Serious hustling had bombarded me the moment I had gotten off the bus and it had taken quite a lot of effort to shake off the aggressive jinteros (touts). I had avoided them completely and had dragged my bag up and down the cobbled lanes of Trinidad. While the cobbled streets had added that special timeless aura to the city, it had given me a pretty severe back strain. I had hobbled around checking one casa after another and they had all been drop dead gorgeous. Trinidad had indeed retained its colonial beauty in the best possible way and smooth glassy floors, leafy green courtyards, polished wooden rocking chairs and glittering crystal chandeliers had bedazzled me. The casa owners however had been extremely pushy and had hiked up the rates to such phenomenal amount that I had given all of them amiss. So my casa hunt had continued and I had wandered around the pretty lanes in search for a good deal.
Apart from the discomfort of lugging my bag over uneven cobbled lanes, it had been a beautiful walk through the historic heart of a breathtaking city and I had greedily taken in its loveliness. Bright coral colours had bloomed in rows and the city had been a garden of lovely painted buildings. Egg yolk yellow, baby blue, lime green, saffron orange etc had splashed pleasing shades and lacy window curtains had fluttered merrily. Red roofs and a photogenic old cathedral had completed the picture and the sky had been of a clearest shade of aquamarine. Huge clouds had built castles in the air and Trinidadians had gone about their daily chores with big smiles on their faces. The severe hustling had made me avoid the friendly locals, something which I had hated doing and some of them had been genuinely nice. Finally on the outer periphery of the heritage area of Plaza Mayor, I had found myself a good bargain and had stayed put in my chandelier decorated room until dusk.
Trinidad had been pretty hot as well and the afternoon sun had been relentlessly blinding. My hosts, who had not been very pleasant people, had thankfully left me alone and I had lain in my room in peace, listening to strains of music floating in from the neighbourhood. My casa had been conveniently located near the lovely Museo de Romantico and had been perfect for snoozing away after tucking into large Cuban lunches. Food had continued disappointing me, although Trinidad had some of the best paladares (restaurants) in Cuba and the meals provided by my casa hostess had been interesting at best. Like the rest of all things Cuban, innovation had played a huge part in their national cuisine and the clever feisty people had churned out meals from nearly everything available to them. From steaks made from orange rinds to breadfruit curries, Cuban cuisine had been a shining example of the country’s tough survival spirit.
Too many unpleasant stories of Trinidad paladares recycling leftover food (scraped off plates) had been in circulation and I had faithfully stuck to my casa for all my needs. Although pricey, the meals had massive and for 5 CUC huge portions of bean soup (a meal in itself), rice with beans, prawns in onion and tomato sauce, salad, guava juice and a bowl of ice cream had streamed on my table endlessly. 5 CUC is a princely sum for Cubans to spend on lunch (since most food items had been available to them for mere pesos) and perhaps the guilt of overcharging tourists had driven my casa hosts to present such orgiastic, but tasteless feasts to their guests. Although the meals had left much to be desired, my Trinidad casa had contained some of my most favourite things in Cuba. For e.g I had loved sleeping under my very own antique crystal chandelier, had absolutely hijacked the coziest polished mahogany rocking chair and had always tinkered on the household’s grand baby piano, whenever free. Such heritage comforts had come at a price and Trinidad had also burnt a hefty hole in my pocket.
In spite of all my reservations against the city, I cannot deny that Trinidad had been a photographer’s delight. I had enjoyed walking around the little town, taking in its gorgeous colors and sampling tamarind juice (jugo de tamarindo), locally made ham burgers and wobbly pastries sold from bicycles. Trinidad had been teeming with art and from quirky crafts shops, galleries filled with paintings, ladies selling beautiful crochet and embroidered dresses, handmade beaded belts and dolls, the city center had been crammed with things to splurge on, at every step. However, they all had required lots of money (due to outrageously inflated prices) and nail sharp bargaining skills, both of which had not been my forte. Strangely, even though I had hailed from another aggressively touristy country, it had been in Cuba I had learned to bargain for everything including bus tickets (bargain hard for Viazul under hold baggage charges especially at Santa Clara or you will be scalped off 10 CUC), street cocktails, taxi fares etc.
My Trinidad evenings had been lonesome and they had always included a few mojitos either at the Casa de la Musica or any of the city’s fancy paladares. I had indulged in a few cigar testing sessions there and had loved the feel, fragrance and aromatic smoky taste of Cuba’s iconic product. Those sessions had been perfect prelude to evenings at Trinidad’s music houses and I had participated in some salsa dancing too. Thankfully my dancing lessons at Buenos Aires in Argentina had sharpened my grace and I had loved swirling away the Trinidad evenings. Music had been my most favourite highlight of Trinidad and from the Casa de la Musica, House of Trova etc, some seriously good music had poured out from every nook and corner of the city.
The Casa de la Musica had some excellent local bands playing salsa daily for locals and tourists alike, but it had been the House of Trova’s pulsating drum beats which had always dragged my dancing feet towards its smoky interiors. There had been a few good bars and clubs too but fear of being dragged into dancing by over amorous complete strangers had always made me steer clear of them. Thus, while Trinidad had not been too unpleasant, it had been La Boca which had made my most pleasant memories of Sancti Spiritus province.
On a bright Trinidad day, just before leaving the pretty town to go deeper down south, I had decided to explore the region’s picturesque countryside. A short Cubanacan bus ride had taken me to the Playa (beach in Spanish) Ancon and I had watched in wonder at Cuba’s rich hinterland. The purple Sierra del Escambray had loomed in the horizon and mangrove forests on both sides of the road had been birders paradise. The famed platinum blonde sandy beach however had been quite disappointing and nowhere had it been near my expectations from a Caribbean paradise.The sand was coarse and the beach was strewn with seaweed but at least it had stretched endlessly empty.
Though I had been to much nicer beaches in Asia and Africa it had been a refreshing change to simply relax in the sun, unhassled. The taxi ride back to Trinidad had been lovelier as my friendly cabbie had made lots of photo stops and had taken me to a local restaurant in La Boca where only Cubans went for delicious seafood lunches. It had been an open restaurant with rustic tables set under a big flowering trees and the turquoise blue ocean had lapped at our feet.The food was deliciously fresh, my fellow diners friendly hearty villagers and the prices had been for a change, quoted in pesos. I had loved the lovely fishing village of La Boca and had spent a few hours enjoying its flower filled coastal charm.
I had left Trinidad happily and even today have lukewarm feelings for the city. While Trinidad had been gorgeous, its people had been genuinely not nice. Annoyingly pesky hustlers, sneaky paladare owners (who hiked up the prices or served stale food), ruthless roguish cabbies and even my casa owner, who charged for juices, which she had ensured were free, had contributed to the bitter part of my Trinidad memories. Cuba had not been a pocket friendly travel destination and even though I had empathized with the residents of the sanction strapped country, being treated like a cash machine had really wrecked my respect for the Trinidad citizens. On the last few days heavy rain had lashed the heritage rich city and I had spent my time playing dominoes and piano, before heading towards the gentle Holguin province.
TRAVEL TIP -La Boca has quite a few good eating options, which are cheaper and better than Playa Ancon. The Saturday Nights at Casa De La Musica are great for some salsa, rhumba, mojitos and meeting other travelers and locals. Shopping like in any other touristy place is way too over priced but as usual skillful bargaining will ensure better rates. Trinidad does have some really good studios offering excellent small sculptures, paintings etc for sale and they make great souvenirs. Look out for chargeable drinks especially juices offered as welcome drinks or silently added along with your dinner at your casa and paladares. Casa owners in Trinidad love this sneaky trick and quite a bit of unexpected CUCs pop up in the final calculation. Confirm, reconfirm before drinking and keep a note of your consumables at your casa. Rented bicycles mostly come with narrow saddles and hard pedals which can be very uncomfortable if exploring outside Trinidad and it makes sense to check the condition (test ride before renting or you will be end up too sore to enjoy salsa nights at Casa De La Musica.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE