Sunday, June 3, 2012



Before catching our bus to the city of Trinidad on the southern coast, we spent one more Havana night at the casa of Carlos and Catalina. They hadn't had a chance to refill the toilet paper in our bathroom while we were gone, so Catalina found us some Christmas-themed paper napkins. She pointed at James and made the charade of wiping herself while saying, "You see James, Merry Christmas! It will make you very happy!" 

The next morning we were up early to get on the six-hour bus ride to Trinidad. Trinidad was one of the first Spanish settlements on the island, and the 500-year-old architecture is very well preserved. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and nothing new has been built since 1850. Trinidad is very charming, with cobble-stoned streets lined with brightly-painted, very old buildings. An unfortunate result of all of this charm, for us, was that Trinidad is filled with tourists - but they were there for a reason, and Trinidad was well worth a look. With the tourists come the touts, and we were besieged by them when stepping of the bus from Havana. As often happens in an informal, reciprocal system of referrals in the world of casa particulares, Catalina had called ahead to reserve a casa for us, and when we told this to the dozens of touts blocking our way with pictures of their rooms, one of them tried to make us believe that she was the one we were looking for: "What's your name? Yes, Antonia. My sister called to make a reservation for you." "Really? What's your sister's name?" "Sorry, I don't speak much English." 

When we finally found the right casa, we couldn't have been happier. Our welcoming hosts had a beautiful home, although it seemed like it was nothing out of the ordinary in Trinidad. Most homes have open courtyards in the centre, as well as rooms that open up into the courtyard, so that the entire house seems half-indoors and half-outdoors - a very nice effect that is unfortunately unthinkable in Canada. Our host, Marledy, was also a great chef who specialized in vegetarian food (jackpot!) and we would eat our delicious dinners each evening in the open-air dining room. She always made us way too much food, but it was easy to indulge in the bean soup, veggies, rice, cheese omelettes, and fried plantains with loads of garlic. 


We spent our first day in Trinidad wandering the town and admiring the architecture while perusing the outdoor markets. We just had to stop for homemade ice cream to escape the heat, which was much more intense than up north near Havana. In the evening, we headed to a club to see some live music. Musicians and dancers all put on a great show, and unfortunately (being the dorky-looking tourists that we are) dragged us up on stage for some awkward attempts at dancing. 


The next day we headed to the Museo Historico Municipal to learn about Trinidad's history in a colonial mansion formerly owned by a sugar-farming slave owner. Trinidad was primarily the centre of sugar and tobacco plantations when it was first established, with Europeans coming over to annex the fertile land and make slaves out of the native residents. The museum was filled with old artefacts and information on the slave trade - we think. Almost no information was given in English, but what we gleaned from the displays was interesting. We smiled at the stereotypical "fat cat" look of the symbolic slave owner in this cartoon from the time:

...until we saw this photograph of the actual owner of the mansion, who murdered the former owner of the sugar plantation, married his window and took it over, and then murdered his new bride. All around a class act.

The best part of the museum was the view of the city from its bell tower. After climbing many very steep and winding stairs, we got to a landing with an amazing view and started taking pictures. An employee saw us and kindly informed us that we weren't yet at the top. Oh! There were more steep and winding stairs, and an even more rewarding view awaiting us. We could see the ocean on one side of the city, a mountainous jungle on the other, and the whole of city life in between. 


After a stop at an interesting Santeria temple dedicated to Yemalla, the goddess of the sea, we pressed on in the heat and walked across the town to the Taller Alfredo ceramics factory. It was nice to see some less-touristy parts of the city on our way. We came across this cute kitten that some people posed on a bicycle for our picture (many bicycles here are fitted with this wooden seat for an extra passenger):


We also spotted this lonely horse having a snack: 


At the factory, we got to watch an adorable old man make three different items on his wheel. He worked very quickly and we were mesmerized by the creations coming to life within minutes. We shopped for a souvenir and finally chose a small vase to bring back. That evening, Marledy informed us that it was her 35th birthday, and we decided to give it to her. 


The next day we decided to take the bus out to Playa Ancon, a beautiful white-sand beach nearby, to have a beach day. The beach was postcard-perfect, with clear, green, warm water, and thatched umbrellas all the way down the beach.


We discovered this interesting old pier while walking down the beach: 


Back in Trinidad that night we headed to Casa de Musica, an outdoor venue on the beautiful old steps beside the oldest church in the centre of town. While we walked from our casa, we noticed that the streets were strangely empty. Absolutely everyone was inside their houses, glued to the same television program. We wondered if there was an important sports game happening, or maybe some political event. When we asked Marledy the next day, we found out that this was simply a normal Tuesday night when everyone's favourite telenovela comes on. 


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