Saturday, 20 September 2014

Cuba Libre, Trinidad and Vinales

Beautiful Trinidad
It was finally time to discover colourful Trinidad. We took another overnight bus which left Santiago with an hour delay. Unfortunately, it also broke down early in the morning and we had to wait for 1,5 hours another bus to pick us up. It took us 14 hours to reach our destination and we were simply exhausted when we arrived in our new casa particular.

Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage listed town in central Cuba. It is a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement which brings you back to 1850s with its cobbled streets, and horse carriages. Because of its magnificence, it became very popular among tourists. Therefore, it is definitely more expensive than Santiago. 

Our efforts of finding a cheap restaurant paid off when we met Odiladies and her husband, Airan who run a little paladar (a Cuban term for a family run small restaurant). They were a young couple who took advantage of the new laws in Cuba and opened up their own business. They had great fish for $4 which was quite cheap for Trinidad. We instantly became friends with them and spent great time together. Odiladies also helped us to find a good babalawo (a Saint in Santaria religion) to clear the negative energy Alex was experiencing in the last couple of weeks. Santaria (Way of the Saint) is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on Yoruba beliefs and traditions. In order to get rid of Alex’s bad luck we were happy to try anything.

Colourful Trinidad
We visited a local babalawo, Dr. Jose Antonio, who is a medical doctor and also a medium. He delivered us some messages from the spirit world and told Alex to do a cleaning ceremony with some fruits. The next day, we did the ceremony in the Caribbean Sea. Believe it or not, Alex felt a sudden shift in her energy and her luck seemed to get better after that. It was amazing.

We spend most of our time visiting this beautiful colonial town and sharing great moments with our newly made friends. We met a friend of Airan, Juan, who was together with Mariana from Argentina. We got along very well and Mariana invited us to visit her when we will be in Argentina.

Our new friends
It was hard to say goodbye to lovely Trinidad, but we needed to make our way to the next city. Cienfuegos is a nice town on the southern coast of Cuba which was originally settled by the French Monarchist when Napoleon lost Louisiana. We were able to visit the entire city in one day. Some of the main attractions we visited include Palacio de Valle, Palacio Azul, the promenade of Cienfuegos, Pedestrian Boulevard, and the Cathedral of Cienfuegos. It was the cleanest city in Cuba and had an attractive French architecture. The only down side for me was a painful ear infection which forced me to pay a visit to an international clinic. After a thorough check up, I received a course of antibiotics and ear drops for the next 7 days.   

Palacio Azul
After one night in Cienfuegos, we made our way to Viñales which was a little, peaceful village with different coloured one storey houses. It is next to one of Cuba’s greatest natural attractions, the UNESCO Heritage listed Viñales Valley.

Bike tour with friends
On the bus to Viñales, we met Rafael from Colombia and his girlfriend, Tania from Croatia. They used to live in London before their trip around the world. Once again, we connected really well with these travellers and went out for dinner together. They introduced us to another couple, Felix from Germany and Natasha from Switzerland. Thanks to Felix’s travel book, we found a little paladar called Nora & Luis, which was quite far away from the village. It was worth the 45 minute walk. For $5 per person, we had lobster, salad, rice, fried bananas. It was fantastic.   

The next day, we rented some bicycles and visited the Viñales Valley with our new friends. The valley had a breathtaking scenery and a peaceful rural life. This part of Cuba is still very virgin and serene. The region is also famous for the production of quality tobacco and best Cuban cigars. 

We finished our tour around 3pm and had lunch in our casa particular. It is a common practice that these places offer meals to their guests to make additional income. It was a perfect way of tasting the local cuisine. After a long lunch, we said goodbye to our friends as they were going back to Havana the next day.
Cuban tobacco grower
The following day, we hired some horses and discovered the countryside with a local guide. We visited a cave, a tobacco farm and a spectacular lookout. We were shown how to roll cigars and were offered to try one with a delicious Cuban coffee. It was an experience to taste this freshly made cigar! After the tour, we visited Norma for a last meal before our departure the next day. While we were eating, she told us her life story which was quite emotional. This is what I loved about Cuba. Everybody is so open, welcoming and ready to connect. After dinner, we organised our transport to the Havana Airport for the following day.  

After an incredible month in Cuba, we were on our way to the airport in an old American car. What a closure! It was amazing to see that these 50+ year old cars still run quite well. The journey was a smooth and we made it on time to catch our plane to Ecuador.

We had several unusual experiences while we were in Cuba. We experienced theft, loss, shock, frustration, pain, anger, helplessness, relationship crisis, love, care, laughter, joy, rhythm, dance, friendship. I am grateful for the variety of experiences because they added richness and flavour to our journey, no matter how difficult they might have been at the time. Thank you Cuba!  We will always remember the warm hearts of your people. 

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