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Traveling Cuba – Part 4.
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Central Cuba – Off the beaten track in Cuba
We are continuing our adventurous trip through Cuba. So far we traveled from Havana to western part of Cuba to visit Pinar del Rio and Vinales. From there we returned back east to Varadero and Cardenas, where we stayed over night at casa particular. From Cardenas we traveled on small country roads thru many Cuban villages to visit Santa Clara.
The Roman Catholic Church on Sanctisima Trinidad Square
From Santa Clara we have chosen to travel across the Escambray Mountains on the potholed filed road to Trinidad instead of going via Sancti Spiritus which is longer route.
Sanctisima Trinidad Square
Vera on Sanctisima Trinidad Square
We didn’t have reserved place to stay in Trinidad, so we just drove straight to the old town plaza and parked our car there. A little walk around the plaza, and we noticed plenty of houses for rent, which are all properly marked by the sign on the house. Second house that we walked in was a nice place for affordable price, and we said “yes”.
Casa “Alejandro” where we stayed for four days
The place was casa “Alejandro” in Calle Lino Perez, very close to the old part of town. It’s a recently renovated house, the interior of which looks like a museum, overfull with all sorts of old furniture, pictures and beautiful “junk”. Our room was in the courtyard, with nice patio and we’re really delighted to have gotten a room there. Very clean place with a friendly family running the place.
Barbara and her son Alejandro were very accommodating and ensured we have everything we needed. At one point there was no hot water, and when I mentioned this to Alejandro, he climbed on the roof and fixed the problem immediately. We learnt that his wife was currently visiting Venezuela because her sister was having a baby, but he was not allowed to go with her as he works for Cuban government. They just wouldn’t allow him to go there for the scare they might immigrate there.
Having a breakfast on courtyard patio
There was already another tourist couple from Liechtenstein (Europe), with whom we exchanged personal experiences about traveling around Cuba. They were basically doing the same thing we are doing: traveling thru Cuba with a rent-a-car.
Our time in Trinidad feels a bit orchestrated by comparison. This is Cuba’s cutest colonial outpost, and its cobbled heritage quarter is very much on the backpacker beat. Sacked by pirates, rebuilt by slaves, it has a handicraft market in every alleyway and infectious music tumbling from many doors. Outside the cathedral you can take a photo of an old man’s ass for half a peso.
It is a town that requires little guidebook reading: you can’t miss the party. But even here, natives and newcomers mingle unselfconsciously. My favorite hangout is the grape-draped courtyard at Casa de la Trova, where a wizened lothario in Daz-white slacks, shirt and cap invites a succession of bashful young women from England up to salsa, whether their boyfriends like it or not.
Typical Trinidad cobblestoned street
Another cobblestoned street with “taxi” patiently waiting for a customer.
Typical Trinidad houses
Selling veggies on the street
What you do need in Trinidad, like everywhere else in Cuba, is a heads-up about where to eat. And, like elsewhere, the paladars – spare-room eateries in family homes – have the edge over the state-run restaurants. A paladar is a family-run, state-sanctioned restaurant (the enterprise was only made legal in 1995), authorised so that tourists can experience ‘real’ Cuba. They can have no more than 12 seats and must function out of the family home. The brilliant part of this set-up is that you might be eating chicken à la Cubana while granny is knitting nearby, or – as in Paladar Estela – you pass through the front room to get to the courtyard restaurant.
Typical Trinidad houses
Enter Jorge the bici-taxi driver. He insists on pedaling me to Estela’s, where a rap at a shadowy door wins admittance to the parlour of a stuccoed Spanish townhouse, and for £5 I scoff nine platefuls of creole chicken, fried pork and chilly-laced greens, under the anguished gaze of an especially gruesome pieta. We didn’t buy into this, preferring the restaurants instead.
An oldtimer on the main plaza
Kids who just finished dancing on the street
School kids on the break
Until we came to Trinidad I didn’t know Cubans could be fat – I thought the low salary would make over-eating impossible. But at Plaza Mayor restaurant, we ate shrimps, black beans, rice, grilled fish, chicken legs and giant tomato slabs alongside rotund Cubans, skinnier French tourists and visiting Spaniards.
Indeed, Trinidad is a good place to observe the economic contradictions of a country caught between its flickering Marxist dream and the rapacious tide of tourism. Nobody I meet is prepared to criticize the Castro regime, and most Cubans seem expert at having a good time, but in a country where hotel porters now make more than doctors and each “convertible” tourist peso is worth 24 of the local variety, everyone’s after your buck. This even includes the matronly curator at the Museo Romantico, who ushers me discreetly into a side room to offer swag of her black-market embroidery – three convertible pesos, please.
Traditional house in Trinidad
Traditional house in Trinidad
Store for tourists to buy cigars’ and Cuban rum
The Roman Catholic Church on Sanctisima Trinidad Square is immaculate, family houses are lovingly painted, even the old American cars are in good nick. Hardcore Lonely Planet-ers might call Trinidad ‘too pretty’ compared with disheveled Havana, but there’s no denying the standard of living is better here.
Plenty of souvenirs on offer
Taxis in Trinidad
When it comes to colonial-era charm, few cities in the Americas can rival the small and romantic city of Trinidad Cuba. Moorish, Neo Classical and Baroque architecture dominate Trinidad’s old town, and it is here that you will find the largest church in the country.
The Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad, which was constructed between the years of 1817 and 1892 is just one of the attractions that make a Trinidad Cuba vacation so special. Trinidad Cuba is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is the nearby San Luis Valley, where the countryside is dotted with intriguing castles, old-world haciendas and telling slave houses.
Trinidad Cuba is a city where time seems to have skipped many a decade. The city’s cobblestone streets only make the old town all the more charming, and as far back as the 1950″s, the capitalist Cuban government saw fit to preserve Trinidad’s beauty by limiting modern development. Trinidad was founded in 1514, and it was one of the original seven “Villas” that Spanish Conquistador Diego Velázquez conceived. As such, it is easy to see its value in terms of Cuban history. Growing quickly in its early days, Trinidad Cuba would reap big rewards from the country’s booming sugar cane industry, which began really catching fire in the 1700″s.
Man and his rooster pose for tourists (2 CUCs a shot)
Those making the bulk of the sugar cane money invested in the stately palaces and mansions found in the nearby valleys today, though by the mid-to-late 1860″s, slave revolts and a waning return on sugar production saw Trinidad enter a rough financial period. Though it might be a bit selfish to be thankful for Trinidad’s past economic struggles, they are also responsible for causing a halt in modern construction. As such, those enjoying a Trinidad Cuba vacation will find the city much like it appeared hundreds of years ago.
Parked horse on the street
A Trinidad Cuba vacation proves both charming and relaxing, whether you choose to traipse about town, or head off to a nearby Trinidad beach. The Plaza Mayor in the city’s old town is a good place to begin your walking tour of the historic district, and it is here that you will find the aforementioned Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad church, which is known locally as La Parroquíal Mayor. Another major attraction here that Trinidad Cuba vacationers won’t want to miss is the Palacio Brunet, which is a stunning colonial mansion.
Inside the Palacio Brunet, the Museo Romántico gives insight into how the old sugar-rich families once lived in decorative splendor. If you find the city’s colonial architecture to be intriguing, you can learn more about it with a visit to the Museum of Colonial Architecture, which offers guided tours. The Municipal Museum is another one of Trinidad’s best, highlighting Cuban history.
Those seeking a Trinidad beach might choose to head to nearby Ancon Beach, where white sand and turquoise water make for an ideal setting. Cayo Blanco, another popular Trinidad beach, is a premier Cuba scuba diving destination, offering some 30 spots to drop in.
Hanging out at a Trinidad beach only serves to accentuate the experience here, and the area beach resorts have you more than covered when it comes to the Trinidad hotels. Just a tad over 200 miles to the southeast of Havana, Trinidad joins Varadero as a top south coast vacation destination within easy reach of the capital.
Playa d’Ancon, Trinidad
Playa Ancón – named Cuba’s most beautiful beach by tourist boards and locals alike – is just a 15-minute drive from Trinidad. You can use the entire beach for free, with exception of parking. If you came with the car, like we did, there are some guys “covering” the parking lot, and charging you 1 or 2 CUC to “watch” after your car.
Our small private place on the beach
Playa Ancon and beautiful Almond trees
We stopped first at El Grille Caribe, an unmissable shack on the only road to Ancón, with a giant lobster sculpture marking the spot. Restaurant was totally empty, so we didn’t stay for long and never ate anything there.
Restaurant on the beach: El Grille Caribe
Canadians on the beach… burning their white skin under the Caribbean sun
The beaches were empty save for Cuban families swimming in the late-afternoon sun or a handful of other intrepid tourists (usually French or Spanish) who’d made it here too, in hire cars from Havana. We swam in the ocean, drank Bucanero beers and slept beneath the shade of giant almond trees (a holiday’s just not a holiday until you’ve fallen asleep at four in the afternoon). The nearby hotels had also some tourists on the beach, but we didn’t mix with them. They were all wearing the colored bracelets provided by their hotel for identification as hotel quests.
The beach was absolutely gorgeous, and was my favorite of all the beaches we visited while in Cuba. It was quiet, and there weren’t many tourists so we found privacy easily. The water was crystal clear, warm and calm, expansive and sea-green, and the beach was dotted with trees and bushes. We paid 2 CUC (each) for the beach chairs and set up our spot in the shade. Unfortunately for four days in a row that we were coming to this beach, it was very windy every day, and the weather was not so pleasant. We swam little bit in the ocean but spent most of the time sheltering ourselves from wind.
Directions: If you’re driving, follow Paseo Agramonte out of town 4km until you get to the village of Casilda. Go another 4 km along the northern edge of Ensenada de Casilda and follow the only road into Ancon. After four days in Trinidad it was time to get on the road again. We wanted to visit Cienfuegos and the Bay of Pigs, before returning to Varadero as our last destination in Cuba.
Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad church
To be continued…
Have a good and healthy season.
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