A luxurious rent a minibus turns up at 7.00am on the dot at Gladys’s. She has a strong shot of Cuban expresso ready to go to get us through the next six hour ride direct to Trinidad. This should be easy with such a comfortable vehicle all to ourselves. Turns out we had to pick up two roley-poley Polish boys and two Swiss couples so all seat were occupied. It was early morning and cloudy and as we pulled out of Vinales we speed across misty fields before the sun reared its head. The landscape reminded me of a mish-mash between Cambodia’s red dusty roads with random tall palm trees sticking up across bare fields and that of somewhere in rural Australia, with dry farms and sugar fields. Stopping only momentarily at a service station to use the banos and acquire another hit of Cuban coffee goodness, Murray and one of the Polish lads chomped down on garlic flavored rice puffs which, trust me at 9.30 in the morning, wasn’t the most popular smell in the mini van for the next three hours. We crossed Matanzas Province which led back into the outskirts of Havana but took the southerly highway leading us into Cienfuegos Province. The town here was colonised by the French in the 1800s and was today called the “Pearl of the South” where we dropped the garlic smelling Polish off before cutting east into Santa Clara Province and finally arriving at Trinidad.
We were dropped off out the front of our double story lime green casa particular where our new adopted Mum, Lin Leanne welcomed us with a hug before ushering us inside onto her floral couch before fixing us butternut ice-cream with a cookie on top. While we stuffed our faces she explained to us that there was a little mix up for tonight and that our room was occupied by two German guys that unfortunately couldn’t get their ticket out of town in time. Because of this we would be staying at her cousins place that wasn’t really her cousin but a friend for night one, before coming back to the lime townhouse the following day. No problems. We followed her “cousin” around the corner to a white little townhouse, squeezed through the narrow staircase and up to the top floor, two bedroom apartment. Apparently we had the place to ourselves and she (we never found out her name) would come back and cook us dinner that night and breakfast the following day. It was becoming clear that accommodation was averaging $20 a night for the two of us which was crazy cheap but casa particular owners made up that little bit extra on that home made cooking for their guests.
It was now just on dusk and we wondered out to the small balcony which looked over the dusty pink streets where men sat out on the doorsteps with their shirts off and a rum in hand and little old ladies peeked out through their doorways while they rocked back and forth in their chairs. We walked down to the local tienda to purchase a bottle of Havana Club rum for $1.90 and sat out watching the street life before dinner was served. Our no-named adopted mum with friend pointed to a small table outside they had set up adorned with a feast of chicken thighs and potatoes, rice, black-beans in gravy, tomatoes and cabbage. It was delicious. Murray was in seventh heaven due to the quality and quantity of food which should have served 5-6 people. Desert arrived next. A full baked Cuban flan drizzled in a delicious sugar sauce. While sitting on the balcony before, I watched two little African boys run down from the road carefully carrying this home made creation cooked especially for us and pretending to chomp at it with their eyes just hoping for a little piece. We left 3/4 of the pie for the family to chow down.
After a delicious breakfast of ham omelets while we watched the family next down feed their pigs (Murray ate my serve), we packed our gear, paid out adopted Mum and walked back around the corner to Lin Leanne’s. She seemed to be a single Mum with three girls and lived in the house with her Mum, who cooked most of the food. Our room was large with a huge green balcony filled with plants overlooking the main street. Perfect but insanely loud. Rosters crowed, salsa rumbled, 60 year old cars roared and street sellers wailed most of the night so ear-plugs was a must! Lin Leanne took us under her wing and told and organised everything for us. “Now listen lady. You look up the road and walk direct to the pizza shop. It is run by a poor family but clean family. They wash their hands because at the moment in Cuba there is a little bit of Cholera. But you take pizza here and food with me because I wash everything perfectly!” And she was right, there was just a “little bit of Cholera” that popped up in Havana from a dirty water tank. But not at at worried we did try the pizza only because we wanted pizza. And my god, it was the most insanely delicious pizza either of us had ever had. For 6 Cuban Peso or around 30 cents you received a pizza piping hot right out of a drummed fire made from exquisite home made dough with a sprinkle of the creamiest, melted cheese and any other topping you desired. It was incredible…so we had it daily! Then we explored the town.
Trinidad was a well preserved Spanish colonial settlement and built on huge sugar fortunes during the 19th century. It was declared a Unesco world heritage site with rambling cobbled streets, occupied by country folk on donkeys, kids playing ball in the streets and women running the daily chores to keep the family ticking along. All roads lead to Plaza Mayor the towns pretty main square and ringed by impressive pastel coloured mansions. There was a plethora of museums to view and art galleries selling paintings of Havana and Trinidad streets, Che, Compay from Buena Visa Social Club. The pretty pastel yellow Iglesia de Santa Ana was a lovely bell tower looming over the cities historical centre. Of course there were the usual restaurants and bars catering to tourists at standard prices..if only they knew about the most incredible pizza outside Italy. The gorgeous little town was surrounded by Sierra del Escambray, Cuba’s second largest mountain range which captivated the city with its purple and orange glow come sunset. We spent our days watching the impressive street life and taking photos and our nights, after dinning on impressive home cooked meals, heading back into the centre to Casa de la Musica. A fantastic bar set right next to the old 18th century church steps, this was “the” place to down a few mojitos while listening to rumba and samba bands. The locals or anyone with a bit of latino blood could dance while the tourists kinda bopped and popped like they either had epilepsy or were intoxicated…which most were. Being too cool for school, we opted for the view on the side line taking the scene in.
Playa Ancon was an impressive white beach situated about 12kms out of town on the Saneti Spiritus Caribbean shoreline. It was apparently the finest arc of sand on Cuba’s coastline with a handful of all inclusive second rate hotels. We caught a taxi, picking up two Germans on route who were stuck by the side of the road with their Coco driver, crossed a shrimp farm and a few smaller towns before taking first glimpse of the beach. The reviews did not disappoint. White sand with softly lapping azul water crested with palm trees and few people in site. We spent the rest of the day taking in the rays before catching the same taxi back to the little gem of a town.
We had planned to stay four nights in Trinidad but feeling as though we had viewed most of the sights the city had to offer, we decided to head to Varadero a night early. Lin Leanne had organised everything for us including another cousin, who wasn’t really a cousin, to take us the four hours to the popular beach resort town. Giving her a hug and kiss, we piled once again into our chauffeured ride and this time, had the luxury rent a car to ourselves without the crowds or the smell of garlic.