Trinidad, Cuba

Typical street in Trinidad

Typical street in Trinidad

Plaza Mejor

Plaza Mejor

We booked the bus to Trinidad with Transtur inside the Cubanocan office in the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel in Havana. It costs 25 CUC per person (each way) to travel around 320 kilometres and takes about 7 hours. It only takes that bloody long as they stop every hour along the way – if you hired a car you could easily travel from Havana to Trinidad in 4 hours (we tried but there weren’t any hire cars available – plus they wanted 200 CUC deposit which I’m sure you’d get back…). Cuba is really set up to screw tourists to be honest; you can’t travel from Havana’s bus station in local transport which I’m sure is a fraction of the cost of the tourist bus companies (Transtur and Viazul). Hitch-hiking is the only way to travel for local prices in Cuba and it’s actually well set up so you’re not 100% likely to be murdered. The landscape changes from city to greenery just five minutes outside Havana. There are plenty of tobacco plantations to see en route and the roads are in pretty good condition for the whole journey – very little traffic on their highways though.

Upon arrival in Trinidad you are accosted by about 20 touts trying to get you to stay at their casa particular – it’s full on insane. Instead, we found one by knocking on doors we liked! We ended up right near the bus station in a beautiful colonial house with a lovely courtyard. We payed 25 CUC per night at Casa de Alquiler. I think they make their money on food, 5 CUC per person for breakfast which consists of some fruit, tea/coffee, bread rolls and a rubbery omelette – it’s still the best food you’ll have in Cuba though. You wouldn’t believe how bad the food is in restaurants and cafés here – we’re pretty much living on ice-cream from this little spot called Crema Dulche – 1 CUC for a sundae (!!) and John reckons their coffee is some of the better stuff he’s had over here. Man I miss Sydney’s foodie culture 😦

So we decided to spend 3 nights in Trinidad which is definitely way too many – one full day would have been perfect as it’s a tiny spot. The main square, Plaza Mejor is probably tourist central and has some lovely fenced in gardens, palm trees , a view out to the Carribean Sea a few kilometres from the ‘city’, and is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Kids come here in the afternoons to expertly fly their kites. The top of the plaza is dominated by the Santisima church and surrounded by beautifully painted colonial mansions (most of which are now museums). The church has 14 altars and is worth a quick look in if only to escape Trinidad’s midday heat. Next door to the church is the Museo Romantico (2 CUC entry, plus an extra 1 CUC should you wish to take photos) which is a colonial mansion as it once could have been, a labyrinth of rooms seemingly readied for guests; the dining room table is set with French crockery (I’m not joking lads – Cubans are obsessed with telling you where things are from and most of France’s crockery and tiles seem to have found a home on the island), a four-poster bed with pretty armoire in he bedroom, lots of chintzy ornaments everywhere, an amazing Italian marble bath (minus plug-hole) in the bathroom and a separate mahogany ‘throne’ across the upper courtyard from here. Whilst the Museo Romantico was definitely worth seeing, they have so many staff just teetering around pretty much on top of you that’s it’s quite annoying – they also try to sell their embroidered handkerchiefs and other wears so you pretty much rush through to get away from them. You’re then ushered out through a shop at the back for even more spending options. Unfortunately, Cuba is the worst place we’ve visited in terms of touts – it’s non-stop and I definitely would have liked to have been prepared for it – relentless! I know they’re  just trying to make a living but it riles me up something wicked. Anyhoo!

Just to the left of the Santisima church on Plaza Mejor is the little wander up to the ruins of La Popa church – probably only worth doing if you’ve got a bit of free time (it only takes five minutes to get there) but there’s a nice vista from the top.

Santisima Church

Santisima Church

Orchids in the beautiful courtyard of our accommodation

Orchids in the beautiful courtyard of our accommodation

Trinidadian Art

Trinidadian Art

Typical Houses

Typical Houses

La Popa ruins in the background

La Popa ruins in the background

They're a proud bunch

They’re a proud bunch

Not at all random

Not at all random

Well where do you keep your eggs?

Well where do you keep your eggs?

Fruit shop in Trinidad

Fruit shop in Trinidad

The best thing we did in Trinidad was a visit to the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos (which used to be a convent). The yellow bell tower of this building is the most recognisable image of Trinidad. For just 1 CUC you take a walk around the museum downstairs, complete with speedboat and Russian artillery truck as well as pictures of all those who died during the Cuban revolution. The walk up the wooden staircase to the bell-tower is the best part; there are a few different levels with 360 degree views around Trinidad. It’s beautiful looking across this UNESCO city’s terracotta rooftops with locals hanging colourful washing on their upper terrace. You can hear beats from the surrounding houses too – Trinidad has music pouring out of every crevice.

Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos

Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos

That's one old bell

That’s one old bell

There’s a market too selling lots of handicrafts which was on all the days we were there – you can buy lots of Cuba branded bits and bobs; maracas, embroidered tablecloths, little dresses for kiddies, painted license plates, woven bags and jewellery to name but a few.

Trinidad's Market

Trinidad’s Market

Market buys

Market buys

Overall, Cuba was always somewhere high up on our must-visit list. I think maybe because we had such high expectations it didn’t really live up to our expectations. Centro Havana, where the locals still potter about doing their thing was amazing, as was wandering around the old town of Havana. The persistent touting, terrible food and abundance of litter everywhere (they really just don’t care!) really put us off. I’m glad we’ve seen Cuba now though, before things inevitably change. I’d still return though 🙂

Stunning sunset from the Plaza Mejor

Stunning sunset from the Plaza Mejor

Next stop: Back to Ecuador – to the town of Banos.

Havana, Cuba

image

Guess where I am?

We found flights with Copa Airlines for $650 each (Quito to Havana return) so jumped at the chance to travel to Cuba for 9 days…bit of a detour from South America but it’s Cuba! As we were in the Galapagos we took a flight from Baltra to Quito and overnighted at Quito Airport Suites ($49) about five minutes drive from the airport in Quito – they had some English language TV channels so a nice little treat for us. Our flight to Havana was routed through Panama with a 2 hour layover…so obviously we had to get the ol passport stamp. John got a pretty unfriendly customs chap in Panama who wouldn’t let him through but my guy was a lovely fella who understood that my Panama hat had to visit Panama (obvs) so stamped us both in; tick! I don’t think it counts to be honest since we saw absolutely zilch of Panama but it’s a reason to return I guess (took us about an hour to get back through customs and security). Since I’ve had to go cold turkey on my magazine habit it was lovely to pass through Panama and pick up the latest InStyle (you can pay in USD in Panama) which I shall treasure for the next few months.

We landed in Havana and customs was only about ten minutes (which included a very thorough official asking a million questions about whether a portable battery pack was capable of receiving the internet…thinking they might need some additional training…) but our bags took over an hour to come out. Lazy pups. Anyhoo as it was after 11pm when we arrived it only took about 25 minutes to get to our Casa Particular from the airport. We decided to go with a Casa Particular or homestay as it felt like the best option to experience the real Cuba. Our hosts were Anna and Miguel (who I actually believed was a bull-fighter because of a mock up poster he had. Ha!) in Centro Havana…who spoke no English…which was perfect as it ensured we had to communicate in Spanish. Our Spanish has improved a lot in since September – we definitely understand a lot more and it’s making for a much better trip.

Havana's Art Scene

Havana’s Art Scene

Local Magazines

Local Magazines

Even the walls are pretty

Even the walls are pretty

Havana city is comprised of 3 areas – Havana Vieja (Old Town), Centro Havana (grittier than Havana Viejo but definitely makes for more of a local experience as it’s where the majority of locals live) and Vedado (in my opinion the most soulless area where a lot of the hotels are located). Our casa (La Terrasa – 25 CUC per night) was on the cusp of Havana Vieja so we were only about a 15 minute stroll to the main attractions. There are two currencies in Cuba – tourists use the CUC (Cuban convertible: 1 CUC = $1 USD) and locals use the CUP (Cuban pesos, which are worth a lot less than the CUC) so there’s a dual economy. Our first day started with the mother of all breakfasts from Anna (4 CUC) – I’m talking eggs, plantains, cheese, massive plate of fruit, smoothie, bread, tea and coffee. We didn’t have to eat until dinner but we obviously did anyway. We strolled to the beautiful Plaza Vieja in the old town which has a lovely fountain in the middle and is surrounded by wonderfully renovated colonial buildings. There’s a brewery on one corner, a very popular cafe called Cafe Escorial (tasty lemon meringue pie) on another and the very worthwhile Camara Oscura on another corner. Here, for 2 CUC you can take a look down on the Plaza Vieja and across the rooftops of Havana from the terrace. There’s also a tour per se – the camara oscura is a telescope lens which displays 360 degree images using mirrors; you go into a dark room and the guide turns a lever which displays the surrounding city on a circular table of sorts and points out points of interest…and makes terrible jokes about being able to see you coming out of the brewery, people washing their laundry etc. groan-inducing but you can’t help but laugh. The Plaza Vieja is also home to the Museo de Naipes (free entry), a small playing card museum which is definitely worth a quick browse. We had some drinks in an upstairs bar called Azucar too (hands down best bathrooms in Havana…it’s really hard to find a bathroom here and you’ll pretty much always need your own toilet paper). Down the street from the Camara Oscura is the Museo del Chocolate. I wouldn’t really call it a museum; more of a cafe with some posters on the walls and some chocolate moulds from Belgium. The hot cholocates here are 55 cents. Yep. They have awesome chocolate figures too, vintage car anyone? (7 CUC but they have little guitars, hearts and other random figures ranging from about 4 CUC up to 11.75 CUC for a bear). Also around here is the Museo de la Farmacia Habana (technically free entry but they ask for a contribution for its restoration even though it looks fully restored and they keep a log of contributions in a ledger; typical pharmacy eh?!) which is an old school pharmacy with hundreds of branded porcelain bottles stored in floor to ceiling ornate mahogany cabinets. Locals still queue here for some of their homemade concoctions. The Camara de Representantes in Habana Vieja houses some paintings and furniture of past presidents. Here we had our first WTF moment when after our free guided tour we were summoned to a corner by the guide and asked for a contribution for her family of 10 CUC for about a five minute stroll around the ground floor. Some pup I tell you. They whisper to you to make sure that others (i.e. security) don’t see them hitting you up for cash. So annoying but it pretty much happens in every museum so be forewarned. Just down the street is the Hotel Ambos Mundo where Ernest Hemingway spent a lot of time. You can visit room 511 for 2 CUC but when we got up there somebody had broken something in the room so we could only look in from the door. To be honest it just looked like another  hotel room. You can visit the famous La Bodeguita del Medio where Mr. Hemingway frequented when it was a quiet bar – it’s now full of Nikons snapping away.

A Little Taste of Local Art

A Little Taste of Local Art

More Art and some Cuban Hats

More Art and some traditional Cuban Hats

Havana Rooftops from the Camara Oscura

Havana Rooftops from the Camara Oscura

Local Taxi

Local Taxi

Plaza de San Francisco

Plaza de San Francisco

Meet my new friend

Meet my new friend

Freaking out a little...

Freaking out a little…

Museo de la Farmacia Habana

Museo de la Farmacia Habana

Just down from here is the lovely Plaza de Armas which has beautiful trees and is surrounded by a local book market (except Mondays). It’s probably the most beautiful square in Havana and is surrounded by some beautiful buildings and one evening there was an orchestra jamming away. Very special. The Cathedral is located, rather shockingly on Plaza de la Cathedral. It’s a stunning building and you can potter up the tower if you so wish for a nominal fee.

Book Market at Plaza de Armas

Book Market at Plaza de Armas

Another Friend

Another Friend

Havana's Cathedral

Havana’s Cathedral

The Havana Club Museum (guided tours only; 7 CUC) is definitely worth a visit. They have tours in lots of languages and we just had to wait about twenty minutes for an English tour. There’s a bottle called Maximo which they sell for 1700 CUC and so far only a couple of Chinese, Russians and Japanese have purchased them. They have a scale model of a working sugar plantation with moving train which is pretty cool. At the end of the tour (which is only about 20 minutes) you get a shot of Havana Club (aged 7 years) in a 1930s style bar and then you’re whisked off into the shop should you wish to purchase the 1700 CUC bottle. The other bottles start at 5.55 CUC.

Me and Che by the Havana Club Museum

Me and Che by the Havana Club Museum

Scale Model Train at the Havana Club Museum

Scale Model Train at the Havana Club Museum

Havana Club's 1930s Bar

Havana Club’s 1930s Bar

Museo de la Revolucion

Museo de la Revolucion

Che, Fidel and Cienfuegos

Che, Fidel and Cienfuegos

Shopping in Cuba is an odd affair. There aren’t any department stores – just sparse rooms essentially with glass counters as you walk in the door which block you from actually manhandling anything. The staff have to get you whatever you need. Quite strange but obviously it’s what they’re used to – maybe it will change with the easing of relations with the USA. Speaking of the US, there’s a building on the cusp of Habana Vieja which is a mirror image of its namesake in Washington D.C., the Capitolio. The main tourist street for wandering is Obispo and there’s a really good spot called Patio de los Artesanos where you can gather up handmade buys and colourful souvenirs for very reasonable prices. There’s also a cool market down by the port in an old train station where you can buy paintings and anything you can think of stamped with an image of a cigar.

Something you have to do in Havana is the walk along the Malecon all along the sea. It’s windy as hell but a nice stroll should you wish to get that windswept look.

We took a 3 day trip to Trinidad too so I’ll pop that post up next.

Habana 1791 Perfume Shop

Habana 1791 Perfume Shop

Loads more pics!!

The Capitolio Building

The Capitolio Building

More Local Art...

More Local Art…

Some pics from Centro Habana

Just gorgeous

Just gorgeous

I have it on good authority that these are tiles from France

I have it on good authority that these are tiles from France

 

Local Stall Owner (actually very friendly although he may not look it!)

Local Stall Owner (actually very friendly although he may not look it!)

The America Theatre

The America Theatre

Just getting the dinner

Just getting the dinner

A Havana Florist

A Havana Florist

Street life - oh the colours!

Street life – oh the colours!

Plenty of cats in Havana

Plenty of cats in Havana

John reckons Havana's mechanics must be amazing

John reckons Havana’s mechanics must be amazing

Cuba Theatre

Cuba Theatre

Dilapidated but oh so beautiful

Dilapidated but oh so beautiful

Che's everywhere

Che’s everywhere

The Vedado Area

Chilling with John Lennon in the Vedado Area

Chilling with John Lennon in the Vedado Area

Chilling with the Cuban Flag at the famous Hotel Nacional

Chilling with the Cuban Flag at the famous Hotel Nacional

Next stop: Trinidad, Cuba.