Our first glimpse of the formerly forbidden island of Cuba brought a range of feelings, not knowing quite what to expect. Mostly we were excited to learn more about its history and culture as we boarded the tender that would take us to our first stop, the city of Cienfuegos.
First order of business - exchanging money! There are two forms of currency in Cuba - one for residents and one for visitors/tourists - big difference between the two!
Our tour guide, Carlos, gave us many interesting facts during our 90 minute drive from Cienfuegos to the final destination of Colonial Trinidad. There are several influences in Cuba, but most predominantly Spanish, after the Spanish colonization in the 15th century - and African, due to the Atlantic slave trade that existed in Cuba from the 16th century until 1886.
Most industries are owned by the government, but some restaurants and rental properties are now independently owned. Transportation is an issue with poor roads and few gas stations. Internet access is difficult if not impossible on the island. I kept my phone on airplane mode just to be safe!
We drove past crops of sugar cane and bananas, as the spring planting season is just beginning. We passed by Cementario la Reina, the city’s oldest cemetery founded in 1837 and a listed national monument. We saw horses, mules, cattle and goats - most to my dismay looked scrawny and underfed. We saw chickens, stray dogs and wild crabs along the road!
With dark clouds and heavy rains approaching, our first stop was indoors, at La Casa del Alfarero, a pottery factory and shop that has been owned by the same family for generations. We watched pottery making demonstrations, but more interesting to me, when making a purchase there was no cash register! Everything was marked down on a piece of course paper used to wrap sold items.
Our next stop, Palacido Cantero, a Neo-classical mansion built in the 1800s that now serves as a museum, detailing history of the Trinidad region. Walking along the authentic cobblestone streets was as charming as visiting the museum itself. We passed several store-fronts, with what appeared to be residences on the second floor.
Dodging the rain, we quickly walked to La Canchánchara, and had a drink of the same name - a mixture of honey, rum and lime. I don’t know what was better - the refreshment or the live music!
It was now time to head to lunch, and our walk back to the bus was a rain-drenched one! Thinking we had dodged the elements, I left my poncho on the bus. Really REALLY bad idea!
Not a big fan of walking in the rain without an umbrella, my spirits were soon lifted by a traditional Cuban lunch and entertainment at Ma Dolores. The tasty Mojito didn’t hurt either!
The bus ride back gave us time for rest and contemplation. In so many ways it felt like stepping back in time- in a good way regarding art and culture - not so much regarding lack of technology and a difficult economy. Not having a chance to talk to the locals, I’m not sure what they think of this influx of American tourism over the past couple of years.
I will try to get a better gauge when we visit Havana on Friday. ¡Hasta Luego!