The first impression of Trinidad is color. Narrow streets paved with stones, one story houses with iron barred windows, painted in pastel colors and crowds of people and horse carts. We had booked over the internet at Hostal Rocaverde, a casa particular on Simon Bolivar street, which is leading straight to Plaza Mayor. I was a little concerned with the casa particular concept but I was proved completely wrong. The rooms and bathroom were clean, the backyard lovely and our hosts, Marialena and her family, very pleasant and friendly.
I put on my holdfast suspender belts with the Olympus bodies loaded with Panny zooms hanging on both sides and headed to Plaza Mayor to catch the golden hour in the Casco Histórico. Every house has a living room facing the street, usually large and empty of furniture except for a tv set and a bunch of rocking chairs. We were hearing music emerging from almost everywhere. Time in Trinidad’s Casco Histórico seems to have stopped in the 19th century. I have never been in any other place with such old-time ambience. After an hour walking and a couple of mojitos on a very nice terrace, we returned to our casa.
We had dinner in the very beautiful restaurant Sol right on Plaza Mayor, an old house, decorated excellently with original furniture and house props. I did not have much luck with the food though.
Surprisingly for such a small town, there is plenty of nightlife, probably because of the tourists. We went to Casa de la Trova, packed with tourists and jineteros, the local hustlers that will dance salsa in return for a drink or anything else that could come up. Not really exciting. The highlight of the day was a stop at the Palacio Cantero (built in 1828), now Municipal Museum, to enjoy a classical concert, part of the festivities program for the 500th anniversary of the city. It was magical, a mark of the Cuban diverse cultural heritage and the efforts to preserve it.
The next morning, after a good breakfast with fried eggs and chorizo, we drove to the Vallée de Los Ingenios, a series of three interconnected valleys about 12 km from Trinidad, the center of sugar production in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Iznaga Tower, once the tallest structure in Cuba, was built in 1816 by Alejo Maria Iznaga y Borrell, the owner of the Manaca Iznaga plantation, to serve as a symbol of his power. The bell on the top of the 45m high tower was used to mark the beginning and the end of the working day as well as to signal an alarm in case of a slave escape. The house was renovated and today is used as a restaurant. The views from the top are great, but the climb is a bit challenging through the narrow, steep and slippery wooden stairs. The crowds of linen and food vendors that populate the entrance of the landmark reminds that this is a tourist attraction. So does the old train connecting Trinidad to the plantation. There is a beautiful jacienta-turned-restaurant some 3km away where we had some coffee and rested briefly. On the way back to Trinidad, we picked up a couple of 16yrs old hitchhikers going to school. They were in uniforms and wore intense maquillaje, looking more like going to a party. They did not speak a word in English but we managed to communicate in basic Spanish.
In the afternoon we drove to Playa Ancon, a beautiful long stretch of sand, probably the best beach on the south coast. It was quiet with few people on the beach which made our stay all the more pleasant. The beauty of the beach is spoiled by the ugly soviet-type resorts built at the end, so we chose stay at the west end that is virgin. The wind was mild, the waters turquoise but not clear and the sand was cool and powdery. We enjoyed mojitos and the local specialty, the canchanchara, a rum-lime-and-honey cocktail that was served in coconuts. Even the pizza we had for lunch was good.
On the way back, we spotted some flocks of birds in one of the natural pools formed close to the sea.
In the evening we walked once more the streets and alleys of the Casco Histórico, from the Church of the Holy Trinity in Plaza Mayor, through the landmark building of Trinidad, the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, now a museum of the revolution. The colonial houses of Trinidad have red terracotta tiled roofs and bars to safeguard the property. Some houses still have the 18th century barrotes, made of wooden beams, much more beautiful than the 19th century iron grilles that replaced them.
We dined at the casa particular and we did not regret it. Excellent soup and shrimps. We had the chance to talk to Marialena and the other guests, an English retired couple that was on a three months tour of Cuba and a couple of Latvian newlyweds. Marialena explained that she has to pay 600 CUC annually per room to run the operation, but it seems it is worth it. Having access to CUC can make all the difference in today’s Cuba. She counts on Tripadvisor to get her clientele and her brother who is married in the US helps her to manage the promotion. Without local access to the internet it is really hard to promote the business. Apparently the casa particular owners are part of an off-line web that sends guest from one city to the next. And this is exactly how we booked our stay in our next stop, Camaguey.