Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Let's Drive to Trinidad!

December 26, 2018
Trinidad, Cuba

Tour Day 4 – Havana to Cienfuegos to Trinidad

Post-lunch vibes at Villa Lagarte
One last breakfast at the Hotel Victoria, the highlights of which are the extremely friendly server who attends to us with a giant smile each morning (amazing what tips can do), and of course, the all-you-can-eat smoked salmon. Most definitely NOT the coffee. If you're at the Hotel Victoria, go to the bar for your cafe cortados.

We piled all our stuff onto the bus and set off at around 9am for Trinidad, located on the south coast of Cuba. Before arriving in Trinidad, we'd be making a short stop-off in the historic city of Cienfuegos, for a quick stroll around town followed by lunch.

Arriving in Cienfuegos at around noon, Linette gave us the quick lay of the land and a brief rundown on the city's historical significance, all of which we were able to quite quickly forget before heading out on our allotted 30-minute walk. It's a pretty city, but with the historic center quite populated with tourists (ew), we didn't feel the need to stick around much longer than our allotment. We left the city center with a cheap (both in price and quality) Cuban tote bag, and a photo of me posing with a statue of local hero Benny More, arguably the most popular Cuban singer of all time. 

Lunch was at a restaurant called Villa Lagarto (lizard) on the outskirts of the city, at the tip of a peninsula sticking out into the Bahia de Cienfuegos. Lunch, beginning with a thin soup with large hunks of squash and slices of pork loin, was tasty, but dessert was once again not our cup of tea (candied papaya??). So lucky for us they had delicious espresso and strange but alluring fluorescent banana liquor digestivos.

Since the restaurant had a lovely location right on the water, with our open-air table backing up directly to a dock set with Adirondack chairs, we all plopped down for some post-lunch relaxing. After our busy first few days, I think everyone was thinking that this actually was feeling more like 'vacation'. Our photo shoot proves that we all were feeling pretty happy.  But then our five minutes was up and we were back on the bus for a few more hours to Trinidad, our destination for the next two nights.

When we boarded the bus this morning, we abandoned our traditional seating to go to the front of the bus, where we could get better views and have the opportunity to chat with Linette. And chat we did - that mujer can habla. The six-ish hours of driving went by quickly, while we had the opportunity to talk with Linette about her background, the tours she's been on, how Cuban education and employment works (well, at least a basic intro), and a variety of other topics large and small. 

Driving across the country also gave us the opportunity to see what happens outside of Havana. The old cars were still heavily in use, but in less pristine condition than the restored cabs and tour vehicles in Havana. There were plenty of horse-drawn carts, and donkeys as well. Most Cubans, not surprisingly, don't own cars, so all of the major intersections along the highway we were on were lined with people holding out cash hoping that we (or any other passing vehicle) would take a few pesos for a lift. Linette was saying that the buses are not all that frequent and also crowded, so many people prefer to spend a few pesos on a paid private ride. Cuba's version of Uber, I guess.

We finally arrived at our hotel in Trinidad around 5pm. The hotel, up the hill from the historic center, may have once seemed quite nice. It reminded us very much of 'upscale' places in the interior of Mexico that were probably built in the 70's and 80's. The hotel complex consisted of several buildings scattered up the hillside, each with anywhere from two to probably ten units in them, linked by a narrow ring road/driveway. There was an alluring-enough pool with snack bar and convenience store in the center of it all, as well. Our room was in one of the two-unit buildings and so was very large, with a separate sitting room with couches and a second TV. A little strange, as we've learned to expect in a place like this, but roomy, comfortable, and clean. And they give you free toothpaste in a little container that looks just like a hotel shampoo bottle!

After a few sunset-storm pics from the pool area, we met up with the group in the lobby and took an extremely short drive down into town for dinner, at one of Linette's favorite places. Linette loves Trinidad in general, and was trying to explain to her dull group of tourists the importance of taking in the dance and music scene of Trinidad. If it starts after 8:30pm, good luck with that, Linette.

Dinner started with some fried fish strips - hey, we're in a fishing town! The entrees were brought out on silver, domed-covered platters, which I attempted to capture in photos, but the waitstaff was just too swift in their unveiling of the meals. Since we were in this fishing town, I went with the pork, and Caroline with the lamb - which she claims tasted very much like ropa vieja. Everyone seemed loosened up tonight, even our driver, who was jokingly holding up the (many) liter decorative bottle of wine, on which the wine menu is printed, and pretending to guzzle. Finally, dessert appeared - the real reason this is Linette's favorite. It's a brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.When those came out, I think that's the happiest I've seen our group since we first met them. If you want to make an American happy, or anyone else I suppose, give them a warm brownie with ice cream.

The only slight drama during the meal was when Linette "lost" her voucher to pay for our dinner. It was an open-air restaurant on the second floor of a building, and it was a very windy evening. She was quite upset about it all, assuming the voucher blew away, and seemed unsure of how dinner was going to be paid for. This is Cuba, it's not like they take credit cards. Happily, someone found the voucher under the table toward the end of the evening, and Linette was able to relax and enjoy her brownie in peace.

Everyone decided that tonight was not the night for music and/or dancing (shocker), and wanted to head back to our respective rooms to turn in - or in the case of many of our group, to watch TV and movies until late.

Hasta manana...

Everyone is looking surprisingly jolly on the long, boring bus-ride to Cienfuegos
 Cars (frequently "classic"), sharing the road with horse-drawn carts is a common sight in the Cuban countryside outside of Havana
We arrive in Cienfuegos: the spacious main plaza
These phone pods are a common sight in Cuba, since many Cubans still use public phones as an alternative to the high cost of cell phones in the country
Cienfuegos style
Cienfuegos: more Che!
Holiday spirit in Cienfuegos
Picturesque Cienfuegos
Villa Lagarte restaurant interior
Pork, it's what's for lunch! Again!  This example of Cuba's unofficial national meat that we were served at Villa Lagarte was actually a lot tastier than it might appear.
We could really get used to the lovely Cuban habit of enjoying a coffee after every meal...
Post-lunch at Villa Lagarte
Our entire group seemed to enjoy relaxing by the water after lunch on Villa Lagarte's rear dock.  Too bad it only lasted 5 minutes.  And there was no rum accompaniment...
The bedroom area of our two-room suite at Hotel Las Cuevas, high on a hilltop in Trinidad
Wi-fi is not free anywhere in the country.  In order to connect to the internet, we had to use these access cards, available for purchase at our hotels. After carefully rubbing off the area to expose the password, similar to a  lottery ticket, you were required to enter it into your phone each time you wanted to log on.  It was a cumbersome process and the internet didn't tend to work very well, typically. As such, we did not spend much time on the internet at all. It was refreshing. At least that is my memory of it now. Ha
Scott, on our hotel room balcony, practicing for later...
Are we on the Love Boat???
The lobby at Hotel Las Cuevas.  The only place in the hotel where we could access the internet.  Well, sort of.
Post-rain shower sunset over the pool at Las Cuevas.   I wouldn't have minded going for a dip if we had had more time
Trinidad sunset

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