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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mojitos and music in Trinidad

Gorgeous Trinidad, on the south coast of Cuba, surpassed all our expectations.  We fell in love with this beautiful Spanish colonial town staying three days and nights.  It was a fascinating place to explore. 

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Trinidad was founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514 and was a major centre for the slave trade.  Slaves and goods were imported from Jamaica and cattle ranching and tobacco growing boomed.

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Hundreds of French refugees fled there in the mid 19th century from neighbouring Haiti and set up numerous small sugar mills in the beautiful Valle de los Ingenios.  The sugar industry flourished, creating wealth that created the beautiful city of Trinidad. In 1998 the town and Valle were named UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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The wars of independence in the early 1900s saw plantations  devastated but Trinidad survived. Today its historic centre is beautifully restored colourful buildings and numerous museums in old mansions.  Trinidad’s cobblestone streets are ankle breakers especially when attention is taken by the lovely pastel coloured buildings everywhere. 

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We travelled from Cienfuegos by bus, after spending an hour or so figuring out just how and where to do so.  Nothing is simple in Cuba!Our persistence paid off – we finally found an agency that sold tickets that cost $12 whereas the taxi was $50.

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Arriving at the Trinidad bus station we were besieged by dozens of locals holding signs for their Casa Particular.  Casa Particulars are private homes where the owner rents out a room or two.  They are far cheaper than hotels and a much better way to interact with locals. 

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Not the types to get sucked in by such touts we decided we’d walk firmly past saying “no gracias” and go and find our own Casa.  Hmmm…within five minutes we found ourselves in the firm grip of a particularly persuasive woman who just wouldn’t take no for an answer!  She led us through the shabby backstreets to her Casa where we had the entire top floor to ourselves – a sitting room, dining room bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and terrace – all for $15 a night. 

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But there was little sleep to be had in the backstreets – noisy neighbours, crowing roosters, alcohol fuelled arguments, card sessions and early morning street vendors saw to that.  Next morning we checked out, after a hearty breakfast of fruit, eggs, bread and coffee.

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Our next Casa was in the heart of the old town and just a stone’s throw from the popular Casa de Musica where local musicians play every night while the enthusiastic salsa.  You guessed it – this time we were kept awake by music!  Next time we’ll take ear plugs.

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Cuba is famous for many things – cigars, rum, music and…of course…those amazing old American cars.  We just had to take a ride in one and picked a blue 1952 Chevrolet with a friendly Spanish speaking driver.  Oscar proudly told us his father had bought the car new and it was in original condition.  When we asked how many miles it had on the clock Oscar replied “mucho, mucho”.

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We drove out into the sugar cane growing area – now consisting of mostly derelict mills – and stopped at the Hacienda Iznaga where the wonderful old homestead has been turned into a restaurant.  We sat and had coffee while Oscar told us how the place operated in the early days.  A 45m tower near the homestead was built to keep an eye on slaves – the views from the top are astonishing.

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The countryside was incredibly dry and we noticed that livestock were painfully thin – no supplementary feeding goes on here.  And horses and oxen are still used to pull carts of sugar cane, plough fields and all other farm jobs.

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We took a 1956 Chev taxi to Playa Ancon but sadly, this model had seen better days.  The backseats were completely shot so every time we went over a bump we bottomed out and the engine sounded distinctly like a tractor!  The beach was beautiful but spoilt by the communist style concrete hotel building.  Guests here wear coloured wrist tags to identify them and, as we were tagless, we were soon moved off the deckchairs and forced to sit on the beach.  After a swim we headed back to town – this time slumming it in a Lada.

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After three days we felt we’d done justice to beautiful Trinidad and caught the bus back to Cienfuegos to find Bandit happily at anchor waiting for us.

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