Tuesday, 21 November 2017


3rd - 6th Nov 2017

Plaza Mayor. Trinidad
After a relatively comfortable two hour bus journey we arrived in the town of Trinidad, on the coast east of Cienfuegos. The bus parked by a square on Avenue José Martí...his name appears everywhere and, frankly, before I came to Cuba, I had never heard of him. I had a slight problem getting orientated as the streets all seemed to have two names which didn't always tally with my tourist map. There is a smart Iberostar Hotel on this square which proved an invaluable (if expensive) watering hole. It offered public WiFi connection (a hot spot greatly sought after) and good prawns on toast.

Eventually found my Casa (not far away) called Las Mercedes. Again, similar clean and decent accommodation, helpful proprietoress and given keys for a free run of the place. Actually the shower was a bit of a challenge as the water went from cold to molten lava hot with only a brief intermediate period of 'warm'. It added to the excitement. One common factor about these establishments is that most have an incumbent dog. For some reason most of these dogs are of the Dachshund variety. Las Mercedes was home to one such, a fat creature called Anna which hovered around me, expectant but disappointed, at breakfast. There are a lot of Dachshund 'types' on the streets also. I never found out why. 
I won't bother to mention Casas again unless I hit on one which is exceptional, good or bad. It is so easy to find accommodation without needing to book in advance, unless you want to on some advice or other (but not from a 'Jinero') and gives you the freedom to move on when you feel like it. I can never understand why tourists want to spend the earth on a pre-booked 'luxury' hotel. Heavens, you're only in the place to wash and sleep, and perhaps for breakfast, and to recharge your various 'devices'.

Trinidad is a living museum. One could have stepped back 100 years in terms of its rustic charm. As such it is a very popular tourist destination and also as such has some comparatively smart bars and restaurants serving, by Cuban standards, good and varied menus. 

The main colonial style square, Plaza Mayor (at top), is a pleasant enough space with standard church at one end. To the right of the church is a series of steps and terraces (right) leading up past a stage and on to various bars at the top. 

This is a popular venue for drinking, dancing and listening to bands. As I passed a band was performing. It was one of the louder ones with trumpets and saxophones etc. plus a most enthusiastic vocalist. A bit too noisy for my taste.

I was told later of a more raucous venue, Disco Ayala, which takes place in a cave further up the hill. It is advertised as 'frenetic' and thick with 'Jineteras' (euphemism for prostitutes). Costs CUC 10 entry which includes as many Mojitos as you can sink. It was the Mojitos which put me off going.

Right: Cars again. This one is a 1950 Saab. The owner was very proud of it.

Three old cars. One is a 1958 Austin, one a 1950s Hillman and the other I forgot to note. Perhaps some car expert reading this can sort them out. As someone pointed out; note the bonnet mounted air intake and rear spoiler on the Hillman for greater traction when operating at high speed over the cobbles!

I presume these were British made? It made a change from the usual Chevrolets, Buiks, Cadillacs, Fords etc.

All the streets in this place, if not dirt tracks, are cobbled; some in good repair, some with what might be described as 'challenging' surfaces. It can't have done these old bangers' suspensions much good, but understandably the Cubans have become experts in DIY auto-maintenance.

The rest of the transport was something resembling the Wild West. Horses tethered loosely all over the place. How do they train them just to stand in one place when the owner dismounts?

Not so many horses and carts here, probably because the cobbly road surfaces would shake them to pieces.

Right: Bands played impromptu in most available spaces. Some, as always, very good to listen to. They all have a habit of trying to sell you their 'CD', often at an outrageous price (negotiable). I have so far resisted. This lot here got me to join in playing the 'hollow stick you beat with another stick' instrument, whatever its called. Lots of 'Guantanamara' (girl from Guantánamo)'. They know its a crowd pleaser.

I went to visit a nearby museum, the 'Museo Nacional de La Lucha Contra Bandidos' (the National Museum of the Fight Against Anyone Who Opposed the Revolution). I thought it sounded interesting but unfortunately it was not; just a lot of faded photos and dull mementos of loyal revolutionaries who bravely resisted  counter-revolutionaries. I think they had a small boat as an outside exhibit. Anyway I didn't bother to take any photos. But, there was a tall bell tower in the building which I climbed. I can't resist climbing up inside towers/steeples etc.
It gave some good views of the surrounding countryside. This one (left) is of the mountains to the north. Very attractive scenery.

I took a wander around the 'back streets' which contained some simple and very poor looking houses, but they were mostly painted pretty pastel colours and much effort was ongoing by the ladies of the houses in sweeping, washing and keeping their outside areas clean and tidy. Many horses were lurking under shady trees.

The menfolk were busy occupied in important work such as playing dominoes. This game (left) I stayed to watch. Dominoes is commonly played and with much gusto; lots of rapid noisy banging down of tiles and not a little shouting is involved. 

As mentioned earlier, there are many attractive bars and restaurants about the place, such as this one (right).

.....and one I particularly enjoyed was La Canchanchara, just off the northern backstreets. It had a great band featuring another brilliant girl flautist. When they finished I had a word with her (she spoke a little English). A charming lady, her name is Irbana, aged about 25 and she has played the flute for about 12 years. Her standard of playing is extraordinarily high. Trouble is, she can't 'export' her talent abroad as it is difficult, if not impossible, for 'normal' Cubans to leave the country.

I don't know what Canchanchara means, but they have named a rum-based cocktail after it. I tried one. As with all these 'cocktails' (ie mojitos), they tend to be rather sweet and sickly and don't appeal to me. I have been sticking to local beer (Cristal), wine and the odd rum and soda water.
Right: The Canchanchara bar.

Another café/restaurant I found, called the Adita Café, was notable for producing a great breakfast of good coffee, eggs, bacon and toast. A rarity so far. I got speaking to a barman there. He was called Carlos and told me a bit about Cuban life. His mother is a gynaecologist at the local hospital and his father a truck driver. Carlos' main interest in life is cars and he wants to be a truck driver. However, he explained what he called the 'upside-down pyramid' of earnings in the country. His father earns CUC 20 per month, his mother, a fully qualified doctor, earns CUC 40 per month and he, a barman in a rare part-foreign owned restaurant, together with tips, earns CUC 200 pm! A no brainer. He stays as a barman. Of course because his mother is a doctor, and father a state employed driver, they get subsidised housing, rations, utilities, free health care and education and other state provided benefits. As such 7 of them, Carlos, his wife and daughter, mother and father and grandparents all live together in a two bedroom apartment with one bathroom between them. The beneficent State looks after them....after a fashion. I think Mr Corbyn and his fellow revolutionaries would appreciate this truly 'socialist' way of life.

In all these towns there have been excellent tourist information centres. Tourism being one of Cuba's significant forms of income, tourists do get well looked after. I visited the 'Cubatour' office to find out about the CUC 5 'hop on-hop off' open top bus. I believe these operate in all touristy towns. Same as the one in Viñales. Incidently all the buses are made in China.  As part of its route it takes you to the beach area of Playa Ancón, about 18kms to the  south. I decided to spend a day there.

Left: The beach at Playa Ancón. White sandy beach, beautiful clear turquoise sea and it was broiling hot.

There were a couple of large concrete hotels of the grim Soviet architectural style, but there did not, however, at first sight, appear to be a lot to do if you weren't keen on swimming, snorkelling or roasting yourself in the sun........

.....but that seemed to appeal to the many skin cancer afficionados I saw frazzling themselves from medium cooked to well done.

I suspect some of them, like this rather pallid example, would spend a most uncomfortable night suffering the painful symptoms of 3rd degree sunburn.

I remember the effects from a bad experience I had many years ago, unclimatised in hot sun; the large blisters, the pain, the illness and ultimately the liberal shedding of skin all over the place. Hey Ho! Whatever turns you on.

Of course I now always wear long trousers, a shady hat and only rarely take my tie off. One has to maintain standards, and a pale skin.

Right: Another 'bathing belle' hoping to refloat herself on the next tide. I'm not sure if the Cubans have a whaling fleet but I hope she keeps an ear open for cries of "thar she blows!"
(actually this is not the photo I was originally intending to show. The one I have, but will not download for some reason, is of a much much larger specimen. Perhaps it is too large, or self-censoring.)

On wandering up the beach I spied a more luxurious and inviting sort of hotel complex. On approach from the beach I was challenged by a powerful and threatening looking black 'security guard'. She told me this was a restricted area for 'guests only' and I was not wearing the requisite wrist-band. "Go away!" I was rudely told. So I attacked it from another angle. Sure enough, on entering the front of the establishment, it is called Trinidad del Mar, I was confronted by a very plush complex of chalets, swimming pools and bars/restaurants (left). I asked at the front desk what the form was. Told that it was an 'all inclusive' resort, I asked politely if I could go in. "Yes", I was told, "for a day membership of CUC 25 and this will give you as much as you can eat and drink and the restaurant opens in half an hour for lunch". I considered briefly. I forked out CUC 25 and decided to make the most of it. I had a pre-lunch drink or two plus a game of pool with a local (he won) and then made my way to the restaurant which had a very good, by any standards, buffet lunch on display to which I helped myself plus copious quantities of wine. I made damned sure I got my money's worth. Not very healthy but enjoyable. Hic!

There was a sort of rickety viewing tower above the restaurant which, after at least 8 glasses of wine, I managed to stagger up via wobbly ladders (or maybe it was I that was wobbly) and took this pic.
Right: Looking north to the town of Trinidad and the hills beyond.

After that, back to the 'flop-on' bus and back to town. A bit pissed I suspect.

Left: Sorry, another car. A typical Trinidad taxi. At every street corner you were loudly greeted with the salutation "Tacsee, señor!". I took this to mean "Good-day sir", to which I assumed the correct and polite response was, "No tacsee gracias" (and a good day to you too).

Right: The interior decor and trim of this magnificent machine were in keeping with the general style. Quite impressive. I note that the driver has removed his radio/GPS for safe keeping.
Left: There was some renovation work going on. Note; no arsing about with helmets and other elf 'n safety paraphernalia. Just get the job done.

An interesting point about the houses and shops in these towns and cities, so far, is that they all have prominently displayed street numbers on them. As indeed they do in many other 3rd world towns. Despite the confusing double old/new street names it makes places easy to find. I often wonder why we don't insist on this simple navigational asset in British towns (esp. London!).

A pleasant and interesting 3 days in Trinidad. Next off up north to Santa Clara, smack bang in the centre of Cuba, and the place where Señor Ernesto 'Che' Guevara kick-started La Revolution.

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