Monday 26th October
We chatted as we drove the final miles to Trinidad. Orlando was keen to get more business and having already booked the Austrians for a trip to the El Nicho waterfalls near Cienfuegos on Wednesday, he asked about our plans for the rest of our trip. He negotiated to take us to the northern town of Santa Clara on Thursday including a trip to the stunning beaches of the Cayos (keys) and Cayo Santa María , then back to stay in Santa Clara as hotels on the Cayos are very expensive, then back to Havana for a night where he’d organise our Casa Particular in Vedado, (the area of Havana we’d not really explored) plus he’d throw in the airport trip on Saturday. I said we’d like to stay at the beach itself rather than just spend the day on a beach on the keys but the rest of the trip was perfect. He quoted us $150CUC (the airport journey alone is $25 each) and the total mileage would be in the region of 600km. We didn’t negotiate a lower price!
Suddenly we were brought to a stop as a bus was parked up and many people were on the side of the road and a group of Cuban guajiros with cows were surrounding them. (Orlando explained that guajiros were the peasants who worked on the land- these guys looked like real cowboys). We stopped to ask if they needed any assistance……but it appeared to be simply a photo opportunity for the tourists on the tour bus!
We also passed a shrimp farm on the coast at Yaguanabo consisting of about ten Olympic-sized pools of water plus the processing factory adjacent with its chimney stack. The views across to the ocean were stunning- lucky shrimp!
We paid Orlando for this trip. It cost us $80CUC (approx £52) – 700km from 8am – 5pm and he also had a similar amount from the Austrians. Great value for us and good money for him, when the average monthly salary is $30CUC.
He parked outside a Casa and took us in- it looked pretty basic and he asked us to take a seat. Then he suddenly said that he’d take us to the house where we’d be staying, on Calle Antionio Maceo, just a few short cuadras (blocks) from the Old Town. The young dueña (landlady) welcomed us with a cup of delicious Cuban coffee.
We sat at the pretty table in the open interior courtyard of the house, where we’d be having breakfast.
We asked if there were any other guests currently staying- she then went on to regale us with stories of El Americano Loco (the mad American) who kept trying to deceive her and was constantly trying her patience- she said he was leaving the next day and in any case, if he didn’t leave she’d throw him out! When we saw him he was very distant so we couldn’t really form our own opinion of him.
Our bedroom opened on to the courtyard so we unpacked and headed out to have a cocktail
and dinner. We booked dinner in the Casa for the following night.
Trinidad was probably my favourite town- so much live music on every street corner and delicious smells wafting from all the restaurants and Casas also serving food.
We wanted to have a cocktail with a view so managed to find La Vista Gourmet, a rooftop bar/restaurant
(which was obviously a known tourist haunt as there was a magician doing the rounds up on the roof and, as we were leaving, an English speaking tour group just coming in to eat.
We had the local drink- Cancánchara, pronounced with the accent on the second syllable. Go ahead and try to say it very fast 3 times. It’s served in a clay cup and made with lemon juice, honey, soda water and aguardiente — the local fire-water rum.
We had dinner in a wonderful restaurant, La Botija, where local people and tourists were queuing to get in – a good sign. It’s open 24 hours so you’d get a table eventually! We were shown to our table and looked around the restaurant at the artefacts on the walls…the theme of the restaurant focuses on the shady past of Trinidad when it was a centre for the slave trade.
We ordered a Cocktél Botija to start, followed by a selection of delicious tapas style food from cerdo (pork) to camarones (shrimp) to queso (cheese) and a green salad and washed it all down with a rum or two.
We chose the rums on price…Havana Club blanco for 40p and a Santiago añejo for £1.10. I’d come across tequila añejo before when in a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco but not in relation to rum. It basically means it’s aged in oak. The Santiago añejo was 15 years old and a golden colour. You get what you pay for- it was delicious!
To finish the evening we wandered the town, listening to music played on the streets, sampling very large glasses of rum…
and then sat on the steps below the open air Casa de la Música just soaking up the atmosphere of a typical Cuban town at night.