Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cuban Explorer, Day 9, Trinidad, Cuba (Part 2 of 4)

The photos for Cienfuegos and Trinidad have been posted separately,
however, the text applies to both. Another exciting day in Cuba! Ann,
Cathy and Hermann & Ria Hazenberg and I were on the first tender headed for
Cienfuegos. After clearing Immigration and Customs we were met by our
guide, Rydell from CubaOutings. Again, in accordance with US regulations, we
are required keep a record of our itinerary for our Education and People to
People exchange which I have outlined briefly as follows; Tour Cienfuegos
then drive to Trinidad (1 hour and 15 minutes approximately). Visit the
Sugar Mills Valley (what gave the wealth to the city in colonial times)
Lunch. Drive back to Cienfuegos. Tour in Cienfuegos city (Prado Avenue,
José Marti Park and the boulevard, city hall, theater, church). The city of
Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 by French colonists and boasts a marvellous
setting on the largest bay in Cuba. Cienfuegos is known as the City of
Columns with a strong French influence gives Cienfuegos a distinctive air.
Two long pedestrian promenades and some neo-Classical architecture charm
visitors and locals alike. We set out on a walk-through Cienfuegos
pedestrian promenade until we came to José Martí Park. Unlike the hustle and
bustle of Havana, the park is serene and surrounded by impressive landmarks
including; the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and the Arch of Triumph,
Government Palace, the Tomás Terry Theater. Our walking tour gave us many
opportunities to talk with the local people to help us better understand
local life in Cuba. We made a brief stop at a shop selling local art work
and souvenirs housed in the oldest building in Cienfuegos. The architecture
in Cienfuegos is spectacular and totally unexpected as compared to any other
Caribbean Island. Meeting up with our driver, we drove the Malecon through
the Punta Gorda area, with beautiful panoramas and historic buildings from
the 1920's including the Cienfuegos Yacht Club and Valle Palace, a stunning
Moorish style mansion. On our way to Trinidad we drove by the baseball
stadium known as September 5th after the date of the 1959 Revolution and
Tomás Acea Cemetery. During our time in Cienfuegos and on our drive to
Trinidad, it was very evident the main means of transportation is still by
horse and buggy or as the locals call it their one-horse power vehicle. That
being said, the classic cars are not unique to Havana…. Today we saw our
fare share of 1950s cars...our guide told us Cuba has over 250,000 classic
cars. The other thing that really stuck out along the highway was the
numerous cowboys riding horses... I thought I was in the wild, wild west! A
panoramic 1.5-hour drive from Cienfuegos between the Caribbean Sea and the
Escambrey Mountains Range brought us to the colonial town of Trinidad. We
enjoyed really a walking tour through one of the earliest towns founded in
the New World by the Spaniards. The people were very friendly and happy to
talk with us about Trinidad and Cuban life in general. Trinidad was founded
in 1514, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a Spanish colonial town
with cobblestone streets and brightly colored one storey houses with
terracotta roofs. Trinidad is described as an outdoor museum with carefully
restored Spanish colonial architecture. At first glance this historic center
seems touristy, perhaps not authentic, but it only takes a few minutes walk
to discover the vibrant street scenes of every day Cuban life: pizza stands,
old guys in cowboy hats playing dominoes, children playing soccer. Cuba
shops here look like something from the Wild West—in the dim interior with
sparse wares are lined up in single rows behind a wooden counter, so unlike
the grocery stores we are used to. Our first stop in Trinidad was in Saint
Ann's Square, the Square is home to Saint Ann's Church and the Jail. We
meandered our way through the cobblestone streets to the Mayor Plaza,
Trinidad's main square where we visited the Most Holy Trinity Church, with
an altar decorated with precious woods and carvings dating back 300 years.
Surrounding the main plaza, we visited shops, spoke with local residents and
visited a Bodega where Cubans receive their rationed goods. This gave us
insights into local culture and history. We stopped for rest at a park
beside the St. Frances of Assisi Convent and we were serenaded by a local
street band playing that distinct Cuban sound. Once the music started to
play the Salsa dancing began. The pace of Trinidad is slow and street noise
comes from boisterous conversations, music and enthusiastic vendors rather
than traffic. Bicycles, cycle rickshaws and horse carts are more common in
the center than the occasional 1950s car. In multi-sensory Trinidad, it's
the sounds and the colors that stand out the most. We stopped at the La
Canchánchara Bar for a taste of Trinidad in its signature cocktail...rum
with water, honey and lemon...and local music.... I did not partake in the
rum portion but the mixture was very refreshing. On our way to our meeting
point, we walked through a local flea market before meeting our driver. We
had another wonderful experience stepping back in time and enjoying a
different type of Cuban experience. Also, I would be remiss if I did not
recognize the outstanding guides and service we received from our
independent (non-governmental) tour company CubaOutings…fantastic job to all
involved! In closing, Cuba has so much to offer that we really believe that
Holland America should consider spending an extra day in Havana and dropping
Montego Bay from this itinerary. I just couldn't get enough of Cuba….
Hopefully, a World Voyage in the future will have stops in Cuba…..

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