A stroll in the park

I woke with a feeling of confusion this morning as I couldn’t remember anything about where I was other than that it was Cuba. This happens occasionally when I am travelling and can be a little disconcerting. I lay listening to the sounds outside, where people were talking and the bread sellers were calling their wares, and eventually realised it was Trinidad.

I hadn’t arranged a time for breakfast so strolled across the road to my old house and waited on the very windy balcony whilst the ladies prepared and brought me the fruit, coffee, bread, juice and tortilla, which is like a very flat omelette here. It was quite cold and I needed a cardigan. Mariana and Deb eventually joined me and we discussed what we could do today.

1952 car, 2015 mobile phone and GPS
1952 car, 2015 mobile phone and GPS

The original idea was to walk to the beach but with the wind being as it was, it did not seem quite so appealing. Cycling was considered very desirable by two of us but Mariana wasn’t keen so we settled on going to El Cubano National Park and walking to the waterfall. All of us were in real need of being on our own and in the country.

Monica was still adamantly against us walking all the way to the Park as she considered it too dangerous. Cubans, however, have a very different perception of danger as this is one of the safest countries I have visited. Consequently, she arranged a taxi for us. This turned out to be a very green 1952 Chevrolet with a driver named Damos.

Our taxi to the park
Our taxi to the park

El Cubano is about 8km from town, firstly along a main road and then a fairly rutted minor road. Monica had told the driver we would probably be back in 3 hours but it might be longer. This, later, appeared to have been lost in translation as he was quite annoyed when we weren’t back and wouldn’t let us stay to have a coffee at the restaurant. We had agreed a fixed price and, rather than go back to town, he had waited for us, which seems to be the standard procedure. However, we had paid the equivalent of nearly 1 month’s average Cuban salary so it didn’t seem unreasonable to us that he could wait a lettle longer.

The walk was very easy but we were still surprised to encounter several coach loads of German, English and Canadian tourists returning along the track. Luckily, the tour companies appeared to go early in the morning so by the time we arrived, there were relatively few people.

The waterfall
The waterfall

I walked ahead along a very dusty path through trees and following the stream. I was ready to go swimming by the time the others arrived, having chatted to a Panamanian girl for a while and got changed. She marketed dental products for Proctor and Gamble and it was from this encounter that I learned that there is a season for marketing dental products. Who would have thought?!

The water in the stream was freezing! A couple of people were jumping off a 9 metre ledge in to the water but I lowered myself genteelly, bit by bit, as is my custom. However, it was well worth the effort as I was able to swim behind the rock formations and into a cave with stalactites and bats. It was quite beautiful with the sun and reflections of the water on the rocks. Unfortunately, my camera isn’t a waterproof one so there were no pictures.

We sat around for a while after swimming, talking to a young Canadian couple and then reluctantly made our way back, conscious of the taxi driver waiting, and then it was back to the hustle and bustle of town, which seemed even noisier after the tranquility of the park.

I then visited the Historic Museum, which was a little disappointing as there was very little in it but it did have a tower, which you could climb up via some quite steep and narrow wooden steps. The view from the top was magnificent. I always enjoy looking down on to the rooftops below and seeing the courtyard gardens and patios that are hidden at street level.

The tower of the Historic Museum
The tower of the Historic Museum
Inside the Historic Museum
Inside the Historic Museum

Afterwards, I had a wander through the large handicraft market with identical goods on each stall and then headed to The Steps for a beer and some people watching. On the way, I was called over by a very tall, black Cuban chef with some spectacularly dodgy teeth, who was standing outside the restaurant with a couple of colleagues. He wanted to dance!! I can now cross street dancing off my list of ‘to do’ things and I am sure he will be a bit more cautious in future as to which stranger he invites to dance. I have come to the conclusion that there is a missing link between my brain and my feet when it comes to dancing and I am just going to have to accept that dancing is not going to be a feature in my life.


I sat and listened to the music and nursed a beer for a while (I am becoming expert at making a beer last a very long time) and then headed back to my room.

Later in the evening, I joined Deb and Mariana for dinner at a restaurant around the corner, which was exceedingly cheap but they had run out of a number of things. However, I had roast chicken which was meant to be Creole but they seem to have forgotten that bit and a pina colada, in which I got most of the froth and Mariana got most of the liquid. Having overheard my comment about the lack of rum though, the owner asked if I wanted more, so it was very alcoholic froth by the time he finished pouring!

All of us were tired after the day in the fresh air so there was no dancing for Deb and Mariana tonight and I decided it was too cold for another visit to The Steps. Consequently, it was an early night for all of us.

Jose Marti Parade and Museo Restaurante

After very little sleep, I decided to get up early and go for a walk. It was still quite chilly as I strolled through the streets, watching the armies of street cleaners setting forth (Cuban streets are always immaculate), people going to work and others standing outside their doors greeting their neighbours.

Today, however, had an air of excitement as it was Jose Marti Day (he is a National Hero) and there was to be a parade in which children dressed up in their favourite Jose Marti book character. (At least I think that was what has happening but something may have been lost in translation!) Mothers were doing last minute tweaks to their child’s outfit and proud parents and grandparents were taking pictures on their phones as the children posed outside their houses.

I was obliged to follow the children (Pied Piper in reverse) to the Plaza Mejor, where they were all congregating, and absorb the atmosphere. There were, of course, the ubiquitous Marching teams in addition to some quite fantastic costumes that seemed even more incredible given the few materials that are available to their creators. There were a number of painted backdrops set up, against which children could stand and pose for their photos to be taken by a professional.  Most of the children were obviously having a wonderful time parading, although there were one or two of the smaller ones who weren’t too sure about it all!

After a while, I went back to the house for breakfast and then to meet Monica to ask if she could find me another room. This she did and later that day I was able to move into an entire apartment all to myself.


The rest of the morning was spent on the Internet, catching up on emails etc and sitting in the Plaza watching the people still milling around. After waiting for my new abode to be cleaned and moving my belongings, I went for a walk through the backstreets and up to a ruined church, which didn’t look as though it was going to be standing much longer as, if it didn’t fall down of its own accord, would be knocked down to make way for newer buildings.

Ruined church in Trinidad
Ruined church in Trinidad
View from the ruined church
View from the ruined church
Street in Trinidad
Street in Trinidad
Central Trinidad
Central Trinidad

In my meanderings, I was persistently asked for pens, soap and money. However, having distributed a few pens without so much as a thank you from anyone and then being asked for more when I had given them one, I gave up. There has obviously been too much exposure to tourists.

The main plaza in Trinidad
The main plaza in Trinidad

As I was heading back to The Steps for a beer and some people watching, I chanced upon quite an extraordinary restaurant called Museo Restaurante. Having ascertained that it was indeed a restaurant and not a museum, I spent quite some time marvelling. Each table was set with a different and complete set of china, along with silverware and stemmed glasses. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes as it was such a stark contrast and totally incongruous to anything else I had seen so far in Cuba. It was as if someone had gone around all the old Plantation houses and collected up their entire inventory of dinnerware. It kept me smiling for the rest of the afternoon. However, when I mentioned it to the Australians, there was no real interest. I would have loved to have eaten there (it wasn’t even particularly expensive) but there would definitely have been no volunteers to come with me in the group.


My walk ended at The Steps where I sat and had a beer, listened to the live band and people watched for quite some time. A very cheap form of entertainment!

View down The Steps
View down The Steps

Then it was back to my new house to shower and change before inviting myself to the Melburnians’ house for pre-dinner drinks, after which I met up with Deb and Mariana, who had been having drumming and dancing lessons, for dinner. It is always difficult to choose where to go where there is a vast selection and no way of knowing if the restaurants are any good. I had an excellent dish of Old Clothes (literal translation of Ropa Viejo), which was shredded lamb with a lot of cumin and spice.

Afterwards, Deb and Mariana went back to their room, whilst I went back to The Steps to listen to the music again. It had become very chilly and all the tourists listening to the band were huddled in their jackets when they weren’t dancing. I stayed for an hour or two and ended up talking to a German couple who sat at my table. They both worked at Microsoft and he had obviously travelled quite a lot so was quite entertaining. Once they left, I decided that I had suffered the cold wind enough and made my way back to bed.

Travelling to Trinidad

My hotel room was in the middle, just above the cafe that played loud music at night!
My hotel room was in the middle, just above the cafe that played loud music at night!

Today was such a contrast to yesterday. The entire day was spent in the bus travelling from Camaguey to Trinidad, a journey that should have taken 5 hours and ended up taking 7 1/2 with all the stops and delays. We were scheduled to leave at 9am but Monica had a couple of things to do so we had a coffee at the cafe whilst we waited and eventually left at 10am.

Watching the traffic go by
Watching the traffic go by

This was after a ‘discussion’ between Monica and Ricardo, our driver, about a route we were scheduled to take in a couple of days time, which he said was too many kilometres extra to that which he had agreed to do. (The discrepancy resulted from our tour going the opposite way round to the scheduled itinerary. I have no idea why this should make a difference!) Ricardo lost the argument and was consequently extremely disgruntled as we left Camaguey, taking his temper out on the bici-taxi drivers, who were parked in his way in the narrow streets, and then hurtling along at break neck speed on the open road.

We stopped for a break at a parador for about 30 minutes, which seemed a bit unnecessary when we then stopped for another break just down the road at Ciego de Avila, which is the town in the centre of Cuba. Here, I had a wander around the attractive square, admiring the architecture, and then settled on a park bench opposite an intersection and amused myself watching the people and traffic, which consisted primarily of bicycles, horse and carts and ancient ladas. I then suddenly realised that I couldn’t see any of the group and hurried towards the bus, which had already started to move! Luckily, Monica had done a head count and, as I watched, she descended the steps to come and look for me.

Jose Marti statue in Ciego de Avila
Jose Marti statue in Ciego de Avila
Ciego de Avila central area
Ciego de Avila central area
Traffic in Ciego de Avila
Traffic in Ciego de Avila
Vegetable seller in Ciego de Avila
Vegetable seller in Ciego de Avila

Another half hour on and there was a lunch stop at a somewhat expensive roadside restaurant, which delayed us yet again. However, after this, there was a good run of a couple of hours (also at breakneck speed) until we were almost in Trinidad, when we took a short diversion to Iznaga, a village where there was a former sugar mill and plantation.


Here we wandered through the displays of locally made table cloths to the tower, which had seemingly been built for no other purpose than to satisfy a man’s ego. The story goes that, in the days of slaves and rich factory owners, this particular owner had 2 sons who were both interested in the same ‘mulatto’ girl. The father promised to settle the argument by telling his sons that the one who built the tallest tower or the deepest well could have the girl. (Obviously the girl had no say in the matter!) However, when they had both been built, the father kept the girl for himself and the sons had undertaken all that hard work for nothing. The views from the top of the tower, however, were magnificent.


The landscape had changed quite considerably since we left Ciego de Avila. In the Camaguey province, it had been very flat with many sugar plantations (although not large ones), bananas and cattle. After lunch though, the hills appeared and the terrain seemed much drier, although still relatively green.

We passed through a number of villages in which there were small stalls outside people’s houses, selling onions particularly (obviously a local speciality). At one point, Ricardo screeched to a halt outside one house for no obvious reason and then disappeared up the garden path. It transpired that he was buying carrier bags of beans, which were for sale, and which he obviously knew about.

View from the top of the tower
View from the top of the tower

On our arrival in Trinidad, we were dispersed to our houses and I seem to have drawn the short straw once again with a very depressing room next to the kitchen, with no window and a temperamental toilet. As I am here for 3 nights, there may have to be a discussion with Monica tomorrow!

We met again for an orientation tour and were horrified to discover the degree of tourism that exists in Trinidad. Every single shop contained souvenirs and these were interspersed with restaurants, which had waiters outside hustling for clients. I haven’t come across this to such a degree anywhere else so far in Cuba. Needless to say, I went into escape mode immediately. Unfortunately, there is no real chance of escape for at least three days!

After the tour, we had a wander around the town and then, as it was already 8pm, found a small restaurant for dinner. It was obviously not my lucky day. The mojito was from a mix  and the spaghetti was smothered in tomato paste and lumps of melted cheese. It was fairly unappealing and not a patch on last night’s dinner. I suppose you have to put up with the good days and the bad days with travelling but why should such a wonderful day be immediately followed by such a bad one?

We were supposed to be going to The Steps in the middle of town, where live music is performed every night. However, Mariana and Deb both decided they were too tired so it was off to bed. I then couldn’t sleep and spent several hours listening to some live music outside somewhere, debating whether I should get dressed and go and find it as, unlike the others, I am definitely missing out on the night life here. After actually getting up, I opted to stay put and then got more and more annoyed listening to the noise being made by the family as they played dominoes, crashed in the kitchen and eventually went to bed, putting the television on in the process! I was not a happy traveller tonight.