CUBA – TRAVEL REPORT day 9-10-11: Trinidad

I’ll never forget Trinidad – if only because I can still hear a beep in my ear from Las Cuevas.

You can read my previous travel reports about Cuba here: Havana, Vinales and Cienfuegos.

Ever since I met her, my German travel companion Kathrin had been talking about Trindad. Kathrin had been to Cuba before, and she absolutely loves the colonial town (and Cuba, in general, but especially Trinidad).

Still, I had also heard stories about the “picture perfect” town being very touristic. Actually, that was one of the main reasons I also wanted to visit Sancti Spiritus, another town that was supposed to be “like Trinidad, but without the tourists”. And after my experience in Vinales, I was afraid I wouldn’t like Trinidad at all.

Spoiler alert: I did.

COLORS AND COBBLESTONES

Oh, pretty Trinidad. Yes, there are a lot of tourists. But, different from Vinales, there’s also a lot of Cuban street life going on here, especially if you move away from the Plaza Mayor. And yes, the town is as beautiful as they say. Some would say it’s like an open-air museum (you can choose whether you think that’s a good or a bad thing), but all have to agree there’s a nice, relaxed atmosphere on the streets. Another plus: the town is so small that it’s quite easy to walk around – everything is nearby.

As I told you, Kathrin, Jono and I took a taxi collectivo from Cienfuegos to Trinidad. Once we’d dropped our heavy backpacks at our casa’s, we went for some food – it was 3 PM and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, not even after my run in the morning. Kathrin remembered a nice place and I had one of the better meals that I ate in Cuba.

And, of course, a mojito.

After lunch, we met Jason and Ismay at the Viazul bus station and walked back to our casa’s. We agreed to meet each other about an hour later, at Plaza Mayor.

By then, it was already becoming dark – and I have to say, Trinidad by night is a really nice place. Music on the streets everywhere and from many restaurants/bars, cocktails-to-go from street shops and just a very relaxed vibe.

(Yes, I do realize it were mainly tourists enjoying all this, but they were not the loud and annoying kind of tourists – and hey, of course we were tourists as well.)  The five of us decided to go to the same place where Kathrin, Jono and I ate a few hours earlier. I wasn’t very hungry, but the mojito’s were good and while we were eating, a live band started to play salsa music.

Kathrin knew a few of the band members from her last visit to Trinidad, so she decided to catch up with them later that night. But first, we tried to find a bottle of rum. The stores were already closed and the rum at the street shops was 15 (!) CUC, but after a bit of asking around I sneaked into the casa de la musica, one of the main spots next to Plaza Mayor where you can dance salsa, and bought a bottle from that bar for 9 CUC. That’s still more expensive than it would have been at the ‘supermarket’ (for lack of a better word, because there are no western-style supermarkets in Cuba), but still a lot cheaper than drinking mojito’s in a bar.

TOUCHING ISMAY’S CHIN

Because my casa had a rooftop terrace ánd a fridge full of soft drinks, we all went here to have some drinks mixed with rum. Me, Jono, Ismay and Jason played a really intense game of King’s Cup, that we didn’t even finish, because there were just TOO MANY RULES. At one point, everybody was one another’s drinking mate, and every time before you could drink you’d have to do a push-up ánd touch Ismay’s chin, while she also was the ‘snake eyes’ so you couldn’t look her in the eyes and… I don’t remember what else, but it was weird.

And the bottle of rum was gone way too soon.

DANCING IN A CAVE

No, we didn’t fall asleep after the game. Instead, we decided to go out, because you know, in the end it WAS a Friday night.

Actually, Jason remembered someone telling him about ‘the cave’, some sort of club that was supposed to be very cool. We asked around and got the right directions – apparently, this place (also called Disco Ayala, or Las Cuevas) was also marked in my MAPS.ME-app.

By the way, if you’re going to Cuba in the near future: definitely download this offline maps app! It has saved me so many times – it doesn’t only have properly-working offline gps maps of the whole island, those maps also include a lot of restaurants, casa’s and other places (like bus stations and famous buildings).

LONG STORY SHORT: WE DANCED TILL 3 AM

…because that was when the club closed, I could have danced some more. I’m really sorry I didn’t take any pictures inside Las Cuevas, because wow, that was cool. Disco Ayala appeared to be an underground club inside a real cave. Entrance fee is 5 CUC and for that money you also get a free drink. One thing: bring your earplugs. I didn’t, and the next day my ears hurt quite badly.

But oh, how good it felt to dance for hours and not caring about anything else. I felt 19 again. ;)

The next day was pretty lazy, as you can probably imagine. After breakfast, we decided to walk to one of the WiFi squares. I waited for about 1,5 hours in a queue to get a few new WiFi cards (in Cuba, you have to buy cards with a code to use the WiFi – they’re about 2 CUC each, for one hour), chatted with some friends on WhatsApp and met another cool traveler, Stephanie from California. Together with her and the Australian guys – Jono and Jason – I had a really good pizza for lunch.

Because I’m really, really not used to going out anymore (I think the last time I danced the night away back home is about a year ago), I was quite tired by the end of the afternoon, so I took a nap before I met the others again for dinner.

THIS WAS THE MOMENT I GOT A LITTLE SAD

Saturday night, January 28th. At this point I’d been away from home for 10 days. And up to this moment, I hadn’t really missed home. I mean, of course I missed cuddling with Tom and talking to my friends, but I was having such a good time in Cuba that I didn’t think about it that much. Until now.

I think it was a combination of being tired, feeling lonely and the fact I’d talked to friends for about half an hour earlier that day. Suddenly I was like who are these people and what am I doing here? 

Luckily, I did feel a bit better after a plate of pasta and a mojito (yes, I know..). Tonight, we were quite a big group; next to Ismay, Jono and Jason, there were two German guys that Kathrin had met earlier that day. Jonas and Johannes were good company and it was, as always, nice to meet new people and hear about their traveling adventures.

ON THE ROOFTOP, AGAIN

Another night, another bottle of rum… Only this time I skipped the drinks, because I felt what my body and mind both actually needed, was some rest. So around 1 AM, when the others were going out again, I went to bed, hoping to feel better after a good night of sleep…

…but I didn’t, mainly because of drunk roommates. Oh well, guess that’s part of traveling too, sometimes. In fact, even this was quite an interesting moment, because a) I suddenly felt very old (let’s be honest, five years go I probably was the drunk roommate), b) it made me remember to always stay on my own path and follow my intuition, even if that’s not the ‘coolest’ way to go and c) the situation gave me the possibility to practice patience and forgiveness.

Enough said. The next morning me, Kathrin and the two German guys had agreed to go Playa Ancon, a beach 20-30 minutes from Trinidad. We took a taxi collectivo there for 2 CUC each and spent all day in the sun – swimming in the bright blue sea and sleeping in the sand.

It was exactly what I needed at this point.

Later that day, Jason and Ismay joined us, too. And at night… well, do I sound too much like a party animal if I tell you we went out again?

In fact, I didn’t plan to (really!). Actually, I already changed to my pyjamas, when Ismay suddenly said: “..but Suus, it’s your last night in Trinidad!”

She was right. The next morning I’d travel to Sancti Spiritus, actually the main reason I didn’t want to go out – I hate traveling while hungover. But then again, leaving Trinidad also meant leaving all my travel companions. I’d most likely never see any of them again after tonight (except maybe for Ismay, who lives in Amsterdam).  And that club-in-a-cave wás a really cool place…

SO YEAH, THEY PERSUADED ME

And we ordered a lot of mojito’s.
And we danced a lot.
And I felt young and immortal.
And I wished I could stay on that dancefloor forever.

And the next day my ears hurt even more. (Yes, I forgot about those stupid ear plugs again – from now on I won’t ever again, promise ;))

At 4 AM, I hugged and kissed everyone goodbye.
I thanked them with all my heart for the AMAZING week.
Sometimes you have to be a little drunk to find the right words. ;)
(And I still feel very thankful – guys, if any of you are reading this… you’re amazing, I love you all.)
(Yes, I do realize I’m acting a bit sentimental now.)

You know, sometimes you have those nights of going out that you regret going afterwards. For this night, that was definitely not the case. I’m happy I went. It’s good to remember what it feels like to be 20, again – even if you wake up the next day feeling all fuzzy and you have to carry your 16 kg backpack and think about grown-up stuff like ‘where is my passport’.

So yeah, the price I paid (apart from my painful ears) was the fact I didn’t really do a lot of interesting stuff in Sancti Spiritus – but more on that later.

LA DURA, LA DURA

Trinidad, I like you. Although I didn’t really do any cultural stuff (apparently you can get a really nice view over the city at a certain spot, I sort-of regret I didn’t go there), I had a great time. Trinidad is an amazing place to just walk and look around, enjoy street life and have fun with people you meet. I can imagine why Kathrin chose to stay here for almost two weeks.

I want to end this post with one of the songs you hear A LOT in Cuba these days. Cubans are totally crazy about reggaeton (in fact, salsa is mainly for tourists), and this Cuban artist called Jacob Forever produced a few decent summer hits. According to Tom, it’s actually pretty bad, but every time I hear this, I get that Cuba-feeling again. So: enjoy!

Speaking about music: what about that beep in my ear? Well, I think it’s sort of silenced now – it might have had something to do with the cold I got, too. Or least I hope so. As much as I liked the town – I don’t really need a permanent souvenir from Trinidad.

CUBA – TRAVEL REPORT day 8: Cienfuegos

So… where was I?

Suddenly almost a week passed. And I didn’t spend it like I thought I would… on Monday, I was very happy to go to work (really!). OK, of course I had to get used again to the ‘waking up at 6:30 AM’-part of the day, but as soon as I was in the train to Nijmegen, I couldn’t wait to see my colleagues again and get started with some writing.

Or actually: my brain was happy about that. To be honest, my body felt like crap, and I spent most of the 1 hour-train ride sleeping (which I usually never do, especially not in the mornings, because it makes me even more sleepy the rest of the day).

Long story short: after quite a fuzzy work day (despite a lot of tissues, nose spray and some painkillers I went home an hour earlier) I got into bed… and didn’t get out until Thursday afternoon. Tuesday morning I woke up with a pretty high fever (40 degrees Celsius) and I basically slept for three days and three nights, before I finally felt a bit alive again.

So uh, yeah, not quite how I had imagined my first week after a 2,5 week-vacation.
But now, back to that! After my reports on Havana and Vinales, I know you’re all very curious to know what the rest of my Cuba trip looked like, right? ;)

8 HOURS IN THE BUS… WITH FOOD POISONING 

OK, that sounds worse than it was, really. First of all, I was very happy that Kathrin, the German girl I’d been traveling with since Havana and who was going to share my casa in Cienfuegos, joined me on the bus. We met each other at the bus station at 6:30 am, when Salvador (my host) dropped me off with my bag. (Thank you Salvador, for being so kind to carry my heavy backpack here, while I wasn’t feeling well.)

The bus ride was going to take most of the day. It departed at 6:45 am and the estimated time of arrival was 2:30 pm. At the time of departure my stomach still hurt pretty badly, but luckily I didn’t have to go to the toilet all the time. I’m happy to say I slept most of the ride. By the time Kathrin woke me up for the 45 min lunch stop, it was already past noon.

My ‘lunch’ consisted of a can of coke, since I didn’t feel like eating yet – and especially not food from a highway restaurant buffet. I slowly started to feel a little better though (I think by then I’d taken 6 immodium pills, so yeah) and I spent the last 1,5 hours of the ride being awake and staring out of the window – which is never boring, when you’re driving through Cuba.

FINALLY… CIENFUEGOS!

When we entered the city of Cienfuegos, I immediately noticed how many texts and images of Fidel/Che there were in this town. Also, this seemed to be the first place where the ‘horse and carriage’ was still a common-used way of transportation – and not just a tourist-y thing.

I’d only stay one night in Cienfuegos; the next day, I’d travel further to Trinidad. My travel buddies – Kathrin, Ismay and Jason, the latter two took a taxi collectivo to Cienfuegos – weren’t sure yet whether they’d stay one or two nights. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded staying another night, but that would mean I’d have less time in Trinidad.

Once Kathrin and I had found our casa and unpacked our stuff, we decided we’d walk to Punta Gorda, the southern part of the city. It’s the bay area and our host told us we’d get a terrific view of the sunset at the Palacio de Valle, an eclectic-style palace with a nice rooftop terrace.

Time for a drink! As much as this looked like the perfect spot for another mojito, I figured it’d be better if I didn’t drink alcohol, today, so I had a fresh lemonade while Kathrin ordered a Cuba libre (coke + rum).

JUST ONE PROBLEM… WHERE WERE JASON AND ISMAY?

The night before, we had agreed that we would meet Ismay and Jason in Cienfuegos. Ismay and I had each other’s phone numbers, so we’d just send a text message. But it appeared that my phone hardly had any service in Cienfuegos. Finally, after many attempts, I got to send one message (in which I told her we were at the Palacio de Valle to watch the sunset), but I didn’t get a response so I didn’t know if she had received it.

I was just thinking about leaving the place and trying to find them at their casa (of which I had the address), when two familiar faces walked to our table. Just in time to enjoy an amazing seaview sunset. :)

When the sun was gone, the four of us shared a taxi back to the city centre. After a short stop at a WiFi park (Parque Martí), we went for some food. I was still a little scared to eat unknown food, but I had some fries and a few bites of salad. Afterwards, we walked to the casa of Jason and Ismay. They said it was a great place, because instead of just one room they had a whole appartment to themselves – and indeed, it was a nice place to hang out and play some drinking games.

Unfortunately, just after 11 pm their land lady decided it was time for me and Kathrin to leave, so we said the others goodbye, got ourselves a sort-of-shady taxi and went to bed…

IT WAS MY BEST NIGHT IN CUBA SO FAR

Seriously. In Havana I slept in a very basic hostel bed, in warm dormitory with 4 others and a humming fan. In Vinales I did have a good bed and a silent roommate, but the town itself was quite loud (roosters awake from 4 am, babies awake from 5 am, et cetera).

None of this was a real problem to me, since I’m quite good at sleeping everywhere, but wow, the casa in Cienfuegos had it all: an excellent bed, a silent neighborhood, perfect temperature. And I wasn’t the only one who woke up on Friday feeling totally rested – Kathrin also said it was the best night for her in days.

After breakfast, I went for a run! I really wanted to go running in Cuba, so I brought my stuff with me, but up until now there hadn’t been a good opportunity. But Cienfuegos, with its wide, sunlit streets, was perfect. I went for a 5K along the Malecón. It was hot – and I loved it.

After a cold shower and about a liter of water, I packed my stuff, just like Kathrin, and we went back to the Viazul bus station. Although I felt I’d actually not seen much of Cienfuegos, it was time to move on to Trinidad. In the end, my travel companions decided to to the same – I have to say I was pretty happy about that, because I really liked exploring Cuba together and we were having a good time.

The others still had to book their bus tickets – during the whole trip, it appeared I was quite much of a control freak, compared to the others :’) , since I’d pre-booked everything. But hey, all my travel companions had months to travel, while I only had 13 days in Cuba, so I’m still happy I didn’t have to worry about my casa’s and transportation. It really saved me a lot of precious time waiting in lines/looking for accommodation.

Nevertheless, this afternoon I did have to wait in order for the others to get ready. First of all, we couldn’t find Jason and Ismay (again…), but while I went looking for them, I did find Jono, the other Australian guy we’d met earlier. He had gone diving for a few days and was now also heading for Trinidad.

The three of us (me, Kathrin, Jono) decided to get a taxi collectivo together. That meant I’d bought my bus ticket for nothing, but it was only 6 CUC and I decided having good company – and not having to find each other AGAIN without the possibility to send text messages – was worth a few extra CUC for the taxi. Up until now, I had already saved a lot of money by sharing all my casa’s with friends.

ABOUT MEETING FRIENDS

Let me say one more thing about this ‘trying to find each other without phone communication’ thing. Actually, I thought it was quite funny and an interesting experience. You know, we’re all so used to being able to call/text one another all the time. In Cuba, you can’t rely on that, so you have to make appointments, like: “Let’s meet tomorrow at 11 am in front of this-or-that-building.” Or: “We’ll see each other in Trinidad in our own casa, around 4:40 pm. If not, we’ll meet at 6:30 at the main square.”

And somehow, things always turned out fine. Like today: just when we’d given up on finding Jason and Ismay (we figured we’d find them in Trinidad, since we had each other’s casa addresses), I saw the two of them walking down the street. I jumped out of the taxi and ran toward them. Apparently they’d already booked bus tickets for later that afternoon, so we made some solid appointments about where and when to meet each other in Trinidad.

What followed, was another really nice and bumpy ride – in an extremely rusty and creaky old timer taxi. The landscape between Cienfuegos and Trinidad is really beautiful, and the ride took us less than 1,5 hours. I’d really recommend anyone to take a taxi for this trip, since there are more than enough taxi drivers in Cienfuegos offering you a ride to Trinidad (never pay more than 8 CUC per person, though – sometimes you can get it for 6).

O yes, I really enjoyed that ride. Writing this, I actually feel a little homesick – especially now that it’s really cold and snowy outside, here in Utrecht. Can I go back?

Yes, we drove in this thing for 1,5 hours – and at quite a speed, too. Our luggage was on top of the car. You can hardly believe it doesn’t fall apart, right?! ;)