TRAVELOGUE
Cuba

Trinidad

Despite the fan and the air conditioner (that is as noisy as a diesel-engine), due to the high humidity I don't fall asleep before 3:00, to be woken up at 6:30 by the compressors (or some similar engine) in front of a hotel for which the Cuban last night told me was in reconstruction, and is located just next to my casa. As the casa-owner tells me that I can't stay one more night because she already had a reservation, I decide to have breakfast and go to Trinidad one day earlier than planned. At the airport I took the Viazul timetable, the bus to Trinidad leaves at 8:35. I say goodbye to the casa-owner the Cuban way, no shaking hands, just two kisses on the cheeks, I drink a glass of *boiled* water and leave. It's not advisable for the tourists to drink the water that was not boiled, since the water quality is pretty bad.

Hotel Nacional in Havana
Hotel Nacional in Havana
It doesn't rain anymore. Not far from the casa, in front of hotel Nacional, I find a taxi. Nacional is a top hotel in Havana, built in 1930 and located right above Malecón, the waterfront avenue of Havana. The taxi driver takes me to the Viazul bus station in Nuevo Vedado, 5 km distant. He also gives me an address of a casa in Trinidad, whose owner he knows. Here I start learning that the majority of Cubans I will meet on my trip will try to sell something to me or to get my money in some other way. Everyone who brings tourists someplace gets a provision, although they'll never admit it. A tourist is the only available source of money for an average Cuban, on this island where the tourists happily come to and Cubans even more happily escape from.

On the Viazul station I find out that the bus left at 8:05, although my timetable said it should leave at 8:35. Welcome to the world where time is looked upon with not too much precision! As the Viazul buses stop at the ASTRO bus station too, I take another taxi and ask the driver to reach the ASTRO bus station before the bus does. Once on the ASTRO bus station, I got caught by a guy trying to convince me to take a taxi to Trinidad instead of the bus, for the price of the bus ticket. As I didn't know whether the bus is due to arrive to the station or it already left, and as the taxi seemed quite comfortable (air conditioned Citroen Xsara), I chose the taxi. This is a state-owned taxi, but I'm convinced that the taxi driver has something to gain from this 350 km ride; otherwise he wouldn't be so interested in getting clients.

In a few minutes two other guys are "caught". Two young Italians. Since I speak Italian, it's a good company. On the way to Trinidad we decide to rent together a casa in Trinidad. We drive through the poor neighborhoods of Havana (poor for Cuban standards!) where I realize for the first time all the misery of the life on Cuba. It's much worse than anything I could have imagined. I simply can't "accept" that beautiful sandy beaches and this misery exist in the same country. I'm sorry for these people but I'm here on holiday, not for humanitarian purpose, so as much as possible I'll try not to think about it.

We're exiting Havana and entering the "carretera national" (=national road). It's the main road on Cuba with 2x3 tracks, passing through the middle part of the island, covering almost all of its length. The quality of the road is bad, the rain is falling and there is lots of water on the pavement so the car often slips on the road. The visibility falls to 50 meters and our driver is periodically slowing down to 40 km/h. There is not much traffic since on Cuba there are not too many vehicles; the car is a pure luxury for Cubans. From time to time we encounter a policeman on one of those motors that can be seen in old American police TV series. When our driver sees a policeman he slows down considerably. Quite often we encounter 3-wheel motorcycles that look like ones that Germans used in the II world war! Under every bridge over the road there is a bunch of people hitch-hiking, and on the bridges, as seen from the roadside, there are slogans like those that Russians and the Chinese abandoned some 50 years ago: "homeland or death", "revolution is defended with our lives", "socialism is a happiness for Cuba", "we work and build"... The central part of Cuba is not very interesting - just enormous sugar cane plantations. Havana is located on the north-western coast of the island, while Trinidad is on its southern coast.

Carriage in Cuba
Carriage in Cuba
After 2 hours of driving we leave the main road and turn to a local road, on which the holes are sometimes so big that one could break a leg just walking on the road. The country is much poorer than the region of Havana, the rain is still pouring but no one among the locals walking on the road has an umbrella - they cover their heads with pieces of nylon (if they have one). Some lucky guys are being transported by transport trucks (20-30 persons on each). Those less happy use some sort of "carriage", pulled by a horse that looks like he's had his last meal a very long time ago. The "carriage" transports 5-10 people. From time to time we cross a railroad, with rails not even visible on the crossing since the rain creates fast 3-4 meters wide creeks. A bit farther away we see the Viazul bus that had an accident and finished off the road (later we'll find out that that was not the bus I intended to take). Passing through a few villages we see many locals sitting in front of their huts, doing nothing.

Close to the road we see a prison that reminds us of the character of the country where we're on vacation. In the distance we see green mountains north of Trinidad. Soon we turn on a road that longs the coast. In Trinidad we get off in the center of the city (the center doesn't remind even distantly of a European city!).

We try to find a casa and we meet many jineteros ("jinetero" [hinetero] = rider), mostly young guys that are "offering help" (in reality just trying to get some money from the tourists). Their technique is to approach a tourist with "amigo, amigo", attract attention, ask "what country?", and once they get the answer start the monologue about "his cousin" living in *your* country... They are very well informed and one tends to believe them. Then they follow the tourist wherever he goes, take him to a casa where they'll get a provision, ask from the tourist to pay them a drink, take him around the city and then ask for 20$ for the "tourist guide service". They are well organized among them and they can be very unpleasant, shouting behind the tourists that ignore them. Anyway, besides being unpleasant, they present no danger (the usual caution applies!).

Rain starts pouring once again, so we find shelter in a peso-shop. This is a shop for locals and there is not much to buy here. The rain stops but as Trinidad is built on a slope, the streets became rivers! Finally we find a casa for the three of us, a small house in a bad shape, for 30$. We take it anyway. It's not a registered casa, the registered ones have a blue triangle on the entrance door and they pay a monthly fee of a few hundred dollars (to prevent Cubans from getting rich).

Paladar - private restaurant in Cuba
Paladar - private restaurant in Cuba
We have lunch in a state-owned restaurant. These restaurants are not famous for quality and service. They have two menus, one in pesos for Cubans and one in dollars for tourists. The price of a very average meal: 8-10$. The next class of restaurants are *paladars*. Paladar is a private restaurant for not more than 12 persons. They are much better than state-owned ones, but are also heavily taxed and subject to many administrative restrictions like "no sell of lobster and fish". Optionally one can eat in a casa - sometimes the owner is willing to prepare food for the guests.
Central square in Trinidad
Central square in Trinidad
Trinidad is a city whose center is under UNESCO protection. One sees here the past richness of its inhabitants - spacious houses with up to 5 m high windows through which one can easily sea the interior. During the day Trinidad is full of one-day tours coming from Havana and Varadero but in the evening the tourists leave and the city calms down. Trinidad is full of street vendors selling low-quality cigars (sometimes they are made of banana leaves and have absolutely nothing to do with tobacco). Whoever wishes to buy cigars should do so in an authorized shop, not on the street. We meet a German girl that is traveling through Cuba for 6 weeks and just came from the place Maria la Gorda, on the extreme west of Cuba. There is a beautiful beach and a coral reef there - a paradise for divers. But as the neighborhood is swampy and she slept on the beach one afternoon from 17-19 hours, the mosquitoes have bitten her face, arms and legs on a few hundred spots! She was looking for an internet café (only available to foreigners, of course) but when we all found one we were told that it doesn't word because of the rain!?

In the evening we meet a third Italian who says that one eats well at his casa so we go there. For 4$ we finally eat well on Cuba. Later we go to the center of Trinidad where there is a band playing.

Next page
Cuba: Trinidad - Playa de Ancon
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