Trinidad - Day 1

Published: March 6th 2018
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Today we started with a walking tour of Trinidad. Our tour guides name was Carlos (actual name not one I made up) and unlike our walking tour in Havana which was a nice slow meander through old town. Carlos however, had lots of energy and lots of things to say. We started with the new town square. Trinidad was the third town to be established by the Spanish, hence its name, Trinidad, or the holy trinity. It has a very long history tied to sugar production. It was actually French settlers who brought sugar cane to Trinidad. The old town square is bordered by palaces built on the sugar boom. Most of them were abandoned after Carlos Cèspedes revolution. Today they are all museums, Art, architecture etc. On the edge of the old town square is a Catholic church. The biggest built in Cuba. Down the road is the bell tower which is attached to a museum. The museum is state owned but the church owns the bell tower.

Carlos also took us a little out of town to show us the “real Cuba.” Past the veneer of the brightly coloured beautiful Spanish buildings to one of the local neighbourhoods. The cobblestone roads were much rougher here (and they were rough in the city) and the houses are nearly all single story terrace houses. Most contain three or four rooms and some can contain up to four generations all living in the same house. It is a little squishy. The houses are still brightly coloured, but you can see it has been many years since any maintenance work has been done. Very few houses here have glass windows. Not just in this neighbourhood but all over Trinidad. Most have wooden shutters to keep the sun out. It works well for ventilation in the hot weather. I’m not so sure how it would do in the rain though. However, as I walk past the houses I can’t help but have a look in to see how they set up their homes. Nearly all have wooden furniture, some of it is simple and practical, but some of it is beautifully crafted, similar to Victorian style furniture. Some places have large comfy looking sofas but many just have rocking chairs or wooden lounge chairs.

Education here is free and compulsory for children under eleven. After primary school they get two years of secondary school and then they choose to go to technical school or to pre-university (senior years of high school) University is free, which is great because they have lots of doctors and teachers. Unfortunately, the pay is not so great. 25-40 CUC a month. The tourism industry is bringing a lot of money into the economy so everyone wants to get involved. What this means is that you will often find a doctor driving a cab in his spare time because he will earn more in tourism than in medicine.

In the afternoon we went to Valle de los Ingenios. This is the valley of the sugar plantations that the French settlers established when they brought in sugar cane. The first stop we went to was to a lookout over the valley which is about 300 hectares. It is not all sugar plantations now but there are still plenty to be seen. The second stop was an old sugar plantation which is now in ruins. The building and the bell tower are still there. Jose Fernandez set up the plantation started out with just twelve slaves. He later sold it to a Spaniard named Magua who built it up until he had six plantations and 300 slaves. He was considered a good man because he let slaves live together as a family. Each family had a 4mx4m room all to themselves. On other plantations they all slept together in one large room. Realistically, this was how Magua built up his “stock” by putting a man and a woman in a room together and letting nature take its course. The slaves typically worked 16 hours a day. Its hot here and their lives were very hard and most didn’t live past 40. So how they had the energy to create a family, I have no idea.

At the Magua plantation we could see the ruins of the old sugar mill. The slaves would crush the sugar cane and then cook it in big copper pots. There was a row of about eight ovens where these copper pots sat, this is called a Jamaican train. The style was invented in Jamaica and when the ovens are all working it looked similar to a train. The whole time the sugar was cooking the slaves would be out there, in Cuban heat stirring boiling sugar cane in boiling heat. And as previously mentioned it is hot here. Carlos told us Cuba has two weather patterns, so its either hot or its hotter. When the sugar cane had boiled down they were left with molasses. This was then stored in cone shaped ceramic containers for 40 days were it separated into honey and sugar. The sugar was skimmed off and sent to the rum distillery

The main religion here is Catholicism, which was forced on the slaves by the Spanish landowners. This give rise to a hybrid religion called Santerìa. The slaves, mainly from Nigeria, would assign one of their deities to a catholic saint. That way when the slave owners watched them pray, they thought they were praying to a Catholic saint but they were actually praying to one of their own gods. The religion is still alive today and is practiced. We saw a couple of people at the lookout who were completely dressed in white. Carlos explained they will dress that way for a year and they were in the process of becoming santeros, or “in the way of the the gods”

The next plantation we went to was Manaca Iznaga, which was a larger plantation, 400 slaves. They had a much larger bell tower which stood at 45 meters. The bells were used to call the slaves in from work at the end of the day and wake them up and send them out at the start of the day. The size of the bell tower, or rather the size of the bell was a status symbol. As we walked up to the plantation, there were all these little houses on each side of the driveway and it looked to me like all the ladies had their washing out. There were clothes lines everywhere and sheets hanging everywhere so I figured that this must be the laundry district or it was communal washing day. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the driveway that I realised they were all embroidered sheets, table clothes, etc and they were actually trying to sell their wares.

After the tour we went back to the casa for a cold shower and cold beers. (Did I mention its hot here?) We were contemplating our options for dinner when the lights went out. The neighbourhood, which is quite noisy, all suddenly went quiet. As we waited we could see a few houses light up with candles and torches, whatever they had available. We had a chat to our hosts, which is tricky because their English is as bad as my Spanish, They rang to find out when it would be back on. One to two hours. We had to buy cigarettes so phone torches in hand we made our way carefully around the corner to a store, made our purchases and then carefully made our way back. Then all we could do was sit and wait. We still had music thanks to my laptop and Jo’s portable speaker, but really we were just sitting in the dark, drinking beer.

The power did come back on about an hour later, which I thought was pretty good. It was still early enough to make our way around the corner to restaurant. The food took forever to prepare. Jo had a lasagne and I had spaghetti bolognaise. I think we were waiting about an hour for it. It was almost ten by the time we ate and I was fading fast. When it arrived it was very good though, and cheap. We paid 12CUC for two meals and a couple of drinks each. Cannot complain about that

Additional photos below
Photos: 12, Displayed: 12


Slave quartersSlave quarters
Slave quarters

That's our guide. He didn't care for the sign
Manaca IznagaManaca Iznaga
Manaca Iznaga

This is not someones washing

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