Published: September 20th 2008September 14th 2008
The panorama above is other Valle de los Ingenios (or the valley of the sugar mills).
So we finally made it out of Havana. It took a while, and a lot of hassle, going out to the bus station, being more pushy than we like to try and get answers instead of a "try again tomorrow". Funny how when you ask more firmly, suddenly there are buses leaving!
The last couple of days in Havana dragged a bit as things were still slow in opening. We wandered the massive and deserted Plaza de la Revolucion with the outline of Che Guevara on the outside of the Ministry of the Interior and the huge monument to Jose Marti. It seems such a waste of money building huge monuments like that when there are people struggling to survive. Sure, remind people of the heroes of the revolution, but they'll end up revolting again if they see money being spent on marble monstrosities instead of food, medical care, schools etc. And as for marble monstrosities, try looking round the cemetary, a huge necropolis packed with over the top (for us) marble tombs. Not content with just a headstone, people have created a
The Necropolis, Havana
Monument to those on the Granma
mini city. The paths and roads through the cemetary are named and numbered just like city streets. There is apparently more than 1 million people interred there, and caskets are being dug up / disinterred regularly so others can get their turn at being buried there. You can buy a detailed map at the entrance showing the key tombs and monuments to visit.
Talking of food, some weird combinations have been presented to us. We had a vegetable pizza the other night, the only vegetable on it was cabbage. Then a meal in China town, the mixed salad was cabbage, bottled green beans and papaya. None of them mixed with any of the others.
The last night we were in Havana, we met up with a Hospitality Club contact, an English lady working for Granma
and her Cuban husband. A neat family, the kids (3 and 12 yrs old) both spoke Spanish and English, depending on who they were talking to, although Charlie, the 3 year old, sometimes used both in the same sentence. Certainly kept us on our toes!
We got a more accurate story as to the Havana lock down from Helen (HC). She was
saying that Gustav had hit hard and then before repairs could be made, along came Ike and compounded the damage. Ike did hit some areas really hard (Baracoa and Pinar del Rio for example), but it was a milder hurricane, but very widespread, stirring up trouble wherever it hit (except where we were!!) We heard that only four people died, and two of those got electrocuted trying to save their tv ariels, the wind whipped them over onto power cables as they were taking them down. So while Ike technically did cause those two deaths, stupidity had a little hand as well.
Given that we were told that we couldnt leave the city as the roads were destroyed, we had no problems getting to Trinidad. We had a nice newish Chinese bus, air con that was on full the whole way, a smooth ride. From what we could see, it wasnt a case of the roads being destroyed, but probably underwater. I'm not saying that roads elsewhere arent gone, but going to Trinidad was fine. We went across enough rivers where the bridges looked like they'd been under the river recently instead of over, but the water level was
The view from Helen and Alfredos apartment
Hotel Nacional and along the maelcon towards central and old Havana
well down now.
Trinidad could be an awesome city. There are some really neat old colonial buildings, but everything is so run down. The centre of the city, the old town, is a Unesco World Heritage site, which should afford it some protection and maybe aid, but there is little evidence of it. Even doing something as simple as making some of the streets pedestrian only would help. All those untuned buses and cars rumbling along, spewing out noxious gases, make us feel bad, so what are they doing to those buildings?
There are more jineteros, or touts, in Trinidad than we found in Havana. It was non stop hassle, do we want a casa particular, a taxi, a restaurant, to hire a bike, go to the beach, buy a cigar...plus the questions "Que pais?" or "where you from?" Its so hard to tell is someone is genuinely interested in you, or whether its a precursor to getting something from you. 99% of the time it turns out that they want money or a pen, sweets, your clothes, soap. We came across a near riot outside a shop our first day in Trinidad. It had just reopened (having
been restocked) after the hurricane and was selling things like soap, laundry powder, shampoo. Only a few people were being let in at a time, and those outside were not patiently queuing. They were frantically pushing, shoving, elbowing, clawing at each other every time the door opened. Not a pleasant sight.
Apart from all the historic buildings (and cars!) in Trinidad, the area is also famous for its Valle de los Ingenios, a big fertile valley of sugar mills. When the Spanish came over, they took as much gold as possible from the hills, then raped and pillaged the land. They planted sugar cane until the soil was stripped of nutrients, then moved on. Now the soil has recovered and things are slowly being planted again, but it doesnt seem to be the way here of having allotments or crop farms. Much of the land is just laying fallow. Some of the sugar plantation buildings are still standing. We visited one plantation, Manaca Iznaga, with its hacienda restored and an old bull or horse drawn cane crusher out the back. Most of the other buildings are long gone, except for a 44m tower used for keeping an eye on
the slaves in the fields. We climbed this tower - not fun in the heat and humidity here - and were rewarded with some awesome views over the valley.
Most of the museums in town that were open werent the ones we wanted to visit! The ones full of plantation era furniture and fittings were open, but the revolutionaty battle one was shut, something about hurricane damage. We did go in one of the ones housed in an old mansion, the municipalmuseum. Big rooms, high ceilings with the original paint work (no wallpaper or trims, everything is painted on), solid wood furniture, delicate tea sets...nice but not all that exciting for us. It was however worth going in to climb the narrow, ricketty stairs in the tower for the views across Trinidad and the surrounding countryside all the way down to the Caribbean.
Next stop will be Santiago de Cuba. We plan on taking the bus all the way there, then stopping at various places on the way back. We would love to get as far as Baracoa, but we are still hearing that it is closed to tourists.
There are more photos below