Monday, June 16, 2014


Trinidad is a beautiful historic town that has been recognised by Unesco as a world heritage site. The streets in the historic area where we stayed were cobbled and sounds of horse hooves clopping down the street are jumbled with the various live music acts playing at the bars & restaurants. Our casa there, Hostal Rintintin, was located just off the plaza in the Historical Centre and had a rooftop dining / seating area where you could watch the sun set in the evenings - beautiful!

Morning view from our casa's rooftop terrace

A dilapidated building in town that had advertisements letting us know that it would be one of the finest hotels in Trinidad within the next few years.

With a 9.30am tourist steam train departure in mind we arose uncharacteristically early for breakfast. Our previous casa owners had been superbly on time with every meal so with a 9.15am arrival time at the train station in mind we ordered breakfast for 8.30am. We're not sure why we didn't assume that the previous owners were the exception to the rule given the pace of life in Cuba, so when it finally arrived at 9am and we wolfed it down and started running down the road to find the station. In true Cuban style the train only leaves on days when a minimum of 15 people turn up. Running in, sweating, at bang on 9.30am we were clapped in by the anxious 13 passengers who had turned up before us and who thought until that moment that they would need to activate Plan B for the day’s activities.

Travelling on the historic steam train throughout the countryside was very fitting. We each got a chance to ‘drive’ the train, and blow the horn.

View from the steam train

Feeling excited after realising the horn was my doing

Local kids chasing after the train, it was unclear whether they were just excited or trying to sell us something
Unfortunately we left our beloved Lonely Planet book on a chair at breakfast** so we had to stumble through the ‘tour’ without it. Both of us had envisaged arriving at a huge mansion like property that had previously operated as a sugar plantation, and checking out the old mill and perhaps an accompanying museum of sorts? We arrived at our first stop with 1.5hrs allocated and proceeded to a huge tower to climb - which to our dismay was the last remaining element of the plantation. The tower was pretty amazing though, so many flights of tiny wooden stairs with multiple outlook points where the owners of the plantation could observe their slaves at work.

** Note: the whereabouts of the book was only realised after an approximately 30 minute long investigation that felt not too dissimilar to a scene from Criminal Minds - retracing our steps and establishing the real blame for the book misplacement. I am pleased to report it was his fault.

Historic tower used to watch the slaves at work on the plantations

Estate to the right of this picture was were the owners of the plantation used to live. It is now an overpriced restaurant.

Observation windows up the tower, feel like these observers must of used some form of binocular contraption as there is no way they could see people that clearly from up here!

We spent the afternoon in the flashiest hotel in Trinidad watching the Champions League Final. Even though I am not a huge football fan the game was pretty exciting to watch, and heading out to grab some wine on our way home we ran into the locals celebrating in the plaza - free rum shots for all!

That evening we headed to La Botija for some delicious pasta and cocktails and to kick off an  evening enjoying the live music scene in Trinidad. The band at La Botija all looked around our age and were the warm up act for some Cuban celebrity that crowds had gathered for, posters in hand awaiting his signature. 

Next we headed to Casa de la Musica - an open air amphitheatre where there is a free live salsa extravaganza every evening. The cubans are amazing dancers, and it's quite entertaining to watch the European tourists getting pulled up to dance with the locals. Admittedly our few salsa lessons in Auckland are long forgotten apart from the most basic step. The Pina Coladas were terrible though so we decided to head up to the nightclub in a cave. Entrance fee of $3 CUC included a free (very strong) Mojito - what a bargain! The line at the entrance was completely silent, no noise from down below at all and lining up with Trinidad’s 16 - 25yr old population we didn’t know if we were just unfashionably early or what, but as we made our way down the music became louder and you enter a gigantic opening which is a full-on club. DJ booth perched up top in the rock with a glass window looking out, huge plasma screens playing sexy latino music videos to accompany the beats, and more LED lights than you could shake a stick at! The punters even smoke in here, not sure if there were any smoke alarms installed but definitely another situation in which the travel smoke alarm I plan on inventing could come in handy.

Don't mind a glass of Rose up on this rooftop terrace in the evening!

At the nightclub in a cave
The next day after a leisurely, late breakfast we headed off to sample some of Cuba’s famous health system. I unfortunately had conjunctivitis so a visit to the doc was in order. Cuba has 1 qualified doctor per 170 people - surely one of the highest rates in the world! As a result of the USA trade embargo against Cuba, Cuba and Venezuela have become close and have started an 'Oil for Doctors' programme. Qualified Cuban doctors are being sent to work in Venezuela in exchange for free oil being sent to Cuba. An Al Jazzera article quoted that up to 90,000 barrels of oil were being sent each day in exchange for the services of up to 30,000 doctors. More here.I can report that the service was super efficient, and medicines in tow we headed out to Playa Ancon for the day (UPDATED: the medicine was crap and my eyes didn't get better for like two whole weeks until I got some super eye drops from an overpriced doctor in the USA). 

Playa Ancon - looks nice doesn't it? Don't be fooled.
Although Playa Ancon had a superb write up in the Lonely Planet, it was nothing compared to the beautiful beaches in Mexico. Seething with sea grass and sinking sand, the ice creams available to purchase were all melted and I just wasn’t feeling it. Thankfully our trusty taxi driver had agreed to meet us between the hours of 4 - 5pm so at 3.59 I located him just in the nick of time before the sky burst with torrential rain. This taxi was really on it’s last legs. Alex noted that every single aspect of the car looked as though it could fall apart at any minute. Water seemed to be coming through the roof, doors, windows and then it started flooding the front passenger seat - pouring in and sloshing around we could not stop hysterically laughing at this crazy situation of a car flooding. Suffice to say we gave the poor guy a tip when we got out, hopefully he made it home OK. 

Note: seriously cracked windscreen in torrential rain

Next stop Varadero to enjoy a couple of days on the beach to finish off our stay in Cuba!

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