How likely is it that we end up in not one but two places called Trinidad within three months? We wanted to get out and see more of Cuba than just Havana, so we decided on the little town of Trinidad even though the only connection to the island we visited in January was the name. To get to Trinidad, we opted for a collective instead of a bus. Collectivos in Cuba are shared taxis. The driver will wait until a full carload of people are going to the same destination before heading out. Downside: we had to wait almost 30 whole minutes(!) until he was ready. Upside: We made the journey in a 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster. We had debated taking a tour of Havana in a classic car just to ride in one, and now we got to do it for less money and much more time. (Trinidad is about four hours from Havana).
Upon arrival to Trinidad, we got a taste of just how pervasive the socialist regime is in Cuba. You see, our hostel owner in Havana offered to hold some of our stuff for us while we took this side trip. Among the items we chose to leave were our passports. No big deal, they were locked up, and we know all the data from memory. Once we got to Trinidad, however, the (very nice) lady who ran our B&B said she couldn’t host us unless we had our physical passports. She explained that she was afraid of the government officials who might come to her house at any time and demand to see the passports of everyone staying there.
Her mother (who also ran a B&B) said the same thing. She wanted to help, but everyone she called said the same thing; they weren’t willing to take the risk. She tried to have our passports sent from Havana, but wasn’t able to arrange that either. Her advice to us: Since it was too late in the day to catch a bus back to Havana, we could sleep in the bus terminal, and go back the next day. Finally she called an acquaintance who was new to hosting people in Trinidad, and didn’t know that she needed to collect our passports. We were advised not to tell her since ignorance of the rules really is the best excuse in Cuba.
We were also advised not to stay out late, not to talk to people in the streets, and not to be too obvious about where we were staying. It turns out we needn’t have worried. Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage town, and was overrun with white, mostly European tourists. We were just a couple more faces in the crowd. And our single guest room with its queen-sized bed, air conditioner, and private bathroom was a welcome change from our hostel in La Habana.
We couldn’t just sit around our first night, so we went a-walkin’ through the town in search of food and photo ops. We found both. Trinidad wears its UNESCO-ness (UNESCOsity?) well.
As for food, trust Stephanie to sniff out a great pizza deal. She found us a tiny little hole-in-the-wall with $1 personal pizzas to go. They were so good, we sat right there on the curb and ate them, promising the guy we would be back the next day.
As with many small Latin towns, the main focal point of Trinidad is a church – Iglesia de San Francisco to be exact. We toured a Spanish-only Museum of the revolution on the ground floor before climbing the belfry for a wonderful view of Trinidad and the surrounding countryside.
Other stops that day included the central square (Plaza Mayor), The Museo de Ciudad (City Museum), which featured another fantastic rooftop view, a free art gallery, the escalinera (stairs) where we had gone salsa dancing under the stars the night before, some shopping, and a giant mojito for Stephanie.
We got wind of a five-star hotel that allows anyone to use their pool, so we hiked uphill to the outskirts of town and spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing. Round the day off with some locally-made ice cream, and I’d say you have a pretty perfect day.
For our next day, we had planned to spend most of the day taking a train tour of the local countryside. Due to an embarrassing alarm clock accident, however, we woke up too late to catch the only train. Being the seasoned travelers that we are though, we shifted gears on the fly, and headed to the local beach – the highly recommended Playa Ancon. BONUS: another classic car ride. Woo hoo!
Playa Ancon was not quite as nice as Playas del Este in Havana, but still nice enough for us to unilaterally declare that Cuba has beautiful beaches. We found a tree to park under, and took turns snoozing, swimming in the warm Caribbean water, and walking along the sand. I even went for a run. (Fitness, y’all!)
It was Day Four, and this time, we got up in time for our train. The tour went through the nearby Valle de los Ingenios where the primary crop is sugar. The train itself, which used to be steam-driven, was an old-style open air train. The wooden cars and the lack of windows and doors gave it an old-west kind of feel, and let us feel like we were really a part of the countryside.
Our first stop was the tiny town of Ignaza which seemed to consist of a train depot, a restaurant, 11,000 craft vendors, and a G-I-A-N-T bell tower. Naturally, we had to climb to the top of it.
An hour further down the track took us to the end of the line – an hacienda called Guachinango. This working farm also had a restaurant and a whole bunch of chickens. The big draw for us, however, was the river which was a ten minute walk past banana groves. It was so hot, that rather than just wade barefoot in the river like others, I stripped off my shirt and sat down in the shallow water.
On our last day in Trinidad, we slept in, *finally* made it back for more cheap pizzas, and had some famous Copelia’s ice cream before catching a ’53 Chevy back to Havana.