CUBA BY CAR: Cardenas – Trinidad
digg del.icio.us TOP
  Posted March 28th, 2010 by Zdenko  in Travel | 12 comments

Traveling Cuba – Part 3.

By: Zdenko Kahlina
Central Cuba – Off the beaten track in Cuba
We are continuing our adventurous trip through Cuba. After dropping off our friend Ljiljana at the Varadero airport, Vera and I drove to a small town Cardenas, which is only 38 km east of Varadero airport. There we could rent a room in casa particular since this would be illegal in Varadero.  Cardenas 
Ever since we set our foot in Cuba, we are under impression that time had stopped for the entire island somewhere in 1950. But, when we came to town of Cardenas, our impression was that we are entering town that still leaves in the early time of colonializam . Its citizens still use – at masse – the horse-drawn taxis to get around. Others ride bikes. Hasta la bicicleta siempre ! Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles far outnumber cars on its straight and narrow streets.

Catedral de la Concepcion Imaculada, with the statue of Christopher Columbus in front (in Park Colon).

After finding our casa particular for one night, Vera and I went for a stroll thru the town. What better way of doing it but to hire a horse-drown carriage (Cubans call it: la coche tradicional) for our tour. For 30 minutes tour, Peter, the carriage rider, charged only 3 CUC (1 hour for 5 CUC). The ride in the carriage was something special. Peter was a good tour guide. He was trying to explain what we were seeing, but his English was just as limited as Vera’s Spanish. I was impressed how “robotic” the horse was. I love horses, but these horses are really trained for the job; they can read the traffic, they know exactly how much space the wheels of the carriage need on the street, so they don’t scratch cars or hit pedestrians, they go around the potholes… and after half hour going around the town, there was no sweat. It was just one of many tours they do every day, working probably more than 12 hours a day. As our ride was over, they park and line-up for the next one, without even as much as turning head. Amazing… and I felt sorry for them!

Horse-drawn taxis in Cardenas 

Cárdenas supplies part of Varadero in labor. It boasts nice examples of neo-classic architecture (superb patios, high windows, detailed motifs) some dating to the town’s founding in 1828 and it’s a short one-day excursion for the tourists who rent motorbikes in Varadero.

Horse-drawn taxis in Cardenas 

Located 18km southeast of Varadero, Cárdenas is a small, quiet city with beautiful colonial-era architecture and a timeless quality. Cárdenas is known as Cuba’s “Ciudad Bandera” (Flag City), as it was here, on 19 May 1850, Narciso López and 600 Kentucky and Louisiana mercenaries invaded the island with a plan to seize it from Spain and annex it for the U.S. to add to the slave states. But their goal was thwarted and the national flag was first raised atop the building of the La Dominica Hotel.

Horse-drawn taxis in Cardenas

 

The city center is quite compact, and one can easily see most of the sights in a couple of hours strolling around. There are several small squares and parks in Cárdenas. The diminutive Parque Colón features the first statue of Christopher Columbus in the Americas dating from 1826. Across from it is the beautiful Catedral de la Concepción Imaculada, which is famous for its stained glass. In another main park, Parque Echeverría, sits the Museo Casa Natal José Antonio Echeverría. This beautiful old home features tributes to various independence fighters and revolutionary heroes, including the museum’s namesake, a murdered revolutionary student hero who was born here in 1932.

 

The town’s main market, Plaza Molokoff is housed in an interesting two-story L-shaped iron building, topped with a large and high ornate dome. Out by the water’s edge is the Arrechabala Rum Factory, where the brand Havana Club was born and where present-day Varadero and Buccanero rums are made. Tours of the factory are given daily.

The first electric tramways started here. Second only to Bacardi, one of Cuba’s largest rum distillery Ron Arrechabala (founded 1878) was established here.
Its owner created the Havana Club brand which infamous Bacardi claimed was theirs but after a years-long legal battle in Europe and the US, Pernod-Ricard in partnership with Cuba got rightful ownership of the brand. Other town firsts include the first electric power plant and the first gynecological clinic.
The sleepy town used to live off two sugar mills (José Smith Comas and Humberto Alvarez) in the area but now, there’s only nearby Varadero’s tourist industry and a few of the fishermen’s catches.

Cardenas – Santa Clara
Next morning we were searching for the place where we could have a breakfast, but we found only place to have a coffee. After that we hit the road hungry (thanks for the fruit bars we brought from Edmonton), going southeast on a small country road.   

Sugar cane plantation in Central Cuba  

Another Horse-drawn taxi in Cuba  

Typical small town in central Cuba

  We never got lost… the road was narrow but straight, with only few potholes, going thru many small villages. On the western edge of Maximo Gomez (not well marked) we turned right. At Perico, there is an old sugar refinery town called Republicana Espana. (There is a by-pass road around Republicana Espana on the west, or the road through is also fine). We continued thru Perico to Colon, Los Arabos, Mordazo, Manacas, Santo Domingo, Jicoteas and our first destination for the day: city of Santa Clara. This part of the trip was uneventful except for countless sugar cane and banana plantations by the road. We actually managed to arrive in Santa Clara much faster than planned.

Santa Clara 
We entered Santa Clara, from the west, and first thing we could see was a park with Che Guevarra monument on the side of the street.

Santa Clara is the Capital City of the Villa Clara province in Cuba. The Villa Clara province is located near the centre of Cuba and is the fifth largest province in Cuba. The main industries in Villa Clara in Cuba are the agricultural production of sugar and the breeding of livestock. 

The town of Santa Clara in Cuba is not very large with a population of only around 200,000. This is a sociable town, famed as the fountainhead of the revolution, where toddlers take pleasure rides in goat-pulled wagons outside the Hotel Santa Clara Libre, still scarred with gunshot from the guerrilla attack that clinched the 1958 war. 

Panels with Che’s picture are everywhere

Theater building on the main plaza in Santa Clara

 That attack was led by the great Guevara, whose statue casts a 100ft shadow over Santa Clara from its plinth above the Plaza de la Revolucion, and embodies the complex contradictions around his cult.

Nevertheless, every year thousands of tourists in Cuba pass through Santa Clara in Cuba to visit a few of its noteworthy tourist attractions.

The freedom-bringing hero stands in trademark combat gear, body armoured with machetes and grenades, overlooking a Stalinesque square that was built to fête him but now serves as a vast, parched coach-park unloading Germans, Canadians and Brits in Che shirts and caps.

There is a bunker-like museum here, too – and it’s a gripping study in Socialist celebrity, lined with glossy, Magnum-style photographs of Che the medical student, Che the mountain climber, Che the golfer – even Che kissing a baby. And you think: boy, did that guy have an eye for a photo opportunity.

As we wandered around, dodging the gaze of a museum, I wonder what Guevara would make of his modern status as tourist icon and all-purpose fashion accessory. More importantly, what would he make of a nation that has been 50 years without democracy.

We had lunch close to the main plaza, at pizzeria “La Toscana” and I had unarguably the worst pizza in my life. My wife also had not so tasty pasta.  So after couple of hours spent in and around centre of Santa Clara, we continued our journey with the car. Today’s final destination is Trinidad.  

Pizzeria “La Toscana in Santa Clara not so good.

Santa Clara – Trinidad

From Santa Clara we originally planned to reach Trinidad via Sancti Spiritus and highway road xx. Another look at the map and I realized we’ve had more options. It was 175 km via Sancti Spiritus , but we decided to take the straightest route via Mataqua – Manicaragua and over the Topes de Collantes. It was a scintillating drive across the jungly serrations of the Escambray Mountains.  

Country road heading towards the Escambray Mountains.  

Typical farm in the Escambray Mountains.

 On the map it was only 85 km between Santa Clara and Trinidad. First 40 – 45 km was good, but narrow, curvy road, going up and down thru the foothills of Escambray Mountains. As we drove deeper and deeper into the mountains, road condition rapidly deteriorated and soon we were unable to go faster than crawling speed. There are some HUGE holes, almost craters! We drove in a small rented Kia-Rio, and managed to avoid all potholes and didn’t have any problems with the car. But keep an eye out! However, the journey was fantastic, great scenery reaching the top of Topes de Collantes.

View of Escambray Mountains from the road  

Road full of potholes

  The Topes de Collantes is a tiny village located at the highest peak in the Sierra Del Escambray, the second largest mountain range in the country. Known for its ecotourism, the area is beginning to rival places like Costa Rica, with natural waterfalls and crystal clear lakes with supposed healing powers…

From the top of Sierra Mountains going downhill towards Trinidad was a unique experience. In the distance, it can be clearly seen the splendid scenery of Ancon Peninsula with its magnificent beaches that face the Caribbean. At one end, with its ancient streets and small places: Trinidad, and to meet the visitor, the mountain with its many greens that dress the slopes and depth.

View from The Topes de Collantes towards Trinidad

 This only road into the mountains is by Canadian standards, suicidal!! There are no guardrails and very few posted signs, and the steep downhill grade is too difficult for most locals to negotiate in their beat-up cars…. on the positive side, this last part of the road before Trinidad was in good condition. We left the potholes and mountains behind and were facing town of Trinidad and its cobblestone streets.

Bienvenidos a Trinidad de Cuba

To be continued…

Share



Tags:



Gotta Comment?
If you've got a comment or opinion you'd like to share, send me an email or fill the comment fields bellow, with only requirements your name and email address. I might just publish you in glorious pixilated black & white! Comments may be edited for grammar, spelling and length, or just to make them better.

Submit your own stories for the Zdenko’s Corner about rides, Gran Fondo’s, having a good time traveling and/or cycling, Croatian cycling history, etc. All stories are very welcome. There are more than 400 stories already in this blog. The search feature at the top right, works best for finding subjects in the blog. There is also translating button at the top of every story so you can translate each page to language of your choice.

Send your comments to: zdenko@zkahlina.ca

12 comments to “CUBA BY CAR: Cardenas – Trinidad”

  1. Comment by mary:

    lovely storey… thanks so much for sharing. Look forward to your next installment.

  2. Comment by Emil Amodei:

    In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it.

  3. Comment by Mason Blakley:

    The blog was absolutely fantastic! Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need!

  4. Comment by Paris France Vacation Packages:

    Valuable information and excellent design you got here! I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!! Thumbs up!

  5. Comment by Lotro Gold:

    Your blog is so informative ?keep up the good work!!!!

  6. Comment by Blogs:

    thanks !! very helpful post!

  7. Comment by Nigel Temoney:

    Our family is considering a summer vacation probably in July of 7 – 10 days to Cuba. Since my 15 year old son and I are fair skin complexion, we will probably avoid the beaches and spend most of our time in the mountains, rain forest, and visiting Havana and other central valley towns. Now I’ve read that the rainy season starts in May or so….and continues to about November. We can tolerate a little rain during the day…but our concern is that perhaps it will be TOO much rain. Should we wait and visit during the drier season to get better better weather since most of our time will be outside?

  8. Comment by Tanja Manza:

    keep up the excellent work. I read few posts on this internet site and I believe that your site is real interesting and contains circles of superb information.

  9. Comment by Sharolyn Secrest:

    I truly enjoy looking at this internet site, it holds fantastic content. I have never been to Cuba, but would love to visit after reading this blog. Hmmm… maybe I will one day! Keep on posting about your travels…

  10. Comment by Debroah Watchorn:

    Hello there, you have traveled a world! This was very interesting read. If you could e mail me with a couple of hints about how you made this weblog site… glimpse it amazing! I will be definetely thankful!

  11. Comment by Rozman:

    Magnificent submit, very informative. You must continue your writing about Cuba. I’m sure, you have a great readers’ base already!
    Excellent website. Lots of useful information here. I browsed several of your blogs and they are all very informative… quite interesting! I am sending it to several friends ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks for your sweat!

  12. Comment by Garry:

    Very helpful blog. I am reading this just before my trip to Cuba.
    Congratulations!
    You ought to take part in a contest for one off the highest quality sites on the internet.
    I’m going to recommend this blog!
    Regards, Garry

Leave a Reply