Monday 7th October 2019
Woke up in good time, ready for a hearty breakfast whilst waiting for our taxi to arrive at 9.00am – for our onward journey to Trinidad de Cuba. Yes, it was the dreaded transfer day again.
We’d enjoyed our last night in Camaguey – dined at our favourite restaurant and had made sure we had wine, just in case we don’t see any again in Cuba. We decided to have a night cap in Plaza de Soledad (Wi-fi spot) and chose the Hotel Santa Maria. Turned out to be a great choice as we met up with two absolutely lovely ladies from Miami, Betty and her niece (whose name we didn’t catch but she was the image of Angelina Jolie). We had an hour of lively chat … so great to be able to converse in English.
The taxi turned up on time … and it was the actual car and actual driver we’d booked! So all good. Steve sat in the front so he had a chance of unraveling his legs … complete language barrier of course but there was a sort of exchange from time to time! I tucked myself safely in the back and tried my best to sleep through the road chaos, but to no avail. Naturally no seat belts – that would be such a luxury in Cuba.
The first couple of hours weren’t too bad to be honest, the roads were slightly improved on last week’s journey and there was some beautiful countryside to view – a great deal of cattle farming and mountains in the distance. The driver was chirpy and smiley, and chatted away in Spanish … and we smiled back, nodded and said OK, even through we didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He did drive very fast at times, way above the speed limit and often nose to tail with the car in front. For Steve to mention that it must be bad!
Unfortunately about midday, the heavens opened and the rain came down in sheets. Not only did it affect visibility but the roads became like rivers in places – it’s no wonder the cars here are such rust buckets. But that didn’t seem to slow him down at all … he seemed all the more intent in getting us there as quickly as he could. His mood did change somewhat – I guess it wasn’t exactly ideal driving conditions. We reached Trinidad in 4 hours … then when we confirmed with the driver that we were staying in Casilda, a village just out of town he seemed a wee put out. His displeasure heightened as we spent the next half an hour trying to find the hostal we were booked into. We had the name, the address, a location map …. we just couldn’t find anything to match up. Although we couldn’t understand him, his body language was suggesting he just drop us off – but we weren’t buying into that. We stopped to ask some locals and eventually found our destination, Hostal del Los Palmas.
Well, I think even the taxi driver was shocked and felt sorry for us at this point. We had arrived at a building site! Not even a sign to indicate the name of the place. But he wasn’t going to waste any more time and speedily unloaded our suitcases from the boot.
Hostal Las Palmas
Luckily a young lady came out and confirmed we were at the right place, her English was good and she smiled warmly. She proceeded to lead us down a side alleyway, where tucked at the back of the building site is a beautiful hostal. As it turns out, they are rebuilding the entrance – you think they may have pre-warned us.
And from there the day got better and better. We were shown to our room which involves walking up a wrought iron spiral staircase – we had been given the deluxe room as we were booked in for 8 nights. Good size bedroom, fairly basic but OK … but a grand bathroom, with a massive bath …. am going to so enjoy that.
The sun was now shining so we wasted no time in finding the pool area – we needed to chill. And what a pool it is, great to have a good swim and relax for a couple of hours. And just for us, we were the only guests booked in.
The hostal dinner was great too – vegetable soup, chilli con carne, rice, salad, fried plantain followed by chocolate and coconut ice-cream. Plus a few beers (no wine)!
During the evening we met George, the German hostal owner and his lovely wife and baby. He was able to give us some good local knowledge and can arrange a driver to take us around. Trinidad is apparently a great place to visit as is nearby Playa Ancon. So we went to bed full of hope for the week ahead.
Tuesday 8th October 2019
A great night’s sleep – the bed’s a little soft but it’s huge … we had the A/C on as it’s not noisy like most of them are – this meant we used the quilt and it felt so comforting. Fab breakfast too, the usual fayre but it included home-made crusty bread still warm and fresh from the oven. Mango marmalade too.
Before it got too hot we had a walk around the village of Casilda – pretty place, buzzing with life. There are two schools near our hostal and they sounded so lively, in fact one of them had very loud Cuban music blaring out – guess it must have been playtime. Walked up to the where the fishing boats are moored and had our first glimpse of the sea. Lots of horse and carts ferrying people around and the locals just getting on with their everyday lives.
Our street in Casilda
Chilled the rest of the day by the pool – George has told us he’s fully booked from tomorrow so enjoying the peace while we can.
We had dinner at the hostal again – a whole red snapper just for the two of us. A little surprised that we were just left with the whole fish and a carving knife – we’re not too experienced at filleting but we did our best … and it was absolutely delicious.
Wednesday 9th October 2019
This morning we took a taxi into Trinidad. The hostal’s usual driver was away today so a jolly chap in an old American car showed up. Very luxurious inside with it’s white leather upholstery but how it all holds together is a mystery … no suspension and incredibly loose steering – the driver was having to turn the wheel all the time, even driving in a straight line. And of course the roads are covered in potholes so the cars drive to avoid … this means you drive on the wrong side and sort of dodge back when something comes the other way – it’s like playing ‘chicken.’
Love Trinidad – it’s definitely the most stylish place we’ve visited so far. Bars, restaurants, shops all very appealing. But it’s the architecture that stands out – the area we first explored is where the wealthy sugar plantation owners settled and the buildings are magnificent. Lots of churches and museums too. As we walked along one street, we were invited in to meet a kindergarten class and encouraged to take photos … and then off course the begging pot came out! We went to visit a model village of the city and were given an overview of its history and how each part evolved. This has been so useful in our further exploration as we understand the significance of the different parts of town. And yay, I managed to buy a sunhat.
We spotted a new looking yellow taxi sat outside a tourist centre and so took the opportunity to negotiate our onward destination to Santa Clara – so hopefully that’s sorted for next Tuesday.
Came back to the hotel mid-afternoon to find all the beds at the pool had been taken – the Germans have landed. Literally, all the other guests are German. But they are lovely and two of the younger ones actually gave up their beds for us – so polite. And today was the first day since arriving in Cuba that it hasn’t rained at all – so we chillaxed till the sun went down.
It was lovely to have company over dinner that night – we all ate out in little courtyard. They were happy to chat to us in English … you feel so guilty and inadequate though as they switch between their German, English and Spanish!
Thursday 10th October 2019
Had a leisurely breakfast and tried not to race to the pool – many previous experiences of German tourists, in various holiday destinations, laying their towels to claim beds. But we arrived to find that all the beds were free – in fact we had the pool to ourselves for the majority of the day.
A lazy day followed by an active evening. Renzo, our local driver, picked us up at 5.00pm, in torrential rain, and drove us in to Trinidad, by which time someone had switched the heat on again. It had been so dark with black clouds when we left the hostal, both of us had made the same mistake … no hat, no sunglasses, no suncream! And we had planned to follow a ‘Lonely Planet’ walk. So there was only one thing to do … sit in the shade and drink beer! Once it had cooled we set off on the walk and discovered some different parts of the city … some simple houses and cobbled streets, beautiful pastel colours and family lives being lived out on the pavements. Children playing old games like marbles (not a PlayStation in sight) and men huddled over their domino tables. It still looks like something off a film set to see the horse and carts and also Stetson clad men riding bareback with their legs dangling – you expect to see Clint Eastwood stroll into town in his poncho!
We checked out a few restaurants – unlike Santiago and Camaguey, there are so many to choose from. We finally settled on one and enjoyed a tasty meal, with wine and live music.
About 9.00pm we returned to the Plaza to listen to some more live Cuban music – there was some amazing salsa dancing going on … we didn’t trip the light fantastic this time, choosing to more modestly sit and sip mojito and spectate. Renzo came to pick us up and we were home by 11.00pm – a wild night out for us.
Friday 11th October 2019
No eggs for breakfast today – we came to comprehend this through a charade type explanation of clucking chicken and eggs from bottom!
We were up and out early anyway as today was one of those horrible admin days – we have to extend our visa as we’re in Cuba for 6 weeks and they only provide 4 weeks up front. We thought we’d get it over and done with as we’ve learnt the process and the layout of the city. We first had to go to the Banco to buy stamps and once you have these you can start the immigration office bit. Renzo dropped us at the Banco and said he would wait and then drive us to immigration. And so the most horrendous queueing began … or Cuba’s version of queuing. Apart from the lady in front of us being able to confirm that we were in the right place, we had no way of understanding how you actually managed to get into the bank and how all the different lines of people worked. Why were some people being allowed in and others being refused? So we waited and waited, getting hotter and more stressed … but it just had to be done. All sorts of people were trying to push in – you get so defensive about your place in line … we’re no pushovers! An hour and a half later we actually managed to get through the door and were asked to take a seat. The next bit happened quite quickly, although we got shouted at for two of us standing at the counter … after several times of shouting in Spanish, the teller finally said in perfect English “only one person allowed.”
Renzo had so patiently waited for us outside and dutifully drove us to the Immigration office – only to be told that we should come back at midday. He dropped us back in the centre and we said we would sort ourselves out. We had a wander and some early lunch and then headed back to Immigration. We had fully prepared ourselves for another long wait but had a surprisingly positive start – a young Cuban Immigration officer greeted us and looked at our passports as soon as we walked through the door. He then escorted us to his office … and proceeded to tell us that the system was down so he was unable to do anything. He suggested that maybe by 3.00pm it would be back. Aargh!!! We gave up. It will have to wait for another day.
Chilled at the pool for the rest of the day to recover from our trauma and enjoyed another delicious hostal dinner in the evening.
Saturday 12th October 2019
Said our goodbyes to the German family today as they were leaving for the next part of their trip. And then set off for our first trip to the nearest beach – Playa Ancon. It’s about 10km away, only two parkruns, but too far to walk in this heat, so a taxi it was.
Can’t believe this is our first beach day since arriving in Cuba. And it really is one of those dreamy type beaches. Fine golden sand, palm trees, clear blue sea (and so warm), sunbeds with palm shades and a beach restaurant to hand. We spent a few hours swimming, walking and relaxing before lunching on grilled shrimps and cold beer. Perfecto.
We had asked Renzo to pick us up at 3.00pm – he wasn’t in the car park but he had sent his ‘amigo’ – whose car was practically identical except maybe a couple of decades more past its sell by date. He was really jovial and drove very fast down the heavily potholed roads – with a pretend police siren going!
We went into Trinidad in the evening to eat. On our way to the restaurant we spotted a small supermarket … in particular Steve spotted tubes of Pringles. So we excitedly purchased some sour cream and chive Pringles and some chocolate biscuits – you can’t imagine our levels of excitement – we even got excited about being given a carrier bag! Also passed a salsa dance lesson in full swing – am desperate to have another go but they were all young glamorous people and I had yet to have a drink!!
Enjoyed a pork and rice dinner (the usual) at a restaurant overlooking the main plaza with its Cuban music – it was fun watching the evening comings and goings in Trinidad. There are so many tourists here compared to where we are staying and where we have been in Cuba before – still haven’t come across any English people yet though. There was live music in the restaurant too … and so we have another CD it add to our collection.
We tried to find a coffee bar afterwards but they’d all closed … so another bar it was … and another Bar Yesterday (a Beatles tribute venue). Had a nightcap whilst listening to the band playing covers of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. We’re so versatile.
Sunday 13th October 2019
I went straight to the beach after breakfast while Steve got dropped off on the way to do a bit of birdwatching/photography. He got some amazing photos and just about managed the long walk in the mid-morning heat. In the meantime I made a dash for those warm waves – I could swim for hours here – and then just settled into some solitary kindle time until he joined me.
Steve had the beginnings of an upset tummy today but he soldiered on – he skipped lunch but came down for dinner in the hostal – a whole roasted chicken between us! Even some chilled white wine went down very well too.
Monday 14th October 2019
Unfortunately Steve’s ‘loose tummy’ situation has well and truly kicked in – he’d had a bad night. i ventured down to breakfast alone – I was sat on the next table to a solo German chap who’s very lovely but we have no language in common. So, apart from the initial pleasantries we both just sat there staring into space, waiting for our food to arrive. Steve in the meantime was resting up, giving the Imodium a chance to kick in!
We had to go to Trinidad this morning – to get money from the ATM to settle our hostal bill and to confirm a taxi ride to Santa Clara for tomorrow. So, armed with Imodium supplies we set off in a rusty old Chevrolet to the city. Not only did I graze my leg on the rusty metal getting into the car, but Steve hit his head a cropper getting out! It was going to be one of those days.
And then, as we walked along the street, a young Mum was perched on the edge of the pavement with her toddler – and just as Steve walked in front of them, the young lad proceeded to wee into the gutter … and onto Steve’s leg! It was one of those side-splitting hilarious snapshot moments for me …. but clearly not so for Steve. It just wasn’t his day!
On the positive side though, we couldn’t spot our original taxi driver but found another with an even bigger, more comfortable looking car … and we booked him for tomorrow. He drove us back to our hostal in Casilda so we got to see he was a good driver too. AND … it’s actually got seat belts! So, at this stage all’s looking OK for our next transfer day. Lots of prayers tonight.
Steve has been laid up the rest of the day and so I have been languishing pool side. Am now enjoying a beer and some Pringles (heaven) whilst finishing up this blog. This is our last night in Casilda/Trinidad …. we have really loved it.
And we’re half way through our Cuban adventure. 😎❤️