Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Trinidad, Cuba - Experience life 200 years ago

It is 7am and I am sitting on the rooftop terrace of my Casa Particular in Trinidad.  The view is down a narrow lane and out to sea.  The sun is rising and bathing the brightly coloured casas lining the street in a golden glow.  Two roosters are calling to each other from neighbouring properties and a dog is barking far enough away to not be annoying.   I can look right down into tiny courtyards as families bustle about making breakfast or hanging washing on lines, their conversations floating up on the still air. A  horse towing a small cart clip clops over the cobble stones and a passing vendor selling bread calls out for buyers. I am captivated.  It is as if I have been transported back a couple of hundred years and in reality I have been.

View from our Casa

Settled by Spanish explorers in 1514 Trinidad has had a colourful history, from its origins as a small farming community to a hideaway for smugglers and pirates and then as a centre for the booming sugar milling industry of the 19th century.  When the sugar industry was decimated, due to conflicts and fires during the war of independence, the town became a rural back water, largely unknown and ignored by the rest of Cuba. One of the few good things President Batista did was to pass a preservation law  in the 1950s in order to maintain Trinidad as an historical site.  Today it has UNESCO world heritage status and is considered to be one of the best preserved, and least altered, historical towns in the Americas.
A Trinidad taxi
If you have anything to sell you sell it from your front room
The best thing to do in Trinidad is to just  stroll.  The locals love to be out on the street, or sitting on their doorsteps, so there is always something colourful to see.    Make sure you wear flat, comfortable shoes, though, the ancient cobblestones are uneven and challenging to walk on.  All the streets in town lead  to Plaza Mayor where there are some fine examples of French colonial architecture.  There is also a craft market to the side of the square. 

Doing the mending

Dominoes is a popular pastime

At night Plaza Mayor becomes a lively hub for the town with $2 mojitos served from a hole-in-the-wall bar and crowds of locals and tourists mingling and chatting.  We had a great time hanging out there but it was also where we saw an unpleasant side of the local bureaucracy.  Our delightful and totally professional guide, a black Cuban, was approached by the police and questioned.  He was asked for his identity card and his details were rung through to headquarters.  When all details checked out he was left to continue his evening.  He told us later that this happens all the time.  He thinks it is because he is black and that the authorities are suspicious as to why he is hanging out with foreign tourists.  Later in the evening more police entered the square. Fortunately our guide spotted them coming and quickly removed himself from our group in order to avoid more hassles. We all felt bad for him and were a bit subdued after this incident. It had burst our happy 'tourist' bubble a little and shown us the dark side of an authoritarian government.
Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

Plaza Mayor becomes a fun and lively gathering place in the evenings
 It was in Trinidad, at Cafe Jazz, that I had my best meal in Cuba,  lobster with a delicious sauce all for the price of a cheap hamburger in New Zealand.  The entertainment was great too with a cool singer crooning well known jazz standards in both English and Spanish.

Late in the evening a few of us decided to make our way back to our casas  and got horribly lost, no hardship, though, because the streets are so picturesque it really seemed to be a shame to be heading home to bed anyway. We noticed the streets had water running down the centre of them.  When we asked our guide about this he said that it is the waste water from the houses which is released every evening, it is the drainage system that has been in place for 200 years.

Warm glow at sunset
Trinidad's primitive drainage system

I highly recommend Trinidad if you want to experience a town almost frozen in time.  It is  picturesque, quaint and charming but this also means there is little infrastructure for today's modern lifestyles.

Here are my recommendations for Trinidad:

ACCOMMODATION: Casa Carmen Y Pupito - spotlessly clean, wonderful, kindly hosts, good location and excellent breakfast.  I would stay there again
DINING: Trinidad Jazz Cafe - Great ambience in a lovely building, attentive and friendly service, delicious food, inexpensive

I am also on Facebook @ A Wandering Widow - Solo Travel  I'd love to see you there.