Out of the many colonial towns I have visited in the last couple of years, Trinidad has to be the winner for most colours, cobbles and obstacles for Dan to trip over. Trinidad’s past wealth and splendour came from the gruelling work carried out by African slaves in the sugar fields, in the 17th to 19th centuries. Unfortunately the town’s location between hills and waves meant plantations could not expand when new machinery enabled farms to grow rapidly in size. This caused the plantations to move further up and down the coast away from the mountains to larger, flatter expanses of land. This left little old Trinidad alone and fairly isolated from the rest of the island, as there was no point in modernising the town or infrastructure once industry was on the decline. Jumping forward to recent years and Trinidad is once again booming, this time through tourism. Just walking through Trinidad's wonky colonial lanes that have changed little since its original hay-day is fascinating.
Wilfredo and Jacqueline in Cienfuegos put us in touch with a friend who had a lovely colonial yellow house with bright blue wooden shutters, situated a cobbles throw away from the centre of the old town. Our host Ricelda was so lovely and welcoming, that we instantly decided we had gained yet another Cuban mother. Mother's Day this year is going to be expensive. Ricelda's casa was beautiful. It was like walking into a museum with traditional dark wooden chairs (I counted 20) tiled floors, double height wooden ceilings and various other antique trinkets. A tour guide even stopped by one day to show off her house to his tour group.
We had our own little wing off the dining room with a private bathroom and a door out onto a terrace. If every you’re in Trinidad you can contact Ricelda at firstname.lastname@example.org or walk to No.261 on the corner of Calle Francisco Javier Zerquera (Rosario) and Echenaguisa and give her a knock.
Trinidad's Old Town
We decided the best way to see the old town was to let a horse do all the hard work. I spoke with a rider who brought his horse Marron (Another horse called Brown) to our front door. Probably just as the original sugar Baron's did back in colonial times. We cracked open a couple of beers, feeling really pleased with ourselves, until we turned the corner onto a cobbled street. Our beers fizzed everywhere, then went flat. Not such a good idea after all. We tried to down them, but just got most of it down our fronts.
We passed a few lovely streets and plazas then visited a traditional ceramics factory where two potters were busy lovingly caressing some clay.
We were dropped in the main square outside the Museo de Arquitectura Colonial. It’s home to lots of examples of traditional architecture from door knockers to window frames, housed inside a traditional colonial building. A sweet smiley old lady took us around and talked us through each room. I could just about follow her Spanish, as she spoke slow and clear to me so I could translate for Dan. The highlight for me was the knocker collection and the old American shower with its complex mish-mash of wires to mix hot and cold water.
We spent a couple of days wandering the old town, eating and drinking on various terraces and roofs. There are also a couple of towers you can climb to get a good view over the terracotta roof tiles and pretty little squares.
Whilst sitting on the steps in the shade by the main square we got talking to a man called Pedro. Him and Dan smoked a couple of cigarettes and he told us a little of his life story. He said he fought with Che in the revolution and had written to Castro a few times about getting his pension. Although Castro apparently replied, he still has no pension. He gave me a local three peso coin with Che's face embossed on one side and said tourists don't normally use this currency and that it was a gift from him. I gave him 1CUC (tourist currency) equivalent to one US dollar as a gift from us. Probably the worst currency exchange I have made so far when it comes to getting a bad rate, however it was a nice moment shared. He lives in a small village near Playa Ancon and I think was trying to ask if one of us was single and would take one of his daughters back to England. I smiled and told him about Helen, but Dan seemed keen.
Pedro pointed me in the direction to buy some cigarettes for Dan, which lead me to a traditional ration shop. This is where many Cuban's still get their basic allowance of the essentials to get by. I picked up 40 fags for about 80p.
One especially good spot for a sun downer is up on the roof at Paladar El Criollo.
Most evenings the tourists gather at Casa De La Musica, a scattering of chairs, tables and a stage on the stairs next to the church. Locals gather in the square below partly to use the wifi, partly to drink cheap mojitos as the music reverberates around the plaza. We did as the locals did one evening, joining them on the steps, buying mojitos and beers from a bar (window into someone living room) next to the square.
Canchánchara is a sickly sweet Trinidadian cocktail of rum, lime, water and honey, drunk from an earthen pot. It should be stirred regularly with a wooden stick to mix the honey. We tried this at a open air bar of the same name which occupies a gap between two old buildings. A man in a loud shirt started awkwardly dancing with one balanced on his head while another slapped out an African rhythm on a bongo. I'd say the drink matched the entertainment. One was enough.
Whilst Dan was having a little siesta one afternoon I went for a walk out of town to the north. The cobbles became loose stones, then eventually just a rocky path into the hills. After a sweaty steep hike I arrived at a telecommunications tower standing tall and proud at the top of the hill.
Upon my breathless arrival a dark skinned, leathery man walked over with an uneasy stride. He introduced himself as Carlo and welcomed me to his hill. Carlo asked if I wanted to view the view from a different view. I followed him round the tower to a small one story building with a rickety wooden ladder lent against the side. He then said the magic words "Quieres una cervesa?" (Do you want a beer?) it was the easiest couple of dollars I have parted with. He joined me on the roof and we chatted as I took in my surroundings.
I told him a little about myself and my brother, to which he proceeded to tell me about himself. At 26 he had part of his bone removed in his leg, I couldn't quite catch the reason for this. This has left him with one leg a good inch or two longer than other and an unsteady stride. He moved to Trinidad with his family in 1991 and looks after the telecommunications tower, which he hikes up to each morning before the sun is too hot and leaves after sunset. He went on to explain a little about the valley. Apparently after the decline of the sugar trade the surrounding valley is now predominately used for cattle and tobacco. There are also some good coffee farms up in the hills. As I left, I noticed a lady and child sitting outside his little cabin. He said they were his family and had brought him up some dinner. I left them to it and slowly made my way back into town.
Whilst walking back from the lookout I came across a cave man. He was called Michel and his job was to look after a cave. He said I could go and have a look for a dollar, however in the evenings it turns into a club round 10:30pm and costs five. To me this screamed tourist trap as once all the foreigners have paid their entrance old Michel could roll a boulder over the entrance and we would be trapped for ever with only an overpriced underground bar to survive.
I repeated to this later to Dan and I think all he heard was 'bar' and said we should go. So one evening we did.
For five bucks you can take a return trip out to Playa Ancon Cuba's most beautiful southern cost beach. Pristine white sand stretches for three miles on a little slither of land six miles south of Trinidad.
The bus was open topped which although fucking hot, gave great views of the town and coast. Unfortunately little Trinidad wasn't built for double decker open top buses, and neither was its electric wiring. Quite often we had to duck out the way of a rouge low hanging cables trying their best to decapitate an unsuspecting tourist.
One particularly dumb girl waving a selfie stick around and pouting a lot, accidentally caught one of the wires with her camera. Luckily she didn't electrocute the whole top deck, however her camera whipped back cracking open the head of the unlucky bloke sat behind her.
Ducking cables, cameras and branches brought on a hunger. As soon as we arrived we devoured a fish grill in the shade of some palms at a little restaurant just down the beach. Shortly after I left Dan zizzing on a sun bed and went for a walk up the coast and a swim.
On my way back I got into a standoff with a crab. He raised his claws as if he were sparing with me in a boxing ring. He took a side step as did I, creating that awkward moment when you're passing someone on a pavement and both go the same way. We both then went the other way. This was getting a little embarrassing. I stepped backwards, giving my new crab mate the option of scuttling away in peace. He took the opportunity and hurried off at 90 degrees.
Whilst riding out to Playa Ancon we passed a tiny fishing village called La Boca (The Mouth) situated at the mouth of a little river. I had been wandering where to spend our final few days, wanting to get off the tourist trail and just chill out. This I decided was our answer.