S: Cuba ~ Trinidad
1: Trinidad | No doubt our favorite place in Cuba. Trinidad is special; a perfectly preserved colonial settlement where the clocks stopped ticking in 1850. Built on huge sugar fortunes, in the 1950s President Batista passed a preservation law and in 1965 it was declared a national monument. We declare it our Cuban Home. When we arrived we were besieged by touts of locals offering rooms called "Casas Particulares". We already booked a room but a man tried to tell us that that Casa was full and he had another room for us somewhere else. These hustlers do this for a finders fee (5CUC), lucky we had been warned of this practice and pressed on to find the wonderful Casa of Jorge & Neisy. | Kathleen | After a few days of what could be best described as a Gentleman's stay in the country in Vinales, we moved on to Trinidad,a 7 hour bus ride. The Cuban bus drivers are very good and very nuts at the same time, I am sure of this because I sat in the front tow of the bus and had a chance to see the driving first hand. On the narrow country roads we would pass other buses and trucks with,no kidding, 2 feet to spare between vehicles and sometimes possibly less. he bus driver would weave in and our of horse drawn cabs more numerous then car cabs), bicycles, oxen ( used to plow fields ), other buses trucks and of course the very occasional car; with aplomb. The only indication he was paying attention to the approaching mayhem was the use of his horn, more vigorous when it appeared someone may die soon. Although I have to admit; no one did. I found ir unnerving enough I needed to move away from the front of the bus so I wouldn't see so much of the "action" in front of us. Arriving at the bus station in Trinidad we are mobbed by hustlers trying to get us to "their" Casa. Someone sees us in the crowd and helps by leading us to the place we had our reservations with "Jorge & Neisy's".... The best Casa we stayed at the entire trip, maybe the best in Cuba. | Chris | January 29, 2011
10: Our Cuban Home | Jorge & Neisy's Casa Particulare was our favorite place to stay, in fact we left to continue our journey only to turn back in order to stay just a little longer with our friends. They are very warm, loving people. They work day and night to maintain this perfect piece of Cuba. Neisy, sweet and bubbly felt like an old friend. Jorge is a funny guy that makes a great Mojito and wonderful Lobster dinner (the size of a small cat). The cost was $25 room, $4 breakfast, & $10 for a four course lobster dinner... $53 per day, total for both of us.
12: On the outside it looks like another row house on the street, once through the doors however, another world awaits; freshly painted and spotlessly clean. There is a very welcome backyard playa bar, dining room and even a little swimming pool. The owners are bright and friendly and turns out great cooks to boot! We are in Heaven.
14: I have been sitting here watching the Casa owner (Jorge) and his neighbor try to figure out how to clean the pool. The pool is new for them and they are still working out the bugs of the cleaning system. My guess is they have seen someone, maybe in a Hollywood film , clean a pool with a brush and hose on a long pole. Now mind you there are no pool supply stores to buy these items, nor in fact any other kind of store as we know them; so they just dig up what they can and make it work; or in this case - not work. I am sure in the end they will figure out how to make it work, the Cubans are very ingenious and hard working. I don't understand Spanish so I can only imagine what they are saying but I can see they are trying to vacuum the bottom of the pool by using a garden hose to suction; this of course doesn't work because the one they are using is not rigid enough to stand the suction and collapses as soon as they turn on the pump. Next they reverse the pump to see how that works which blows the whole mess around on the bottom of the pool. More head scratching and talking. Remember they have only seen this process in the movies (old movies) they have no real reference or internet to find answers to their dilemma. Give them a few days and I am sure they will find some good Cuban way around the problem, as the rest of their Casa testifies to their dedication to making things work with what they have..... | Chris
16: Sorry Kids, We have found ourselves in a precarious situation. This is the end of our cash. and the next ATM that might work is 2hrs away by bus in Ciene Fuego. If we do not return on schedule...We are in Triidad. Love, Dad & Mom No worries, plenty fish.
17: Our Cuban Home
24: the People the Way the Life...CUBA | Music
34: Before the "special period", Cuba was one of the largest sugar producers in the world, shipping most to the USSR in exchange for money and hard goods. Oil and oil products are in short supply so much of the transportation was done on railroads pulled by old steam engines; as a result Cuba had a large number of steam engines still in service well after the rest of the world had changed to electric or diesel locomotives. According to the guide books, Trinidad had one of the only tourist trains on the island still pulled by steam. I had to see it. | Trinidad's railroad could be called the train-to-nowhere, because it's cutoff from the rest of the islands railroad by a missing bridge, lost in a hurricane in 1992 and with no money to fix it, Trinidad's railroad is just one lonely track up the canyon and back. The tourist train. Only thing is it hasn't run in years according to the engineer who still shows up for work every day, as he has for 42 years; no money to do the maintenance, he says. So it sits forlorn and on a siding, This proud, dedicated man shows tourists around the site and keeps the weeds in check. | Train get a push
42: Paladores are restaruants in a Cuban House. This was made legal by the government in 2007. All Paladores must be in a home with food prepared by the family and must have at least one bedroom.
48: When entering Cuba everyone must buy medical insurance, so as not to tax Cuba's Health Care. The cost is $3 per day. I injured my shoulder and was in quite a bit of pain so we got to see first hand just how well the system works. All costs were covered by our insurance and the care superb. I needed three injections for inflammation and pain. The doctor gave me the meds and a note to bring to the next town's doctor so we could continue with our journey. | Trinidad | Trinidad Clinic de Nationales
49: Cienfuegos Clinic de Nationales
50: January 31, 2011 Money is something else to get used to in Cuba. First there are the two currencies; local pesos, worth about 24 cents US and tourist convertibles (nicknamed CUC, pronounced KOOKs) worth about the same as a US dollar even a little more right now. OK that is weird, but we got used to it pretty quick. This is not the problem I am talking about though, it's getting the money. In most of the world one takes an ATM card traveling and goes to a bank to get cash. US credit cards and ATM cards are not accepted in Cuba anywhere for anything thanks to the US embargo. So Kathleen opened a Canadian Bank account and a Canadian ATM Card during her stay in Montreal just so as to avoid any problems with money. Great idea except there are no ATMs or at least very, very few. Today we had to go to Cienfuegos to get cash... a 1.5 hour bus ride each way. Turns out in the ATM they first convert the Canadian $ to US $ then charge an extra 105 surcharge to convert US dollars. Oh well, live and learn. While we were there we thought we would check our email... 6 CUCs and one hour later we managed to send one short message to the kids. Can you spell S-L-O-W. Wow! You do not want to get in a rush in Cuba, no point. Now about the bus ride... our return bus driver from Cienfuegos was the best and the craziest yet! I was never quite sure because we never really crashed, so he must have been good. OMFG he was nuts. He was driving one of the huge Chinese buses (think the biggest Greyhound bus) on back roads like it was a sports car. These are roads that have no center line and appear to only be wide enough for one and a half cars. Now add the flow of humanity that is normal in Cuba - horses, oxen, cows, carts, tractors, and people hitchhiking and you start to get the scene. Now imagine the bus driver sitting half a butt off his seat acting like a cruzer in East LA, looking over his shoulder most of the time talking to his buddy in the front seat behind him and weaving in and out of traffic the whole while never letting off the throttle. Many times I was sure we were going to crash or perhaps kill someone. Somehow we didn't, when we arrived back in Trinidad, we got off the bus shaking our heads... another unbelievable bus driver. | Chris
51: $7.50 CUC | Because there are so few resources Carlos make necklaces out of old silverware, coral and stones.
57: February 2, 2011 On to Cienfuegos. After relaxing for a week in Trinidad it is time to move on and see more of the countryside. Our next stop is Cienfuegos a city that is brushed over by the tourist books as being just a “city”, no reason to visit; this is somewhat true of the downtown section, but not of Punta Gordo; a long strip of land that juts out into Cienfuegos Bay. Laid out in a 1950s style, it has wide sidewalks with houses set back from the street on huge lots; many of them Casas now - some of it has a Soviet block kinda- architecture that is very unique. The streets are laid out 0 to 76 even numbers one way and 0 to 67 odd numbers the other –I don’t know when this was done but talk about an easy city to get around! One day, on our way back to our Casa, we went to an outside ‘locals” bar at 3 in the afternoon and the place was bumping; I mean rocking - at 3 o’clock in the afternoon! Dirty dancing like I have never seen before. Young skinny girls to fat mommas; they were all letting it all hang out to very loud music. Cubans are not repressed! They have a different attitude about alcohol here as well, buy it anywhere you want and open it right there, walk out and down the street drinking and go right into a nightclub; no one cares. Remember that for the most part everything is owned by the state, so wherever you buy it is the same entity, no person or business makes a profit from anything, it all goes to the government, it is very weird. People walk into a bar with an open bottle of rum sit down and start drinking; no one gives them a second look. On the street out front of the bumping joint was a trailer with bulk beer in it, bring your own container and a few peso and fill it up; take it into the bar or home, no one cares. As if this is not strange enough, this truck in is full brewery, that’s right, they have a 600 gallon brewing kettle in the back, complete with a refrigeration unit all mounted onto a horse cart, protected on all sides and top by chain link fence with a slot on the slide to insert empties and money, and to retrieve your beer back. You can give them anything from a cup to a jug and they will fill it, what they charge for beer seems to depend on the mood of the server. I haven’t had the courage to try what I now call “trailer” beer yet. It was very odd yet fitting for Cuba. One would expect to see alcoholics lying in the streets2and very few people begging. Weird.
60: A Friday locals party. Out front is the brewery on wheels. People bring their empty plastic water bottles and fill up. One liter = 3. pesos =72cents One glass= .60 pesos = 15cents
70: Cienfuegos | Casa La Casona at La Punta Enrico, the owner serenaded us all through dinner.
72: Trinidad... again
73: February 4, 2011 Today Jorge seems to have given up on the pool project. I am sure he be back at it again soon. This Casa is a testament to his determination. Here in Cuba there is no infrastructure for even the most basic things, so he and his wife Neisy must constantly improvise. For example- they have their own water tanks and numerous pumps so the guests have constant running water. I don't even want to know what it takes to make the flush toilets work. They have to have a big tanker deliver water that is pumped into a holding tank beneath the house then pumped to the roof tanks that then feed the house by gravity. Jorge bought the backyard of the property next door and is the process of building a large concrete holding tank for rain water to feed the swimming pool. There is no place to buy things here; we went into a hardware store today and there was almost nothing in it. Where he found things necessary to build this Casa is beyond me. When one of the toilets | failed Jorge went on a rant about Chinese products and how they are junk; then he led us over to their 1954 Hotpoint Refrigerator (made in the USA) saying how great it is, still working after all these years, how good American products are and how the only thing he can find in Cuba is Chinese junk. I didn't have the heart to tell him that we too use Chinese junk, that all the "great" American companies had stopped making good quality products anymore and they are just importing stuff with their name on them; accepting rebranded junk in the name of short term corporate profit. How have we gotten to this point? In the end the people of America will be the losers. We need to accept the fact that American products will be more expensive, but they are made by our fellow countrymen and their jobs are important to us.I don't have the heart to tell him the sad direction our country has gone, that we no longer produce good products that our fellow citizens need. We cannot continue on this course and expect a good outcome. Here I am in a third world country, a communist country no less..... that believes in us, the USA.
74: Jose Luis Diaz Ramirez | I speak no Spanish and Kathleen just a little, but today we were able to get our feelings across with bits and lots of hand motions. Jose is a classic artist; thick glasses, scraggly beard and cigar. I think he sees himself as a modern Che in some weird way. Chomping on his cigar and drinking expresso . Mayeris interpreted while we watched him paint. As so often happens Kathleen got attached and wanted to bring her home. We bought a painting he had just finished. It is of a man he knew from Trinidad growing up; the man was a revolutionary that sat in the plaza all his days afterward recounting the fight and preaching "Viva la Revolution".
76: Gilbert Sotero Gonzolez | Marko Drobot | Jose Luis Diaz Ramirez
77: Verdu Placeres | Mayeris | We bought two paintings; "The Revolutionary" from Jose for $150 CUC, which we thought was a steal, for him a lot of money, when the government stipend is only $20 CUC per month. If we can get it through customs it will hang in a place of honor in our house. The other painting "Communism" from Gilbert, we paid $30 CUC.
87: Trinidad Falls in the Seirra Madres
90: Playa Ancon
97: We have spent 8 days in Trinidad and are totally hooked on the place. It has the usual Cuban hassle and craziness, but it's different. Yes it has cobblestone streets from the 1700s, plazas and old buildings; but something else as well, a closeness and a vibe all it's own Surrounded by hills and close to the ocean, it is incredibly special. We are changed ... | Viva Trinidad
99: Trinidad | Playa del Este "Atlantico" | HABANA | Vinales | Cienfuegos