After a week in Havana we set of for a trip around the central part of Cuba. Taxis (private or shared) and busses are the main transport options. There are trains however most routes only run every 2 days and their reputation is such that we only met one traveller who had tried (unsuccessfully) to travel by train. We left on the five hour journey to Trinidad de Cuba in an old Chevy colectivo (shared taxi) with 3 Belgians and the Cuban wife of one of them.
The motorway and larger roads in Cuba are not very trafficated however you need to keep an eye out for potholes, bicycles, hitchhikers and people selling onions!
When I visited Cuba in around 2000 I absolutely loved Trinidad. It was charming with pretty houses and great music. That’s still the same however tourism has increased 100-fold and you really get the feeling that the town is cashing in with taxi drivers on every corner and lots of new but not very exiting Paladar restaurants. Our experience may have been tainted by the fact that I came down with a temperature and upset tummy and my mum injured her heel. We still made the most of the town and the music. Nick already posted a photo from Christmas Eve of when he joined the band to play the cheese grater. My mum and I later joined as backing dancers with the husband of the Japanese girl also on the photo but of course there was nobody around to take a photo of that!
As always you don’t need to venture far from the centre to find quieter streets.
One day we got a taxi up into the Topes de Collante hills. It’s a popular area for walking and horse riding and we hiked a track taking us down to a waterfall and swimming hole.
In Santa Clara we had our first really great Casa Particular experience. While the other houses we stayed at were fine, here at Hostal Cuba 215 we got a really warm welcome from Ricardo, Lisette and their 2 grown sons and as we arrived on 30 December they invited us to celebrate New Year’s Eve with them!
We chose to spend 4 nights in Santa Clara after reading that it’s a progressive city with a prominent university. It was pretty quiet over the New Year holidays and we enjoyed that it’s a regular city with less focus on tourism.
The sights in Santa Clara are all linked to Che Guevara. All over Cuba he is Hero Number One but here it’s even more obvious. Santa Clara was the first town to be ‘liberated’ from Batista’s army in 1959 when Che launched an attack on a train carrying Batista soldiers.
Although very much the Cuban hero we felt that the years of isolation from the rest of the world has made Cubanos keep Che closer to their consciousness, in their daily lives, in pictures everywhere, in song, in art, in media rather than letting him slip into history as heroes normally do to be remembered on special occasions only. The same can also be said about the “revolucion” as a whole, it’s still something you see and hear about even after 60 years.
Hasta Siempre “song commemorating Che”
Cienfuegos is the only city in Cuba to have French architecture and cultural links. It was founded by French immigrants from Louisiana and Bordeaux 200 years ago (compared to Trinidad which is 500 years old) and the centre feels relatively sophisticated with more shops than we saw anywhere else.
The cities we visited are the most touristed, partly as they are more easily accessible. We would have liked to venture further east but Santiago de Cuba is an 11 hour drive from Trinidad and Baracoa where Christopher Columbus first landed 4 hours further meaning a 21 hour drive back to Havana. We’ll leave that for another time…