Farewell to Cuba

Farewell to Cuba

The last dance is always the one that I remember most. Today was our last day. The thought made my heart clench. I look back now at the photos, like a lover smelling scented clothes. I am propelled by my feelings and by my memories into a place which is unique, even to the world. The sounds become real, the smells the colors. I know I am not there and yet somehow this feels so real.

The impressive Grand Theater of Havana looms ahead, the Cuban flag perched proudly blows in the wind.

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Pass the ever grandiose buildings and arrive quickly at El Capitolio. Domed and all white, it cuts an authoritarian figure and towers over the dainty colorful houses, which are opposite it. I can see myself laughing and joking. I press the camera shutter, but never quite at the right moment. Half a car, no car but somehow never a whole one.

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Round and round we go up as far as the gate to China Town. The  Old Railway repair yard is still rusty. The cigar factory is shut, although I don’t think it was like that when I was there. Sometimes memories play tricks. If I am wrong, it doesn’t matter, tomorrow I will go back but this time I will open it.

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Lunch in a sumptuous Italian in China Town. We are served by Cuba’s own Abercrombie and Fitch models.  White shirts tight over their strong muscular frames. The sugar is sweet but not as sweet as Carlos. They have blankets for if we are cold (such gentlemen), and probably spare shirts for when their old ones split from too much muscle flexing. Obviously they all fancy me. This is how I remember it anyway…

All the clientele are locals and many parties are couples on dates – Was it lunch or was it dinner that I had here? Either way its not the best place in the world to bring your girlfriend if your trying to convince her that you are the most attractive man on the planet. So yes, the food is really good, best ravioli outside of Florence and great price… Anyway back to the service…

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We walk back to the hotel, passed El Floridita, and back down towards the sea to our hotel.  I feel sad. This is when the bags are loaded and when we hug our new friends goodbye. The journey back to the airport, back home, back to reality is short. Too short.

I will miss you Cuba but I will see you soon, I promise this is by no means goodbye. I never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.

Dinning in the Colonial Era -Sol Ananda

Dinning in the Colonial Era -Sol Ananda

Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, conqueror of Cuba, founded Trinidad exactly 500 years ago, in 1514. The city is a living museum piece. Not only is it older than almost every building in Paris but this World Heritage Site is one of the world’s best preserved colonial cities.

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Sol Ananda is one of Trinidad’s many good restaurants. It is set in a house which looks onto the Plaza Mayor that was bought by an architect, re-done and transformed back into what it would have looked like a hundred years ago, when Trinidad was a very affluent area thanks to its blossoming sugar industry.

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All the furniture is antique. Tables are set amongst bedrooms, with ornately decorated beds, wardrobes and rocking chairs. A real old Cello is propped up and is used by locals who play at the restaurant museum in the evening.The concept is clever, dinning tables are interspersed amongst these old heirlooms, so there is ample opportunity to really feast upon the items. I felt that it was a much more enjoyable way to contemplate and admire these great pieces of craftsmanship than by glancing quickly at them whilst walking through a museum gallery.

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We ate off antique plates with antique silver cutlery from an old colonial ship

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The food is pricy for Cuba, like normal London prices, but the menu offers a variety of India, Caribbean, Mexican and Spanish food. This is what we had for lunch, but I would highly recommend the lobster which I had on our last dinner in Trinidad.

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For our final dinner in Trinidad we up to the restaurant’s roof terrace. The sky was alight with color as the sun set. Stone angels became shadows against the fiery sky. DSC_0425

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Between Mountains and Sea – Trinidad

Between Mountains and Sea – Trinidad

“Homage to the Greats”, the very best of John Travolta and Patrick Swasey. More than an hour of their very best moments from Greece songs to Saturday Night fever dance routines, to Dirty Dancing finales and romantic moment from Ghost. So much jiving, pelvic thrusting, tight trousers and comb backs. Only in Cuba would a macho cigar smoking bus driver have the balls to choose and then play such a video on the long trip down from Havana to Trinidad. Probably the best bumpy coach journey I have ever done, with air-con and great scenery, which was interrupted only when a pit-stop was announced where sandwiches and recommended pina coladas could be bought.We had wondered how early was too early to start drinking in Cuba, apparently according to the driver, 10am would be considered fine.

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It took a little bit of time adjusting from the grand boulevards of Havana to the tiny narrow streets and low houses of Trinidad. The coach stopped, randomly it seemed, on a relatively wide road, surrounded by low lying houses. It was all a lot more rural than the vibrant city which we had left behind. Trinidad, Havana’s Country Bumpkin cousin. There were almost no cars. We could not see the main square so at first it was difficult to get our bearings.

Our plan had been to compare the different casas particulars which were apparently around the main square, but as we weren’t sure where that was and where the main boulevard was, we could not do this. No need to panic though, although we did slightly at first. As the coach pulled up my sister turned to me with watering eyes and with a little lip quiver said the words: “Don’t like it”.

Luckily, as we got out of the bus, we were greeted by locals offering us their homes to stay in. After talking to a few, after some recommendations from others, I decided to trust and go with the flow. A young man, very well spoken, very professional, told me in a couple of quick sentences above the chaos, that he his family had a casa particular, that we could come and look at it and see if we liked it. That it had air-conditioning, a double room with refrigerator, on suite bathroom, a patio and offered breakfast and meals if needed. He told me it wasn’t far, and that his friend would take us and our bags to the house and that if we didn’t like it we could go elsewhere. The price of all casas particulares in Cuba are 35 pesos per night.

I looked through the chaos, people grabbing bags, tourists like sheep amongst wolves, wide eyed and scarred, and decided I had to go with the young guys. I couldn’t see any alternatives. I hoped it would be fine, but if it wasn’t we would probably have spent the first night there anyway. All our bags were loaded onto the tuk tuk. It would have been impossible anyway to lug them around, as all the street of Trinidad are cobbled.

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The fit young driver put on some pumping music and pedaled away. We even made a quick stop to buy rope to help secure an extra bag we had to the bike. This took us up a massive hill, a sort of unnecessary detour, but all done for our comfort. I offered to get out and push. The young cyclist looked at me as if I was insane and laughed. He was man enough for this and in no way wanted the villagers to see him being pushed up the hill by a girl. He egged my sister to get on, even though we were already full to the brim, and turned the music up louder. This was his public challenge, a real peacock display of masculinity. He made it up the hill very slowly, beads of sweet forming on his toned arms. He had made it. I was impressed, the villagers shouting encouragement were also impressed. My gamble had paid off, the house was lovely, probably the best in the town. We ended up staying 4 nights instead of 2.

Trinidad is in fact picturesque and charming. Together with the nearby Valle de los Ingenios, it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. The journey down from Havana is long but definitely worth it. The houses are colorful, pastel with wrought iron gates. The streets are cobbled and many people still get around by donkey and trap. The Plaza Mayor, is an open air museum, statues and brass canons adorn the streets, the church is framed by tall palms. Every other house and restaurant is also a museum. They are filled with antique furniture, musical instruments and cutlery from ship wrecks. Roof terraces look over the city and stone angels watch over you as you eat. We went to Sol Ananda twice and would highly recommend the experience of dinning in a museum. Your stay here will be peaceful and really relaxing as the town is very tourist friendly without loosing an ounce of its authenticity and heritage.

We really enjoyed walking around. Every day we did something different. Go before 5pm to the Museum Municipal and make sure you climb the very rickety and windy, extremely narrow staircase to the top of the museum’s tower for a stunning view over the town. Look at the San Francisco Convent and mountains down to towards the see. We tried to go as late as possible, as the sunset in Trinidad is legendary. This would be a great place to see it from, but unfortunately the place closes before the sun goes down. In fact, we almost got locked in waiting for it.

Another great place to see the sunset from is from an old abandoned abbey at passed the main plaza, at the back of the town up a small hill. The area which is walked through to get to it is quite poor, so we didn’t stick around until dark, but the view of the sea down below and the sunset was beautiful. Even if you don’t go out of your way to see the sunset, the sky is light up orange and pink most nights and the buildings glow.

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Just beyond the main plaza, there are casas de la musica, free open air spaces where musical performances are conducted by bands which go on long into the night. Locals show off their moves and will encourage others to join in. An old man teaches a young Australian backpacker salsa and both have an amazing time and laugh despite the language barrier. He has to be more matcho, lead with confidence and look her in the eyes. This is is a local hang out for the towns young and is enjoyed by both tourists and locals. The party is then continued at the cave nightclub, a nightclub in a cave which is great fun!

Trinidad is between mountains and the Caribbean sea. One of Cuba’s most famous beaches, Playa Ancon is a 15 minute drive away. It was very hot, hotter than in Havana. Every day we would go to the beach at around 9am. The family’s uncle Miguel would take us in his 1954 Buick and would collect us at our arranged time, usually 3pm. We would talk and he would tell us about life in Trinidad. He said he was saving up to go and visit his family in Miami as the laws in Cuba were to be relaxed soon. It was a great way to spend the hottest hours of the day. One of the days we paid 10cuc each and went out to the coral reef and snorkeled.

The sea was teaming with multicolored fish. The Catamarans were moored on the shore and there was no need to pre-book. We went early,  just paid on the spot and were the only ones on the boat and at the reef, it was really magical. There are a few resorts along the coast and so the beach is comfortable and there is ample shade and places to get cocktails and drinks, although I would bring your own food. Our family made us sandwiches, which were included as part of the breakfast so we took those.

Trinidad is unspoilt and a true Caribbean gem. Its petrol station sells no water or juice only rum and gasoline.The history of the place is unmissable and the colonial architecture and scenery is very special. The people here live in true harmony with their surroundings, so the city although a museum is also making history itself. There are some great items made locally, and everyday streets become markets. We bought hand embroidered table clothes, which will one day become our family air looms, hand made Cuban hats for 3cuc, necklaces, wicker work baskets and musical instruments. The quality of the souvenirs here are incredible and all from locals.

Now all I have to do is go back and share this secret and bring all those who I love dearly to Trinidad.

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