We started early in the morning and met the man the boy was talking to yesterday about horse riding trips. We walked to the other side of the town and met a few cowboys who were all on their own horses. Raphael became our designated tour guide. If I remember correctly, my horse’s name was Vivian. We mounted our own horses and started the slow, easy ride through the Escambray mountains. When we had reached a valley I suddenly heard Raphael shaking his whip which was enough to get our horses to gallop fast. Unprepared for the surprise to come next, suddenly I was bouncing up and down on my horse, shaky and scared shitless that I might just fall and die. The boy caught up to me and told me to stand on my stirrups and keep my back straight. I got the hang of it after a while and was riding pretty well for a newbie. I learned how to pull the rope and make my horse go slower but Raphael, maybe to taunt me, kept threatening Vivian into galloping again. I had no clue that riding a horse was exhausting. I felt like I was the one running to the top of the mountains because my legs were aching and my thighs were burning.
We finally arrived at the base of the Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, a 110-square kilometer area of the mountains full of different species of flowers and animals like the tocororo, the national bird of Cuba because of its red, blue and white colors. We were to hike to the Salto Javira waterfalls but I needed to rest because I can barely walk after the hour-long horseride. When I recovered we started our hike by following the trail for the next thirty minutes. The falls weren’t as high as we expected but there was a deep lagoon at the bottom that was very beautiful. People are allowed to swim but the water was too cold for us to jump in. We hiked back using a different trail to meet up with Raphael and our horses. I was dreading the ride back home because there was just no way I could subject my legs and my ankles to the stirrups and the ropes. My stirrups were adjusted. I tried to adjust my socks so that my already-bruised skin wouldn’t get any worse but to no avail.
Back in town, we paid Raphael US$30 instead of the US$20 we were quoted. We complained and haggled a little. But eventually we ended up paying the extra dollars so that we could finally take our swollen saddle asses back home. Señor Armando gave me some ointment to apply to my bruised ankles and legs. I could barely walk. He also got me an empty beer bottle to roll under my feet to help me massage it. I was just thankful I didn’t get thrown off the horse.
It was still early in the afternoon. Even though I was hurting I didn’t want to stay indoors. We walked to the Colonial restaurant across from the cigar factory and ate lunch (US$17) while listening to a live sol band. We took a nap before heading out again at dusk. We watched a group of men play dominoes in the park and got excited for the anticipated match later tonight with Señor Armando and Señora Clara. We went inside an old church that turned out to be the Museo Nacional de Lucha Contra Bandidos. Formerly a San Francisco de Asís convent an exhibition of 1960s counter-revolutionary campaign materials is now installed. We got a chance to see the view of all of Trinidad by climbing up the old bell tower above the convent.
Our U.S.A. versus Cuba domino championship began at 9pm. Whenever the boy and I would converse in English about our tiles, Señor Armando would instruct us that no cheating was allowed. Meanwhile he would talk to his wife in faster-than-usual Spanish. We would all laugh at the strategies we tried to implement. We bought a bottle of rum for Señor. We play while drinking a concoction he calls canchachas. He kept taking one shot of rum after another. He must have had more than fourteen shots. At midnight we won the final and decisive domino game (Yeaaa-h!). He seemed a little chagrined that his beginner domino students had put him to shame. He was so drunk he gave us a dramatic speech thanking us for choosing to visit Cuba and his hometown of Trinidad. Señora Clara and I just started making fun of him and talked about how our men would snore like trains all night tonight.Filed under Cuba