The Real Cuba in Trinidad

By ext212
This post is part of a series called Cuba in 2003
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We arrive in Trinidad after three stops, two for directions and one to change a tire. Jorge asked for US$90 to drive us from Caibarien to Trinidad. We called him crazy and asked Señor Osmany to find us another car. He found an acquaintance who wanted to make an extra US$40. We are joined by his wife and their son who squeeze into the front seat. The son would duck whenever we drove past military officers.

We were scheduled to stay with Havana’s Señora Aleida’s sister-in-law while in Trinidad but as usual, her room was booked when we arrived. Señor Armando picked us up five minutes later and he walked us to his place to meet his wife, Señora Clara and their young son, Armandito. We were taken aback as he opened a modest wooden front door to reveal a marbled staircase. We find our guest room that has high ceilings and another set of doors that open up to our own private balcony.

Trinidad, Cuba
Cobblestone streets in Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad is beautiful. Cobblestone streets are preserved and there is hardly any trace of the new in the buildings’ architecture. There is always music in the backround pouring out of the restaurants and the stores. Almost everyone is touring the town on foot. We first stopped at the Piro Guinart Cigar Factory on Maceo esquina Colon but it looked like it was closed. We asked the older men sitting on the stoop across the street if they were familiar with the factory’s tour hours. One of the older men stood up and signaled for us to follow him. He took us inside the building right next to the factory and told us that he has been making cigars ever since he was a teenager. He let us in his apartment where he rolls his own cigars. He rolled a few for us to take home as we watched him effortlessly practice his craft. He even covered the boy’s cigarette with tobacco leaf to smoke immediately. It was only on our way out when we saw the caged finches that we realized that he might have been Señor Santander written up in our guidebook. The Trinidad chapter mentioned that the cigar factory was owned by the Santander family until it was taken over by the government after the Revolution. Señor Santander still lives right next to the factory and devotes himself to breeding more than four hundred finches. Santander or not, it was a great opportunity to watch an expert roll cigars. We bought a dozen cigars for US$15. (Going market rate for Cohibas in the box with a seal starts at US$20 for half a dozen.)

Trinidad, Cuba
Cigar maker in Trinidad, Cuba

We continued to walk to Las Begonias, the first and only Internet cafe we’ll see in all of our trips in the country. We just finally wanted to let our families know that we’re okay. While there, we drank mojitos and ate our first Cuban sandwich — no roast pork, just ham. We kept going, stopping only to watch a group of young Cubans rapping in front of Islazul, a small bar, while a younger crowd gathered to dance, bop their heads and drink their afternoon beers. It was almost sunset and the Plaza Mayor reminded us of Oaxaca in Mexico with its wrought iron gates and exposed bricks. We also passed by the post office where the female clerks flirted with the boy and teased him on buying stamps as souvenirs. He bought more than he really wanted.

After our first dinner in Señor Armando’s house, he told us to go back to the Plaza Mayor to hear sol, traditional Cuban music played by a live band and dance the night away. We did and with more Cuba libres than I could handle we watched the Cubans get down to live salsa music.

The next day we started early to see town life on a Sunday morning. Some of the alleys were quiet and we thought that maybe people were in church. The public markets have started to set up and vendors showed us their embroidered linens and shawls.

We walked to the bus station to reserve seats on the bus to our next destination. After that was out of the way, we met a Canadian couple who were waiting for a cab to the nearest beach, Playa Ancon. We agreed to split the US$14 round trip cab fare and thirty minutes later, we were again near the water. The beach is okay and is part of the Ancon Hotel. Thatched umbrellas were installed along the beach for the guests. There is no other shade. When it got pretty hot in the middle of the afternoon, we sat by the pool and orderedespageti and fried chicken with our beers for lunch. We lazed around for a few hours before meeting the Canadians again in the parking lot for the ride home. We dropped them off at their casa before having the driver drop us at the Internet cafe again.

While I was checking my e-mail the boy stayed outside and made arrangements for a horseback riding trip in the mountains tomorrow morning. I’ve only been on a horse a few times and I’ve never really galloped. But the boy had spent his summer in Paraguay where he had spent some time on a cattle ranch. All he wanted to do was repeat the experience. It would definitely be an experience for me but that’s for tomorrow’s story.

In the meantime, we walked back home and were welcomed by the Sunday afternoon scene. Cheese must have been delivered to the whole town because lines were formed in a lot of the stores selling pizza. Cuban pizza is a round P5 one-person sized portion of dough dressed with tomato sauce and cheese. Cubans fold them like American tacos before eating them. Sometimes it comes with bits of ham if it’s available. Steel drums big enough to fill with logs serve as makeshift ovens.

After dinner, Señor Armando taught us how to play Cuban dominoes in which the highest tile is doble nueve instead of doble seis, a double nine and not the more familiar double six. We played a practice game first but were then involved in a match that pitted our two countries against each other. After a few games the boy and I were also banging our tiles on the table and cheering when we won. We had such a good time and were getting progressively more drunk from the rum shots Señor kept on serving. It was only 11pm when we stopped playing to rest for the long day tomorrow. We scheduled a real domino match, U.S.A. versus Cuba, for tomorrow night.

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