Thursday, January 31, 2013


After visiting Trinidad and around, it was time to go to nearby Cienfuegos, whose historical center is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This city, in contrast to Trinidad, was founded in 1819 (that's more than 300 years after Trinidad!) and the founders were French immigrants. This is a key difference which is easily noticeable in the city center: architecture and city planning is influenced by French taste. Therefore, there are large buildings with domes and arches in long wide boulevards. And the city is planned as a perfect grid, very different from the old Spanish towns. The main street is called El Prado and in two photos you can quickly feel the difference with respect to Trinidad!


The main attractions in the city center are around Parque Jose Marti. This is the area protected by UNESCO and which really presents French influence.

(The Capitol)

(The Cathedral)

(Jose Marti's statue in the middle of the Park)

(Templete de la Musica)

(A nice social club)

(The only Arch of Triumph in Cuba)

(Yuuhi playing in the park)

(Some museum?)

(Teatro Tomas Terry)

Tomas Terry Theater is one of the most famous landmarks in the city and the interior can be visited. The interior looks really vintage and has nice decoration and paintings in the stage and ceilings.

Cienfuegos turned out to be a very cheap city. Basically, there were many local shops everywhere where we could use local money (not the one for tourists). That makes things extremely cheap! For example, a nice dark espresso coffee costs less than 1 yen or euro cent! Or a small sandwich is less than 40 yen! There were also many revolutionary panels like this one with Che Guevara:

Connecting the Parque Jose Marti with El Prado, there is a nice pedestrian street with local shops. It was interesting to check what Cuban shops for Cuban look like. The main feeling was that the supply of items was really limited and that prices for electronics/furniture/etc was extremely expensive for the typical Cuban salary from 10 to 20 USD per month.

There is another area in the city, around 3 km from the city center, called Punta Gorda where there are nice mansions and beautiful buildings. However, we were pretty tired and decided to take it easy. We exchange the visit to that area for a nice big lunch ;) Probably it was better that way!!!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Around Trinidad

There are many places of interest around Trinidad. You can go for history to the UNESCO World Heritage Valle de los Ingenios (Sugar Mills Valley), or relax in the Caribbean Sea at Playa Ancon or go for nature to Topes de Collantes National Park. Our time was limited so we went for the first two options. Culture in the morning to start the year and then, relax time until sunset in the beach.

1st January in the morning was very relaxed in Trinidad and as a result, we were the only visitors going to Valle de los Ingenios by bus tour. That meant that we went by taxi with a private guide for us two! Not bad :)

The main site in El Valle is Manaca Iznaga state, a former state owned by the Iznaga family and which was the main sugar producing state in the area. Currently, we can still see the main tower, which was used to watch and control all of the sugar plantation, the main house where the Iznaga family lived, the slaves barracks and so other half-collapsed buildings.

The main house is now a restaurant and souvenir shop and it still keeps a nice colonial feel.

As in our visit to a rum factory in Jamaica, we were explained how the sugar cane is treated. And we could get juice out of it using the small mill below. In Jamaica, Naoko volunteered to be one of the oxen which would turn the mill. Therefore, now it was my turn to try the mill ;) We were also offered to drink the sugar cane juice and to mix it with rum. The cocktail was pretty tasty!

However, the most interesting thing to do in Manaca Iznaga was to climb the watch tower and enjoy the magnificent views over the valley and the whole former plantation.

After Manaca Iznaga sugar cane plantation, it was time to go to Guachinango, a former ranch or "hacienda" in Cuban Spanish. The ranch has a train station with a nice iron bridge and we were lucky enough to see the slow old train going along it.

Once in the ranch, there were some people working in the nearby fields and Yuuhi was particularly interested in this donkey ;)

 The ranch main house was again a very beautiful colorful colonial building turned into a restaurant.

After Guachinango, we came back to Trinidad and stopped by a pottery oven and shop which have been active for many generations. There were photos of famous Cuban and foreign people who had visited the place, including Fidel Castro.

There was also a nice old car from the very beginning of automotion! And they were working on the engine to get it moving some time in the future...

After culture, it was time to go to the beach. Playa Ancon is only 10 km away from Trinidad and is a good place to relax and enjoy the Caribbean and a good sunset.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Trinidad, Cuba. One of the oldest towns in Cuba and also one of the best preserved. A UNESCO World Heritage and a reminder of the wealth generated by sugar cane production in the Caribbean. A town of cobblestone streets and pastel colored colonial houses, where one in every three houses is a museum.

Trinidad is utterly gorgeous. Wherever you look, the combination of colors, colonial architecture, terracota roofs and the general Cuban feel make the atmosphere intoxicating.

Since the moment you set foot in Trinidad you notice two things: 1. The town is amazingly beautiful and worth the trouble to come all the way to Sancti Spiritus province 2. It is also a bit of a tourist trap, with all the prices in restaurants, shops, casas particulares... higher than in any other place in Cuba. Point 2 is not nice, but Point 1 really compensates for it! If you get frustrated over paying a bit more, you can just look around, feel the atmosphere and relax.

Trinidad does not have clear highlights. There are a couple places where you can go to see beautiful views, a couple of museums which show the opulence of life in the town some centuries ago... but the main thing to do here, as in other places in Cuba, is just to walk around and observe and calmly sense the town vibe.

There is a central square with the main church and lots of museums and one of the best Casa de la Musica in Cuba with daily live performances. This is downtown proper. Around this plaza, everything looks beautiful thanks to UNESCO and tourism money. However, outside of the few blocks which compose the town center, the town is really run down. Another constant in Cuba. This is another reason why the city center acts like a magnet and brings you back before long.

We went to Trinidad for New Year's Eve. In our recent experience, New Year's Eve in the countryside of developing countries is something to be remembered. It is the time and place when and where traditions can be felt more intensely. For example, food. The typical Cuban food for New Year's Eve is roasted piglet. When we arrived in Trinidad, we saw many people in the streets putting wooden sticks literally through the piglets... it was quite a rough view and definitely an experience. Afterwards, the animals were roasted for many hours, slowly, in the streets. There were old guys turning the pigs from time to time and offering conversation to passers-by: they had to be sitting there the whole day! At night, all menus in Trinidad included this delicious meat.

Another interesting tradition was water throwing. The pass from one year to the next is celebrated with fireworks and a big party, as in many places. However, the peculiarity in Cuba is that people must throw water buckets to the streets to clean their houses and keep them free from bad influences, spirits and the like.

So if you are in Cuba for New Year's Eve, be careful if you see a door opening... they won't think twice before showering you! Actually, we saw groups of small children walking around in reckless attitude trying to get soaked.

In terms of logistics, Trinidad is 6 hours away from Havana by Viazul bus. Most of the trip is on a nice highway, but the last 100 km or so are on very local winding roads. In our case, we did not have a reservation for the bus so when we showed up there, the bus was full and there were no available seats on sale. We could wait until the bus departure to see if there were some actually empty seats, which is normal... However, after our pleasant taxi experience from Viñales to Havana, I decided to go out of the terminal and talk to the taxi drivers. After a long and hard negotiation, I got a taxi driver with a nice new car for the same price as the bus if I could find one more passenger. Of course, it just took one minute to convince one person among those waiting for empty seats in the Viazul bus. So in the end, it just took us 4 hours to get to Trinidad and it was much more comfortable! (I will talk more about the best the way to move in Cuba, in my opinion, when I talk about Santa Clara - promised!)

Just before closing time, shops were full of people, foreigners and locals alike, trying to get the last supplies for the upcoming party. Of course, we also stocked on soft drinks, snacks and a bottle of Havana Club. Rum in Cuba is cheap, very cheap... dirty cheap! For around 3 USD you can get a bottle of rum in tourist shops! so I really cannot imagine what is the price for locals in the largest supermarkets!

The night was falling onto the town...

... and roasters were finishing their jobs one more year...

In our Casa Particular (Hostal Rintintin), we enjoyed a nice buffet dinner with some Italians. The buffet was nice, with lots of seafood, roasted pork and the usual Cuban food for tourists...

... it was a little bit pricy, but still cheaper than in any other place in town, and anyway, it was New Year's Eve!!! Yuuhi soon got asleep, so we got stuck in the hostel and could not go outside for a long time, but Lorenzo, the owner, babysitted him for around 30 minutes and we could go out and see what was going on in the streets. And back in the hostel, he invited us to some beers :)

The next day, the town was completely empty, recovering from the excesses of the previous night...

... and thanks to the fact that we had had to sleep early to take care of our son, we had all of the town for ourselves in the ealy morning!