Caribbean Islands | Cuba | Las Villas | Trinidad – Dancing ducks
The old man waiter said that before the revolution, a big boat came to Trinidad from England. He was out ’til 4 in the morning every night drinking with the sailors ‘because I had to learn English,’ he said.
Bars built amongst ruins are popular in Trinidad. Often in the quiet afternoons, the bands would work out new songs. We liked that best, when they weren’t trying to impress, not doing Buena Vista covers. No passing the hat or trying to sell CDs. (Though the second day our peace was interrupted by a magician doing some crappy card tricks. He tried to sell us some’ magic boxes’ which weren’t very impressive. We gave him a dollar and he went away.)
We had tried the local internet café’, where we were met by a row of blank screens and staff who said ‘ma?ana’. Just as we were leaving we bumped into some friends from England. We hadn’t seen many foreigners in Playa Larga. It was kind of a shock. They seemed pretty miserable. They had not come to Cuba with any itinerary, and seemed to always find themselves in inedible restaurants and cockroach infested hotels. We had taken all our accommodation recommendations from Mr Beard; the only drawback to any of the ‘casa particulars’ we stayed in was that no one spoke English. But all of Mr Beard’s friends had clean, comfortable rooms and good food. (Email me if anyone wants details). We never saw a single cockroach. In Trinidad we had a lovely patio and a rooftop patio, with birds chirping, nice greenery, and white, wrought-iron rocking chairs. Apart from a neighbour beating his pig one afternoon, our accommodation was perfect serenity.
Sexton and I went off to find another Internet café which we never found, as instead we stumbled into the ‘Bar Las Ruinas de Segarte’ and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking mojitos. “one is good, two is better. And three…is the best!” said the old man waiter who had learned English from the sailors. I drew the band, much to their amusement.
The old man waiter made me dance (badly), then we met some locals just as we were leaving. It’s hard to tell what people are up to. Sometimes they are genuinely friendly. But more often than not they want something. One woman kept trying to get us to go stay at her house even though we already had a place to stay. (Trinidad is the top place for Casa particulars since it is so old and well preserved.) They wanted us to meet them later but my two bloody useless phrase books had nothing for ‘perhaps’ or ‘maybe’, so all we could say was that we had to meet our English friends (‘amigos Inglaterras’) somewhere first.
The Casa de Musica, off the main square, seems to be the hub of activity. It’s big with many outdoor tables on different levels, going up like steps. Much drinking and dancing, and good mix of Cubans and foreigners. It’s amazing how many nerdy looking tourists are great dancers. They must take lessons before going on holiday. Gina and I had a go at joining in, and were soon banished to a dark, side section of the outdoor club, which must have been for learners. After I turned the wrong way too many times, my ‘teacher’ gave up, and I headed to the bar.
I could never tire of Trinidad at night. Peering into people’s houses quickly became a favourite pastime. You can’t tell what is a museum and what is a home. 19th century rooms with high backed, dark wood chairs, high ceilings, and big mirrors. People have their shutters open because its so hot. Floor-to-ceiling sized windows have bars in them and people sit there, in the windows, like exhibits in cages, in rocking chairs or watching tv (cartoons) or with neatly made beds behind them.
One place seemed to have a bed with a sheet covering it like a curtain, and lots of dolls. They are doll crazy here; dolls were everywhere. Black ones, white ones, old fashioned dolls, dolls wrapped in plastic, voodoo dolls and innocent baby dolls. Dolls for children or as untouchable ornaments hanging on a wall.
And then there was voodoo. In the ‘Temple Santeria’, a black doll in a white wedding dress sat like a mummy in an old, high backed chair. We often saw a picture of an eye over a doorway. Sexton said that in Ameris’ house in Playa Larga, over my head at the dinner table, there was an eye and a tongue with dagger through it. How did I miss that?
Our favourite ‘bar’ in Trinidad soon became the farmyard. Anyone who knows how we like waterfowl will only have to hear they have free range Cuban ducks dancing salsa and you’ll know why we loved it. Just two planks of wood set up perpendicular for seats, and a band at the end, who were good ’til they went out of tune and out of time. But they looked good and some were octogenarian, and prolly deaf anyway. Afro-Cuban style music and no ‘Buena Vista’ this time, hooray. A friendly girl with corn rowed hair compared tattoos and piercings with me, though, as usual, conversation was somewhat limited due to my lack of Spanish. Then we saw what we thought was our fist Cuban punk, a badly dressed guy with a mohican. He seemed to know all the locals, but he turned out to be from Boston. He had a Chinese passport though he looked even less Chinese than Cuban. He was born in 1980something, prompting Sexton to make some reference to 1977 and how he (Sexton) was there in the real punk era.
Tips for traveller: Cuba is too hot in May. Never expect exactly what your order on the menu. And whatever you do, don’t lose your soap. It will be very hard to replace. Don’t pack diarrhoea pills at the bottom of your rucksack; you never know when you might need them, and if you have to go digging to the bottom of your pack in a bumpy 1928 truck you will certainly lose your soap in the process. And, most of all LEARN SPANISH. It is essential for travel in Cuba.
The next day we started feeling fed up with the heat (lying in our air-conditioned room from 2-4 PM – no other choice), my bad guts, itchy mosquito bites and having to put on either sun screen or insect repellent before going anywhere (maybe Trinidad didn’t have mosquitoes but we weren’t taking any chances). We were fed up with not speaking Spanish, and had a big hassle not finding soap (shopkeeper pointing to another shop. Other shopkeeper pointing back to first shop). We lost our brilliant Footprint map, which I had stupidly ripped out of the guidebook. Every street in Trinidad has 2 names; Footprint went to the trouble of putting both on its map. But the maps you buy in Trinidad have the OTHER street name, not the one that is actually on the signs. This drove us insane for the rest of our stay. At least the internet café was working, albeit too slow to get on worldsurface.com.
Things started to improve the next day, after diving at Playa Ancon, down the by the sea from Trinidad. I went diving with an instructor called Miguel who had curly hair all over his body, even his back, and one called Igor who had no hair. The diving was organised by Germans and was slightly more expensive than with Mr Beard or Felix, plus I had to carry and clean my own equipment. The diving itself was just as good, though, with amazing fish and reef life, and a shipwreck. There were two French guys on the first dive (they were enormous, proving that Sexton’s excuse of being too fat to dive is absurd). They had torches and went straight for the moray eel as soon as we got under water. We saw a ‘coffer fish’ which was amazing, too.
There was a lovely white sand beach, and I had a little swim while Sexton rested. But just as we sat down for a quiet drink outside the hotel, some piped in music and an MC came on really loud telling us we are going to learn salsa. Two people wearing ‘entertainment staff’ t-shirts started dancing and load of French tourists joined in. Sexton looked really pissed off. Back to Trinidad….
The other drawing is the Bodeguita de Trinidad, a quiet bar, playing what seemed like 30s or 40s era music – on what must have been a radio as there was talking in between. Shock of shocks it sounded like news – we caught words like ‘Colin Powell’ and ‘Palestine’. Luckily we couldn’t understand exactly what Mr Powell was doing, so our holiday continued uninterrupted by world events. My drink tasted like a London cocktail party after the mixers run out – rum and rum, it think it was, the bar’s speciality.
Another place we went to: ‘Sol y son’ restaurant – debatable in guidebooks whether its the best restaurant in Cuba or overpriced. Old furniture and thermometer saying 88 ONLY 88? (33 C)..It felt like a million degrees, even at 8 PM. Nice little courtyard. Great antiques, decent food. Maybe the best restaurant but you can get better food in peoples houses.