Still in Trinidad – Cuba and the slave trade

Welcome back to our blog! Today is more from our stay in Trinidad, Cuba, and a few tips on how to see the city.

Elle’s need for daily medical treatment meant we were going to be staying in Trinidad rather longer than anticipated.

A new day and another beautiful, bountiful breakfast followed by a quick trip to the clinic. Once the ‘capa verde’ [Elle’s green infected burn scab…] had been moistened and scraped at for a bit, we were ready to explore. A lot less mobile than expected, we hitched a ride in a bici-taxi to the centre of town.

Trinidad is a very old city and, as such, has some amazing museums. We went to the Museo de Historia Municipal (the Municipal Museum of Trinidad), a really brilliant one in a house that had been built by a rich slave owner. He died under suspicious circumstances and his widow remarried. She then also died under suspicious circumstances and her new husband was left with a lot of money and a huge mansion…

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The museum was set out like a house that could still be lived in, much like a National Trust property in the UK.

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There were quite a few lizards scuttling about, displays of things like shoes and carriages, as well as information about the slave trade in Cuba.

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A map of the flow of slaves to and from Trinidad in the 18th and 19th century:

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Stocks:

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And a shocking original letter negotiating the sale of 13 slaves for 2.5 million pesos (we think that’s about $2,125,000 total, or $163,461 per person):

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Fascinating and chilling, we continued to explore the house. The real highlight came when we decided to see what was up some stairs tucked behind a few cannons.

The stairs wound up and up, past a second floor and an oddly placed tourist shop [someone may need to teach the proprietors about the correlation between footfall and the likelihood of actually selling things]. At the top of the stairs we found a rickety path with some rather unstable bannisters going high over a small room filled with a smorgasbord of seemingly random objects. Typical Cuba.

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Another spiral staircase at the end proved to be a real challenge for the less mobile [and for those who suffer from vertigo] of our twosome; but eventually, being the intrepid explorers we are, we conquered the final set of stairs and spilled through a tiny door onto the roof.

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It was worth it. We were greeted with these incredible panoramic views of the whole city stretching before us, right down to the beach:

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The photos really don’t do the view justice and we’d recommend going to the museum to experience it. If you plan ahead and don’t end up needing the bathroom the moment you get up there, it’s also a lovely spot to have a picnic. Trinidad bathed in bright sunlight really is spectacular.

Come back to our blog next week for the final set of Trinidad adventures (and misadventures!) before we head to our next destination. See you then!

Trinidad part two

Welcome back to our blog! We continue with our story from Trinidad, Cuba – getting caught in the rain, mixing rum with meds, and hitting the famous Playa Ancón.

Last week, we had our first experience with the Cuban medical system. The conditions were a lot better than expected (relief) but also made us come to terms with how bad Elle’s infected motorbike burn was (downer). Having cycled up a mountain, waded through a river and spent 15 hours on a bus with the same dressing, Elle’s leg had gone green and she was now having a spot of trouble walking.

We needed valuable supplies of water [tap water comes straight from the river in Cuba] so Rosie left Elle at the casa to go in search of the local supermarket, getting caught in a warm thunderstorm on the way back. Check out these evocative photos of Trinidad‘s back streets in the rain:

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N.B. In some supermarkets you have to exchange your bag for a cloakroom number at the entrance, presumably because the price of supermarket goods makes many of them unaffordable to locals. It’s easy to overlook these things and stay in your ‘holiday bubble’, but they are everyday reminders that despite the omnipresent propaganda, all is not well in Cuba. Our casa was the one painted orange in the photo above.

We waited out the storm in a responsible manner.

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An hour later, the sun resumed scorching the earth – so we decided to hit the beach. Elle wasn’t in any state to come to the Plaza and find a taxi, so we asked our casa owner if she could bring one round. In typical Cuban fashion, she called her dad, and we happily bundled into the illegal cab – agreeing on the lower price of 10CUC for him to take us, wait there and bring us back [standard practice, but will usually cost you 15-20CUC in a licensed taxi].

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We’d read a lot about Playa Ancón. While we took the general view of avoiding tourist spots like the plague, we decided we should probably take a look at one of Cuba’s famous white sand beaches – it couldn’t be as tacky as Varadero!

However, it turned out to be rather a disappointment. Maybe we’re over critical – but the sand was more like light beige, and the sea was far from the crystal clear waters we’d been promised (although perhaps that had to do with the recent storm). There were also several medium sized Soviet-style hotel blocks and rather more Europeans than we’d like to encounter on our Caribbean getaway – even though it was the off-season. And the coco-locos [coconut water with rum and honey, served in the actual coconut] were smaller, less fresh and rather more expensive than in Baracoa. Ok, so they cost 2CUC ($ equivalent), but we’d got used to Baracoa prices.

We deliberately decided not to capture the hotels on camera; they were far too monstrous (follow this link to get an idea). But here’s the beach – nothing to shout about in our opinion.

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A little frustrated Elle had got sand in her wound for nothing, we returned to our casa and immediately received a knock on the door – opening it to find Yare (our host) cryptically holding out a telephone. Confused, Rosie put it to her ear – and whose voice was it? None other than Johnny’s, the Baracoan salsa teacher who organised our accommodation in Trinidad, and who had invited Rosie out on a dateApparently he’d called just to check in on us her.

Come back to our blog again next week to hear about our adventures in Trinidad the next day, and for more photos and tips from Cuba!

HELLO Trinidad! Getting meds in Cuba

Welcome back to our blog! Last week we hopped on the Viazul and left Baracoa to travel across the country again – this time to Trinidad, Cuba! Read on to hear all about our first day – and first experience of Cuba’s world famous medical system…

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We arrived in Trinidad in the small hours of the morning after 15 hours of travelling, and without a huge degree of confidence scoured the bus station for Yare, the woman in a red top who Johnny (our Baracoan salsa teacher) had called to meet us. We were surprised to see there was indeed a young, sweet looking woman in a red t-shirt waiting for us, who confirmed she was Yare and led us to her house.

Even in our exhausted state we could see this casa was a cut above what we’d experienced in Baracoa – inside, the one story house looked almost middle-class, and had a picturesque courtyard at the centre. After showering, we emerged to a beautiful breakfast (albeit less rustic and plentiful without the Baracoan hot chocolate we’d grown accustomed to) – here are some photos:

Trinidad breakfast Trinidad casa, courtyard (2) Trinidad casa, courtyard

Although it was only 9am by the time we finished breakfast, it was starting to get VERY hot – perhaps because it’s a little further from the sea than Baracoa.

Also, Elle’s leg was not looking good. The swelling had spread up and down her leg, and the marca de puta itself was going green. At this point, we got a reality check and decided we should probably go see a doctor to avoid Elle’s impending leg amputation. Prepare to be grossed out by these photos:

Leg-end (wait for it!) airymarca de puta (1)

Marca de puta: literally ‘the mark of a prostitute’, is the Cuban colloquial term for a circular burn from a motorbike exhaust.  Why? Because apparently fast girls go for guys on motorbikes and you can spot them out from their ‘branded’ leg. No wonder the locals were so happy to see Elle!

Our concerned hosts drew us directions to the nearest tourist clinic (a couple of blocks away) and we hobbled off. Stepping in, we were hugely impressed. Expecting a third world dump, we were greeted by a pristinely clean tiled reception area and nurses in starched white outfits. Later on in our travels, we found out there’s a stark difference between these clínicas internacionales (international clinics for tourists only), and hospitals for the locals. 

We were ushered into the doctor’s office and Rosie explained the situation which apparently they’d seen many times before. Feeling bashful, we tried to explain that we weren’t total morons and that bikes in Europe have heat shields – but they didn’t seem to grasp the concept. Then a matronly nurse (with an amazing little hat!) led us to the adjacent room, sat Elle down, and began vigorously cleaning the infected ‘capa’ (scab/layer) – at which point R failed to hide her expression when E asked about the severity of the situation down there, and E almost fainted:

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Telling us we had to come in every day for Elle to get her wound cleaned, we felt irresponsible for having left it so long. Then again, that’s not an unusual feeling with us. While we waited for Elle’s antibiotics, cream and elephant painkillers (free if her insurance company contacted Cuba’s national health insurance office by the next day to pay for her treatment), we were sat next to a German woman who also had an infected leg from being kicked by a horse. Hers was so bad she couldn’t walk at all, and had had to miss her flight home. We returned to our casa nervously darting into doorways whenever horses went past.

Tune in to our blog again next week for the next part of our story, and for more photos and tips from our adventures in Trinidad, Cuba!

Adios Baracoa! And some shoplifting.

Welcome back to our blog! This week we finally leave Baracoa and rekindle our hatred for the Viazul bus – and also fit some shoplifting in on the way.

Leaving Baracoa should have been as easy as ABC. Our bus wasn’t until late afternoon and all we had to do was get our bags there an hour before to buy tickets. We had plenty of time for another adventure so we decided to tick off something else off the list: climb El Yunque. Needless to say – as you will have noticed from last week’s post – we didn’t make the bus.

So the morning after Rosie’s Cuban date night experience was spent within a few hundred metres of the station, just to be sure.

All went well until we discovered that a ticket which was slightly damp from the condensation on a water bottle could not be used.

Actually, we’re skipping ahead. We also did a bit of shoplifting at the local supermarket.

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Ever panicky about our water situation, we asked our the bici-taxi driver to stop off at the supermarket (we use the term loosely) on the way to the station. To our chagrin, there was plenty of ice tea, but no water. To make matters worse, the lady at the till didn’t seem too fond of foreigners, and after catching sight of us rapidly slowed down the pace at which she was serving the customer ahead. Not wanting to miss the bus AGAIN, we asked the other shop assistant to help us and he added up our shopping on a calculator ready for her to enter into the till.

We started storing the items away in our various bags, optimistic that we were making up some of the lost time. How wrong we were. Once she had finished with the other customer, she promptly ‘accidentally’ deleted the total on the calculator and made us get out all of our shopping to go over it again.

Well, that’s where Rosie had enough and Elle became an unwitting participant in some minor theft. In a gesture of rebellion, Rosie omitted to unpack the rucksack she had already placed on the floor. Now this is another example of our classic irresponsible behaviour – we really wouldn’t recommend committing any crimes full stop, and particularly not in a backwater Communist region. But oh well. Also in a later more mature state of mind, Rosie felt bad about robbing from a third world country – although not that bad as supermarkets are state owned and it was a bit of a fuck you to the government (and to the evil cashier). Those illicit 2CUC ($2) felt like sweet sweet justice.

Back to the bus station, and the matter of the damp ticket. Now don’t imagine blotted ink or anything as irreparable as that. It was a perfectly legible ticket that was slightly damp – but of course this was still a BIG problem in Cuba. Arguing achieved nothing so another ticket was purchased and our hatred for Cuban public transport went up a level. At this point we thought it was maxed out, but after getting on the bus discovered we were next to the toilets (again!), and this time they didn’t even work.

Oh, and we forgot to mention Johnny saw us off. He called a friend of his with a casa in Trinidad and told us she’d be waiting for us on arrival at the station in a red top. Slightly freaked out that he’d made good on his promise to wave us off (we startle at commitment) we boarded the bus as quickly as possible. Buuut Rosie cracked and hopped off to give him a kiss on the cheek and thank him for everything, thinking she’d never hear from him again (wrong again!).

Approximately 15 hours later we arrived in Trinidad via a change in Santiago.

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We’ve just managed to properly repress that experience – only made better by more ron (rum) – so we won’t go over it again. Suffice to say Elle’s scar still twinges at the sight of a bus.

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When we crawled off the bus in the wee hours we were met by the Casa owner Johnny had recommended and taken to probably the loveliest Casa of our stay.

Hello Trinidad!

Next week on our blog we’ll start you off on Trinidad. Here’s a photo to whet your appetite!