CUBA TRAVEL JOURNAL

Trinidad and a Hike in a Cuban Mountainside Jungle

July 3, 1998 11:30pm

Another night on the wall last night after a very full day.

Our drive to Trinidad was fascinating. Once out of Cienfuegos, the countryside turned immediately rural. Small communities of tiny homes with people sitting outside were separated by stretches of lush fields and wooded areas.  
     
  Occasionally the road moved to the coast and children played happily in the surf.

Everyone we passed eyed us with interest, waived, whistled or shouted to us. It's quite an experience to attract so much attention wherever we go. Most of the people I speak with have never met an American!

  Entering Trinidad was like entering a different time. Most buildings are between one and two hundred years old and have had only what repair scarce materials will allow. The Cubans are ingenious in these innovations to keep what they have working under impossible circumstances.

The streets of the oldest section of Trinidad are still stone, not bricks or shaped stones, but river rock painstakingly set in rough pathways between concrete and mud structures.

       

As we wound through the maze of crooked streets an official looking man holding a sign that read "Stop - Official Auto Park" stepped in front of us. He directed us to a place near a wall and promised to protect our car for one dollar.

  He struck up a conversation with me and asked if we wanted food or a place to stay. He eagerly asked me to follow him to a nearby house to show me a "Paladares" (a private home that will prepare meals). While Chris finished with the car, I entered an old home with a narrow spiral staircase to the roof. I climbed the spiral staircase to a sweeping view of the city and the ocean beyond.
      Photo Courtesy of
C. Pritchard
  In an alley courtyard behind the house were two tables and a makeshift kitchen and grill. We accepted an offer for lunch and returned an hour later to friendly smiles, warm hospitality and the best meal we've had since leaving Grand Cayman.  
Our hosts in their "Kitchen"       The "Restaurant"
         
Lunch was two huge lobster tails each, canned beans and carrots, rice and beans, beer, coffee and mangos for dessert. The price was $7 each and a variety of cigars were offered. We chose a favorite of ours, Monte Cristo Numero 4 which were authentic and wonderful. We purchased two boxes for ten dollars each.  
    Photo Courtesy of C. Pritchard
  We walked about Trinidad and hired a horse carriage and driver for a tour which included a small pottery and one of the many Partigas cigar factories. There we spoke with the workers who rolled us fresh cigars to enjoy there. Again, I'm amazed at the friendliness and generosity of the Cuban people. They have little, but offer what little they have.
Photo Courtesy of C. Pritchard      
         
  We left Trinidad to the nearby harbor town of Casilda to secure a dock for next week for our voyage to the keyes and located a compressor to refill our scuba tanks.  
A "resident" behind the hotel at Casilda       The harbor at Casilda

We decided to drive to the mountains behind Trinidad to look for a waterfall we've heard of. Eventually we came to a large hospital which I believe is for terminal patients and followed a dirt road to a small house. Here, the residents told us the waterfall was only a twenty minute walk through the jungle.

As we began the walk we descended further and further down the mountains on a very poor, steep, rocky foot path. More than an hour later, we finally came upon the cascade, pouring water into a green pool which for a short while we had to ourselves.

With dark only an hour away, we stayed only a short while. The climb back up the mountain in the jungle heat was the most tortuous hike of my life. We could only climb one hundred yards at a time before we had to stop and gasp for breath. We left puddles of sweat every time we stopped and were forced into motion again after only a minute or two when the swarms of mosquitoes found us.

Finally near the car, an old woman called to me and invited us to her home for a rest. She served us glass after glass of ice cold mango juice which refreshed us far better than the hot jugs of water in the car which earlier, the mere thought of had provided me the motivation to keep moving up the mountain.

As we left the area, we asked directions of several people to Cienfuegos which were conflicting and we ended up completely lost. We passed through one small town after another with people pointing and waving to us to come to their home for dinner.

We finally found our way back to Cienfuegos late in the evening having traveled over one hundred kilometers out of the way.

After a shower and change of clothes we joined our local friends for the social life of the wall. We took turns running across the road for beers from "El Rapido", a Cuban form of a fast food restaurant and enjoyed the songs of a guitarist we met several nights before.

1998 John Petrak

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