Trinidad: Old World Charm
There was a crocodile farm called Criadero de Cocodrilo
, just opposite where we had parked our rental before hopping on the boat to Boca de Guamá. And now, on our way out, we stopped for a while in part, we admit, to take a gander at where last night's dinner had come from. There were over 5000 crocs here, from tiny whippersnappers to 20-foot man-eaters. Fifty percent are released in the wild by age 8 and the others kept for breeding, display and food. Ty boy-handled a croc his age and we dodged an offer of a croc-burger, probably because we had just 'bonded' with the creatures. Further up the road we spotted a primary school and we stopped. Prior to our departure, we had bought a decent supply of pens, pencils, crayons and other stationary items for possible donations in Cuba. The principal, a kindly-looking gentleman in a crisp white shirt, graciously accepted our gifts. Ty, who had packed several of his toys for giveaway, happily handed out one over to an eager, pamper-clad baby.
From the Autopista
, we turned in the direction of Jaguey Grande, cut through a few small towns with little,
picturesque Spanish-colonial centers, dusty street markets and wide open farmlands where elongated, alien-looking, mechanized water sprinklers drenched acres in a single pass. We drove ultra-carefully in school zones, much faster past zones with military signage and especially carefully when cows were visible. We had come to understand that if you kill a man in Cuba, you could get 10 years in jail but kill a cow and you can end up with 30 years
, distributed as follows: 10 for harming government property, 10 for reducing the children's socialized milk quota and 10 for reducing the supply of meat the soldiers who need to adequately defend against any incursions.
The road snaked up, down, round-and-around in the mystical Sierra del Escambray mountains before leveling off on the south coast which offered beautiful panoramas on the tranquil, azul waters of the Caribbean Sea. A massive signboard announced our arrival in the outskirts of Trinidad - a stuck-in-time marvel of a almost-perfectly-preserved Spanish colonial city which made it one of the most-frequented tourist sites in all the land. On the south end of the province called Sancti Spiritus, Trinidad was founded in the 16th century and made prosperous by sugar cultivation in
the nearby fields of Valle de Los Ingenios
- Valley of the Sugar Mills. The main street, Piro Guinart, was alive with activity - relentless jineteros
(touts), horse-drawn carriages, precariously-parked Classicos, vendors of all sorts and gawking tourists. The cobbled stones - which were too high in places and caused loads for problems for our little car - offset by the pastel-colored traditional architecture made the entire place feel old and authentic (minus the few hundred tourists, of course).
A fairly recent convenience in Cuba is the Casa Particular
or CP which is a private home, usually of two or more bedrooms. The owners are allowed by the government to offer rooms for rent to foreigners in exchange for a monthly charge of around CUC 250 that must be paid to the government whether or not the CP actually had guests. Our CP was a clean-and-comfortable, two-bed loft of sorts in a home that was surprisingly modern on the inside. The external door itself was a non-descript, worn-out white and we instantly learned to never judge a CP by its door. It cost CUC 25 per night and, in the morning, our hosts laid out a veritable banquet on
the rooftop patio which cost a couple of well-worth-it bucks extra. Stuffed, we strolled almost every cobbled side street we could find, trying to dodge the tourist crowds and to seek out closer interaction with the locals. We stopped to listen to maestros blend instruments and voice to perfection. We climbed the narrow, wooden and spiral steps to the top of the tower at the Museo Historico, shutter-bugged the old historical center - Plaza Mayor - and checked-off the usual sites and when those were done, we 'people-watched' from inside some restaurant or from the flagstones of some quiet, shaded road corner, observing Cubans carrying on amidst the old and new of Trinidad.
The melancholic "El pan, El pan"
call of the early morning bread vendor woke us on the morning of our departure. We bid adios
to our kind hosts, kicked the little car into gear and banked left on to Piro Guinart. A brown signboard which read Manaca Iznaga
and showed a phallic, iconic structure caught our attention. Twenty minutes later, we were in the Valle de Los Ingenios face-to-structure with a sturdy-looking protrusion of a building which stood in stark contrast to the relatively flat
surrounding structures and topography. Manaca Iznaga was a sugar plantation and the 145-feet (45 meter) high tower was the owner's symbol of his wealth and authority over his slaves. The view from the top of grasslands stretching out for miles and the distant, dark contours of some mountain range and the fortuitous arrival of a rinky-dinky train took away whatever breadth the tower climb had left us. Whether we wanted to or not, we had to spend time up here.
This afforded us the opportunity to discuss our travel plans. We had come as far as 320 kilometers southeast of Havana and now we wanted to go 150 kilometers northwest of Havana. It was early afternoon. There was no way we would or even wanted to make that almost 500-km drive before dark. We chose a random mid-point and set off.
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