Today we learnt a lesson; never organise Cuban transport with an unofficial man out the front of the bus station.
We had decided to spend an extra $1CUC on a collectivo to get us to Trinidad as it gave us a door to door service, a flexible pick up time and a shorter drive time than the local buses.
The trip started well; we got picked up on time- brilliant; had the whole back seats to ourselves- great; and we were being driven by some bloke and his partner- fine.
We had absolutely no problem with this “unofficial collectivo” even though it wasn’t exactly disclosed when we originally organised it. It was obvious that the couple were just driving to Trinidad and wanted to earn a little bit of money on their way. This all would have been fine if the guy wasn’t such a complete and utter arsehole.
We jumped in the car and instantly noticed how filthy and depleted the car was; not as in “cool old car”, but a rather old banger that needed to be scrapped.
Our first we stop was off a side street, through a paddock, past a fuel truck and then parked out the front of someone’s house. For some time we sat here as the driver was outside; half discussing, half yelling. After approximately 10 minutes we asked the passenger what we had stopped for, as we were yet to be spoken to. As it turned out, this was the perfect place to get petrol.
Our second stop took us to the front of another person’s house to buy lunch. The driver decided to speak to us this time and offered us some food. Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet eaten so we said yes, at this point he “kindly” explained that we could not go in, as if they saw we were tourists they would increase the prices.
We handed him $5CUC to get us some sandwiches, meanwhile thinking that this guy didn’t seem so bad.
Sadly, the sandwiches turned out to be disgusting and the “ham” was like congealed circles of thick spam in bread; always ask for cheese, never ham, we knew this, how stupid of us! The driver also got us some “dulces” which is normally just anything sweet like little cakes/pastries or in this case biscuits which were nice. Although expected, there was no change from the $5CUC; our driver and his lady had just scored a free lunch – at our expense. Anyway that was an obvious mistake but at least we had some biscuits!
Our third stop (still in Cienfuegos, and hour after we had been picked up) was down a few residential back streets to pick up some large suitcase from a woman which, again, took ages. At no point in any of these stops did he care to tell us what was happening, or bother to speak to us.
It had now been over an hour since we had left Hostal de la familia and we were no closer to Trinidad. We finally got on our way and though the whole journey this idiot was having an intermittent arguement with someone on the phone. In between throwing his phone down, picking it up to continue his row; his ridiculously (but quite hilarious) high pitched voice kept getting squeakier.
The arguement was about something that was organised for tomorrow and someone not paying him or something along those lines (the Spanish was way too fast and slurred for any eavesdropping). The worst thing about his phone row was that he really could not multi task; every time he answered the phone or looked down at it, he would lose his concerntration on the road and swerve about. This also happened when he was holding the phone in one hand and yelling so aggressively that he was gesturing with his other hand. His partner could not have been less interested in this situation and as he ended each phone call, he continued to rant at her, without her having any response. I think she may have responded twice over the course of about an hour and at one point fell asleep while he was still ranting.
He was such an idiot and such a bad driver. We stopped twice more to chat to his friends (including a large man with 12 fingers!) and finally made it to Trinidad.
Viewpoint From Museo Histórico Municipal @ Trinidad
Colourful Trinidad Streets @ Centro Histórico, Trinidad
Just when we thought the nightmare was over he decided he didn’t want to drop us off to our casa and instead tried to get us to go with a random man on the street offering accomodation. When we refused, he complained about how he couldn’t stop the car on the narrow roads. The problem in fact was that he didn’t know where it was and wasn’t bothered about trying to find it, despite us showing him a map and trying to direct him as we saw the street signs. He finally delivered us a couple blocks up from our casa, we got out and were relieved that we had arrived alive only to realise that Jess’ rucksack was saturated. He said it was only water as the boot leaked and that was that, no apology. I had a small go at him, (if your rucksack ever gets wet travelling, no it’s not the end of the world obviously, but you will never get that damp smell out of it as you can’t wash and dry it, plus he was a wanker).
Jess reluctantly threw money at him (14 CUC) and he acted like he didn’t have change. I had another mini rant and suddenly he did have change. He was such an arsehole but at least we have learnt our lesson from that situation- don’t organise a collectivo with an unofficial man at bus station with a pad and pen.
We were very close to our casa and had in fact passed it on the not so narrow street. We had been recommended this place from Elias at our previous casa in Cienfuegos; but as you never really know what it will be like, we didn’t make any commitments other than saying we would stop by and see it.
As we knocked on the door we were greeted with the warmest welcome ever from the lovely Carrie and Doña Cándida (a sweet elderly woman who was so chuffed we spoke Spanish). Carrie was so pleased to see us and promptly showed us around her lovely casa, which had a nice open courtyard and big clean room for us .
Whilst we were speaking with Carrie, she would pat our arms and the packs we had on our fronts in a very motherly way, straight away we felt at home. Alice managed to negotiate the price from $30CUC without breakfast to $30CUC with breakfast, which was brilliant as it’s been $5CUC/pp each for breakfast everywhere else. As Carrie kept stroking us and hugging us, she gave us the mi casa es su casa speech, some juices and we settled in quickly.
Jess’ bag was soaked. As we unpacked and hung out some wet items we came across a stray, very pregnant cat who we fed the spam from our untouched sandwiches. We decided to name the Cat Sonya or “Thonya” as she couldn’t put her tongue fully back in her mouth, so safe to assume that if she could talk, she would have a lisp. Thonya and us became fast friends. What a lovely beginning to Trinidad after such a rough journey.
That night we ate out at a Cuban restaurant called Guitarra Mia, which was decorated with (of course) lots of guitars but also photos of live musicians performing at the restaurant. The walls were also covered in writing clients had written themselves. The food was surprisingly amazing! We feel as if the food is getting progressively better the further east we go. We had Ropa Vieja (shredded meat in a tomatoey sauce; in this case lamb) and pollo a la piña (chicken and pineapple). There was a live duet who were absolutely amazing; we highly recommend this restaurant. As we received the bill, we also received two cigars which, albiet a ploy for higher tips, a really lovely Cuban touch.
The next morning we woke up to breakfast being served right out the front of our door in a little courtyard. I fed Thonya some more thpam and we headed out to explore “The City Of Museums”.
Local Transport @ Trinidad
Waiting In The Street @ Trinidad
Before we headed out, we felt so comfortable with Carrie that we thought we would ask her to book our next collectivo, as the local buses were full and we couldn’t get tickets out of Trinidad for five days. The hardest thing about travel in Cuba is the transport, the only bus line has to be booked by the bus line itself. You cannot call, You have to book four weeks minimum prior online. Unless you know every date you plan to travel, it is really difficult to book on the Viazul.
We spoke to Carrie about the previous days faff with the arsehole driver and how we would really appreciate care being taken in the next collectivo booking we made. Carrie was visibly annoyed that we had been put through such terrible behaviour and promised us she would take care of our next driver. Carrie organised everything on the spot for us and we overheard “you better drive safely, you must look after my girls” or something similar. Carrie also gave us a recommendation of a casa as we would be getting in very late to Santiago De Cubs. As we couldn’t get a Viazul, we had Carrie organise a collectivo to Camaguey, where we would try to get a bus the remaining 8-9 hours (out of a 12ish hour trip).
We headed out on the town, bellys full and all but a packed lunch from Carrie.
Trinidad was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. Some refer to Trinidad as the countries oldest “outdoor museum” while local life complete with donkeys, cowboys and hair rollers are abundant. Trinidad is a Spanish Colonial Settlement and looks as though time has not aged this beautiful town, made rich by sugar cane. It is surrounded with some of the countries most stunning beaches and, although has seen a huge invasion by tourists, remains a quiet local town.
Street Chat @ Trinidad
Street Life @Trinidad
The Only Way To Travel @ Trinidad
That night we decided to follow a Lonely Planet photography walk around Trinidad, promising all the hot spots for local life and great photo opportunities. Along the walk we saw some pretty amazing cowboys, men in suits sat on streets with cigars, women with their hair in curlers, kids playing football, stick ball and spinning tops, horses everywhere tied up outside peoples houses on the narrow streets and some horses even getting a wash after a days work. The photography walk seemed to be paying off, although, as we were inconspicuously taking photos from a distance, some other tourists were not being respectful at all. I know I am always taking photos and often of people, you either ask them and engage with them and make sure they really have a choice, or frankly, I stand so far away with a long lens I make sure they have no idea I’m doing it. We saw people taking photos up close on their phones of people who had not been asked. One girl took a photo of an elderly women sat in a door frame, it was really awful and cringey. It basically became- take photos of the poverty. This has led to a culture of people asking you to take their photo so you will give them money. As we ended a street, we had already started to notice the change in the behaviour of the people, the increase in serious poverty as we got further and further away from the UNESCO funded centre, there was a dead rotting chicken on the pavement and rubbish everywhere. We put the camera away as we weren’t interested in taking photos of people struggling to survive. A street prior a woman had starting shouting (we are sure she didn’t mean to come across aggressively) at us to give her pens. “Do you speak English? Give me pens!!”. Lonely Planet has basically set out a nice walking tour but it is through some of the poorest streets where your camera is worth more than their housing and is totally inappropriate. A lot of tourists bring pens, sweets and books to hand out to children as gifts which is fine but this felt uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we passed through, the photography tour took us down some streets that really needed to be left out. Local life here is a real struggle and doesn’t make for good tourist and local interactions especially with insensitive tourists snapping away at their lives. I really feel there has to be a balance when taking photos of people. I love taking local life photos and I am guilty of taking photos without people knowing which I understand is pretty grey but snapping photos in people’s faces without asking and gaining approval is appalling.
Street life from afar @ Trinidad
The Reluctant Horse @ Trinidad
The Nosey Dog @ Trinidad
We worked our way back through the streets into the centre to catch a few photos of the shadowing buildings in the sun set before racing up to a terrace to catch the last few minutes of the sun setting over the city.
We dropped off our gear and headed out to dinner. Again the food was good (not as good as Guitarra Mia mind) and the duet was amazing. When the singer came around and asked for tips, we gladly put in a few dollars. The table next to us who had been dancing along and enjoying the music decided they no longer understood English, Spanish or general manners and wouldn’t tip. Then proceeded to speak English again to each other and state how rude it was to be asked. When you go to a restaurant, nine times out of ten there is live music and I understand some people won’t want to tip everyone but it’s not much and it’s all part of the experience. People here have gone through so much and are still living very simply, throwing a couple dollars into a basket for the in house entertainment is not going to break your bank or your holiday, but it will greatly improve someone’s life here.
Boy and Bike @ Trinidad
Grinding in the Street @ Trinidad
We headed out after dinner to the salsa “hot spot” – Casa de la musica. We sat down and ordered two of the worst cocktails we have ever had, but listened and danced along with the amazing music, which made up for the cocktails. As the band changed and the new singer came out, we discovered we were sat next to his parents. There is something about us and the over 60s, they kept offering to share their huge bottle of rum with us, laughed with us and were genuinely saddened when we left. They could also salsa like absolute legends! We spent the night listening to live salsa music and social salsa dancing.
The next morning we said our farewells to Carrie, Doña Cándida and Thonya. We jumped into our pre arranged princess collectivo via Carrie, who is now our new Cuban Mum. Trinidad was probably our favourite spot in Cuba, the music, the colourful streets and of course Carrie.
We were off, just 12 hours to go until Santiago De Cuba.