English told me, “I don’t really need a pen, I have pens, but I like to talk to tourists so they stop when I ask them and we talk.” Old ladies often ask for “sabon” which is soap, very odd as they also have lots of soap here, and though we have to pay in CUCs, in moneda nationale which they use, it is very cheap. A lot of people bring suitcases of stuff to distribute, as far as I can see it is unnecessary, except for pharmaceuticals of which there is a great lack.
There is music everywhere here too, those music lovers among you would so enjoy all the impromptu music and the bands who play everywhere. To truly get into the scene it is best to be a night owl, as the Casa de Trova (which every town has) a music venue for a variety of bands each night, really gets going after 10pm. Sadly your correspondents have wended their way home by then, full of the excellent meals which are also abundant here and unlike everywhere else there actually is a variety of cuisines. The other fantastic thing about Cuba in this regard is that it is never unsafe to walk the streets no matter how late the hour and what the neighbourhood. Though I am sure a bag could disappear if you left it somewhere (though Doug has left his camera bag in a restaurant and they put it away for him) it seems that actual robbery in the street is unheard of, which is absolutely unique in Central and South America for sure. I wonder if that will change with the influx of tourists that is happening.
Restaurants abound here and we have had some lovely meals, though it is a shock to have to make reservations at some of them days in advance. The most lovely one (pictured below) we returned to twice. The table settings were extremely elegant, the service very charming, and a young couple danced beautifully to the live music, then invited others to dance with them. Oh I so wished I could dance, but it was more fun to watch them than to stumble about the dance floor I decided. Sadly the tab was a bit higher than the reasonable but less exciting fare we have been eating in our casas most nights.
When we arrived at our casa here, I was somewhat dubious, the entry room was not the grand sala we are used to, and after climbing a rickety staircase and struggling with a tricky door lock our host opened the door to a vast room with a 20 foot ceiling, dark as a tomb with wooden shutters blocking off the light. When they opened the doors and shutters to our own private plant filled terrace on the back of the house (silent at night) I changed my mind. Daisy and Olaly bring us our breakfast on the terrace each morning via a treacherous spiral from the kitchen below, many trips are required to fully provision the foreigners with the requisite many course desayuno.
The reason Bernardo’s entry is unimpressive is that he and his wife split up a few years ago, her casa is next door and she got the sala and dining room, he got the rooms above the street. We can see her interior terrace when we look down from ours, right now a party of Germans is being fed their breakfast, they must rise rather later than we do.
As usual, the women here are very friendly and helpful, particularly an older lady called Olaly. My watch decided to pack it in a day or so before we arrived here. Doug suggested I ask if there is a repair shop here. Olaly is one of those people who will try to understand my Spanish, Daisy just looks at me in horror every time I try and unleashes a torrent of Spanish which is incomprehensible to me, my pleas to go slowly result in her repeating the whole thing just as fast. At any rate Olaly suggested she take me to the watch repair, so we set off first thing in the morning. The watch repairer was sitting in his window, with a bench full of watch repair tools, wearing a magnifying lens over his glasses. As usual there was quite a line up of people which seemed strange to me as everyone was waiting while he repaired the watches one by one. As usual, Olaly yelled out, “Qui es ultimo?”and a man across the street sitting on the curb raised his hand. Soon someone else came by with the same query and I raised my hand. Such a wonderful system, sadly most of the tourists here in Trinidad don’t know it and they get very dirty looks from the Cubans as they surge to the front of the line in the tiendas to buy their beer and water.
One thing that really impressed me was that a police officer on duty joined the line, as did a uniformed “bombero”– an emergency responder– and they took their turn like everyone else. Everyone was handing in their cheap watches, mostly with broken straps and paying their small fee in moneda nationale when he fixed them. Some however he took apart and repaired on the spot. Olaly took me to the front so I could be impressed by his professional tools, she told me he was very intelligent and knew all about repairing watches. Well when it was finally my turn, he took mine apart, (which requires a special tool for a St Moritz watch) and said the problem was “mecanico” (he had a large array of batteries on the bench but he tested mine and it was okay). He fiddled with its innards, then set it aside to see if it would continue to run. While we were waiting, Olaly took the opportunity to bring out 3 of her watches, one of which was declared unfixable, and the other 2 he repaired quickly. So far so good, 3 days later my watch is still running. Don’t think it’s likely a long term fix but if it gets me a bit farther…
There is a very nice beach just out of town so we have spent a couple of half days swimming and sitting in the shade, even in the shade Doug has turned a bright scarlet. Really nice water and we love to swim. Another day we took an old rickety train out to the Valle de Ingenios where the old sugar plantations were in the Spanish days. We climbed a 7 storey tower from where the overseers could watch all the slaves working themselves to death in the cane fields. One old hacienda is now a restaurant where we had lunch. We met a lovely couple from the Yukon there, they live 20 km off the highway about 100 km south of Whitehorse. They are here for 2 months and have found the heat (which isn’t that bad) and the crush of people (also mild) overwhelming, but have also had a great time. An enjoyable day.
As I am writing this on our terrace on our last day in Trinidad, I just broke off quickly as we were engulfed in a fog of fumigation smoke. It is really interesting, the fumigators go from door to door, I don’t think it is optional but they warn you they are coming. We quickly vacated our casa in Santiago one morning as Carmen came to tell us we either should go out or up on the roof until they were finished. Two men come, one just makes a note of the house, the other has a hand held machine that sends out a dense fog of kerosene smelling anti insect chemical, no one has been able to tell me what it is. They do it to all the shops too, there will be a sign on the door saying closed for the morning for fumigation. Anyway as I sat here I could see a dense fog enveloping the house two down from here, then they moved on to the home of the elderly woman next door (introduced to me by Olaly who helps with her care). We began gathering our things with the intention of rapidly decamping but Claudia, another of the merry band of housekeepers said they weren’t coming here today. I guess that is why there are few mosquitoes and I have only seen one small cockroach the whole trip so far. The fumigator doesn’t use a proper mask, just a paper one, and they don’t seem too worried about the smoke. Public health is excellent here so I just can’t imagine what this so called innocuous bug spray could be.
This has been another lovely interlude, 6 nights about perfect, and we are off to Cienfuegos tomorrow. Have now become so addicted to our taxi rides door to door that we have arranged another one for the 85 km journey. Cienfuegos was settled by the French at the beginning of the 1800’s so the architecture will be quite different. On we go!