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Published: June 26th 2016
Convento San Francisco de Asis
Looking up along a colourful row of houses towards the Convento San Francisco de Asis, this is perhaps the money shot of Trinidad.
Nice as my casa was and nice as it was to have my own room and ensuite, I can’t afford to keep paying CUC$20 a night for accommodation. And nice as my casa host was in Playa Giron
, she let me down a bit with the casa she booked me in Trinidad.
I asked her for a place with shared rooms or dorms but apparently all the places with dorms were full. Asking her what the price of the place was, she kind of dodged the question initially before eventually telling me that it will be CUC$20 a night but that I could split this bill if I could find someone on the bus to share with.
I therefore spent the bus ride picking out other solo travellers as targets.
Once we arrive, I start approaching my targets and get lucky with a Taiwanese girl who was also desperate to save some $$$. Sorted!
So we make our way toward the casa I had booked, with jineteras
and casa owners sticking signs written in Japanese and Korean in front of our faces, laughing when they realise neither of us can actually read them. Good to see that they could at least see
House In Trinidad
the funny side of things.
One jinetera however, is particularly persistent and speaks passable English. She gets my attention though when she offers us a room for just CUC$15 a night. That is just CUC$7.50 a night each!
I couldn’t turn this down so I agree to go with her to have a look. The place I had booked didn’t have any of my details so they would never find me – I didn’t feel too bad however, considering the savings I could make at this place.
When we find out that we had the entire top half of an apartment to ourselves, it was a done deal.
So from worrying that I was going to blow my budget at CUC$20 a night, I had now managed to pay just 40% of that. Things couldn’t have worked out better.
Like all my casa owners so far, the owners here were friendly although they were a bit pushy in trying to fog off breakfast, dinner, bicycles and excursions – and fair enough I suppose. You almost feel guilty about not eating at the house, but even though at CUC$6 it was a good deal, there are even cheaper options in town.
Another Classic Cuban Scene
This time with one of Trinidad's cobblestoned streets instead of Havana's malecon.
It was quite nice having company in Ching, the Taiwanese girl I picked up at the bus station. It seems that the majority of other tourists in Cuba are either young couples of retirees, with the odd family thrown in. The bus ride from Playa Giron to Trinidad had a baby on board which was almost as bad as having reggaeton blowing right into your face full blast. OK, maybe not, but you get the picture.
But as well as helping me save some much needed $$$, Ching also provided someone to bounce things off and someone to share experiences with.
The first experience of which was a sunset walking tour around the city, a self-guided walking tour recommended by Lonely Planet for the photographer in everyone.
And indeed, Trinidad is a beautiful pace and there are some great photo opportunities. The town didn’t blow me away as much as Havana
or Vinales did – I have been to similar colourful, colonial, Latin American cities before in Antigua
, so I did feel slightly underwhelmed. On the walking tour, we also went through some of the poorest parts of Cuba that I had been to so far
Trinidad Street Corners
Locals having a yarn with the tower of the Convento de San Francisco de Asis in the background.
on the outskirts of town.
Finding a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in a further effort to save $$$, I was confronted once again with the Cuban local/tourist double standard.
We were handed a menu with prices all in CUC$ while I am pretty sure that locals were all paying in moneda nacional
and with very little of it, from what I could see.
But perhaps the most scammy example was when I stopped at a street stall and asked how much it was for a cone of churros and was told CUC$1. I instantly said no, before the seller came back at me with CUC$0.50. I tell him that I only have CUP$5 (CUC$0.20) and he then says that it’s OK.
I understand why they do it, but I just hate getting ripped off out of principle. This open exploitation of tourists – and the government is also responsible for this given the dual currency system and the open segregation of local and tourists services – just rankles.
And it’s not just the double prices but the expectation that you should pay it and that you shouldn’t complain about it. In ‘normal’ countries, people all pay the same prices, no matter
La Bodeguita Del Medio
There is an offshoot of Hemingway's favourite Havana bar here in Trinidad too. Along with the ubiquitous classic car.
if they are rich or poor and I am used to that. Is that fair? It is subjective. Here in Cuba, I believe that socialism is so ingrained into the people – so there is the belief that everyone should work towards the greater good and that those with more should pay more – that they don’t think that there is anything wrong with this dual economy that rips tourists off, whether this ripping off is done my means foul or fair. They don’t even try to hide it. It is just such a different mindset.
To an extent though, the whole system makes you feel a little guilty for buying at a place for locals, with money meant for locals, at prices meant for locals, when you could quite easily afford to eat at a place meant for tourists. You sometimes even get made to feel guilty when having the temerity to ask for change.
But then I am not a retired German package tourist so every CUC$ counts – so if I can pay 50%-75% less for something, then I have to and I will.
But you do also get ripped off in other ways that are not
Is this Trinidad's money shot?
so open – when it is done sneakily.
For example, we stopped by at a bar that serves the famous local cocktail of canchanchara
– which is made up of rum (or course), honey, lemon, ice and water. We were told that it was CUC$2 for one when we walked into the bar – upon payment, we are then told that it is CUC$3. Nice as the cocktail was, it left a bitter taste in the mouth. You just never know what you are going to pay for something – and what you’re supposed to pay. It pisses me off and I’m a bit sick of the lengths I have to go to, to avoid being ripped off. And sometimes you just can’t avoid it.
Also annoying is the lack of convenience with regard to the purchase of basic, normal goods.
Take bottled water for example. In any ‘normal’ country, I can pop into just about any shop – and you’re usually never too far from one – and buy a bottle of water, of which there is usually plenty of stock. Here, buying something to drink is a mission as you have to find a place selling drinks,
With the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad in the background.
and then ensure that they are selling it at a normal/reasonable price. Hard to do when there aren’t too many shops to start with!
One thing that I am
happy about – until the next embarrassing episode where I can’t understand someone, forget a simple conjugation or draw a complete blank – is my Spanish. I realised just how much I have improved when I had a two hour conversation with a couple of Spanish girls who were staying at my casa in Playa Giron. I’ve learnt a lot more about how the language is used in practice while on my travels and my Spanish is probably at its best level ever. I put it down to the fact that although I have spent the best part of ten months in Spanish-speaking countries, I have really had to use it here in Cuba and I feel that everything that I have learnt is starting to all come together. I feel that I am starting to understand more of what I hear without having to concentrate so hard and that words and sentences are starting to come to me much more quickly and naturally. Some swotting of conjugations and the
Museo Historico Municipal
The museum's interior is gorgeous.
learning of more vocabulary would really set me on my way. It makes me think that I should lock myself away somewhere where I am forced to speak only Spanish every day for six months to a year – then I’d improve radically to the point where I will have locked the language in and never forget it. As it is, I am afraid I’ll lose it if I don’t use it.
What it has allowed me to do however, is talk with more of the locals and understand their culture a little better than most tourists – and for that, it was definitely worth learning the language.
On our second full day in Trinidad, we walked around the city again and I have to say that there isn’t that much to see and do apart from gazing at the colourful, colonial buildings.
The Museo Historico Municipal had a beautiful foyer and took you through Cuban history from the eyes of Trinidad – from the indigenous people who originally inhabited the island (they came from Venezuela), through Spanish conquest, the sugar industry (sugar was Trinidad’s biggest export in its heyday), the slave trade (which lasted much longer in Cuba
Altar to Yemaya, the Santeria goddess of the sea, inside the Casa Templo de Santeria Yemaya.
than it did in other countries), US ‘colonisation’ after they helped Cuba expel the Spanish (a part of Cuban history I didn’t know about), independence from the US, and the revolution. It was fascinating! It wasn’t the biggest or most detailed museum however, so it didn’t take too long to explore.
The most exciting find of the day was a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria where alcohol-free pina coladas
were just CUP$5, or CUC$0.20.
The Casa Templo de Santeria Yemaya (a santeria
shrine – I don’t practice santeria and I ain’t got no crystal ball though, so it wasn’t particularly interesting) and Plaza Santa Ana were average bordering on nothing, although the ruins of the Iglesia de Santa Ana was a pretty good picture – but otherwise, that was that in terms of Trinidad.
I did like the 1950s feel of Parque Cespedes – or “The Wifi Square”.
Use on the internet is pretty limited – very few households have it and if they do, casas won’t give you the password for it. As a result, tourists have to resort to going to ETECSA “telepuntos” where you can buy wifi access (CUC$2/hour) either through the computer terminals that they have on-site or
AKA "The WiFi Park" where you can connect to the internet. Next to it is the art-deco-ish and luxurious Iberostar Grand Hotel.
in designated parks in every city where you can connect to the wifi signal.
Having to take my laptop to a park did feel a bit ridiculous – but that is part of what makes Cuba great, and if it became like every other country then it wouldn’t be the same. It is a country of contradictions; where anyone can use a sun-chair at a beach for free, hinting at equal treatment for all, and where tourists get a raw deal on prices, hinting at non-equal treatment. Don’t ever change, Cuba.
One thing that my friend Kelly told me that I had to do in Trinidad was to visit “Disco Ayala”, which is, check it out; a nightclub inside a cave. Chin wasn’t feeling too good so I decided to check the place out myself. Walking along a dirt track into seemingly the middle of nowhere, I and a Swiss/German couple I met en route then stumble across a line waiting to go in. It was an incongruous sight – guys dressed to impress and girls in dresses and high heels standing in a line in the middle of farmland.
We were all impressed however when we walked down
A nightclub - inside a massive cave. A good night out too!
the stairwell carved into the rock and then into the main cavern. This was an actual nightclub inside an actual cave. Something else to tick off my list!
Though the drinks weren’t as potent as the ones I had in Vinales, it was still nevertheless a good clubbing experience and not just some gimmick. Mostly Latin music (including of course, some salsa at the beginning) then made way for some reggaeton (of course), pop and electro. I ended up hanging out with some Australians until close and it was a good night! Glad I made it out there!
Unsurprisingly, things got off to a late start the next day but all we were doing was going to the beach. The not-so-stiff drinks did have one good benefit – a not-so-stiff hangover.
The ride out to Playa Ancon by bicycle in the heat of the day wasn’t as arduous as the one I did out to Punta Perdiz in the Bahia de los Cochinos, although Ching would probably beg to differ, what with the long sleeve shirt and trousers she was wearing to combat sunburn.
We stopped at a cafeteria on the way – which was in the backyard of
Colourful building on Plaza Mayor.
some local’s house – for some soggy spaghetti that might as well have been out of a can.
“Visite Italia y que es por que yo se como cocinar pasta” exclaims the proud chef, though I very much doubt the Italians would have taught him to cook pasta like this. He did provide us with a crab meat and cracker starter on the house – which was probably the tastiest thing I have eaten in Cuba!
When we finally got to the beach, we couldn’t believe it – we had to pay CUC$1 each to lock up our bikes! They really are trying to squeeze every last cent out of you here. Ridiculous.
The beach itself is touted as the best on Cuba’s south coast and the long, soft-ish stretch of white sand seemed to suggest it. The water was surprisingly calm though and surprisingly warm – like lukewarm. To the point where a swim didn’t really cool you down at all. Annoyingly, there is also loads of seaweed on the under the water, which probably helps keep the water temperature up.
There are bark umbrellas that you can use for free and a Soviet-style hotel resort behind the beach,
Beautiful beach - just a shame the water is so warm? Yes, it's too warm!
but the place wasn’t crowded at all. It was a great place to chill for the afternoon, which was topped off by a sunset cycle back to Trinidad via the fishing village of La Boca.
As much as I have appreciated Ching’s company, it has at times been frustrating for us both.
She has certainly been frustrated with Cuba, the prices here, the lack of Western certainties and the heat. It seemed she didn’t expect to be as expensive and inefficient as they have been here in Cuba. In saying that, I have gotten used to Latin American time and even I have been shocked at how things are done here.
Ching’s English isn’t the greatest so it has been a little frustrating for me having to repeat and explain a lot of things a native English speaker would know and understand. She also speaks pretty much zero Spanish, so it has also been a bit of extra work for me translating everything. Perhaps more than anything however, is that I have been travelling alone for some time now so I haven’t been used to having to make the compromises you have to make when travelling with others.
Horse & Cart
This one is for tourists but they are still used for transporting cargo and locals here in Trinidad.
understand that it can’t be easy for her though and that she has shown courage doing what she is doing – she has also been a bit sick too, which hasn’t helped.
I’m not sure myself whether I’d stay beyond the two weeks I have left – I’m looking forward to getting back to Europe and all the normal amenities that it has. In general, I think I have had my fill of Latin America now.
If I’m completely honest, I didn’t enjoy Trinidad too much. There are far too many tourists, too many pushy hustlers and too many rip-offs. It has been hard finding bargains here. It has been a turning point on my Cuban sojourn, as up until now, I have been loving this country and have constantly been having my breath taken away.
And I’ve seen pretty cobblestoned towns like this before – I much preferred the atmosphere and beauty of Havana, the countryside of Vinales and the clear blue waters of the Bahia de los Cochinos.
My friend Kelly thought Trinidad was her favourite place in Cuba – I don’t think it is mine. Different strokes for different folks I guess.
It is really
Kids playing some football in a square in Trinidad.
hot here in Trinidad and there a lot of jineteros
. I don’t even respond to half of them these days. But on both counts, things only promise to get worse in my next destination; Santiago de Cuba.
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