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Cuba – beyond Havana

24 September 2012 Cuba, travel stories 5 comments

What to do in Cuba: Ride a horse in Valle de los Ingenios

Once in Cuba it’s quite a shame not to visit other areas as wel,l besides Havana. And it’s not even that hard. The easiest is to rent a car, buy a map and renew your orientation sense, that is a bit atrophied in some by the GPS (road signs are pretty much rare in Cuba) and hit the road. The roads are reasonable, there’s even a highway, to tell the truth not in the best conditions, but with a relaxingly low traffic – you can go for kilometers without running into another car.

I found out that there are numerous car renting agencies in Cuba, all of them state-owned. I don’t quite understand why so many, bearing in mind that there is only one sole owner, but it doesn’t matter… They have numerous agencies all throughout Havana, but if you want to obtain offers from all of them, there’s no better place than the Habana Libre Hotel – the former Hilton from the period up to 1959. I went into the reception and I found all the rent-a-car agencies from Cuba beautifully aligned one after another. The offers are pretty uniform, although there may be one surprise in some agencies – either antique cars, or SUVs. The prices being a bit high though, I opted for a Peugeot 207, paying some 60 CUC daily…. well, that’s it.

The exit from Havana is however a challenge. The private landlord from Havana explained to me the way to get out of Havana, but the Minoic labyrinth was simpler to solve…so eventually, I reached the highway with the help of an old guy, who, after leading us to the highway asked us for no more and no less than 20 CUC …that is monthly average wage in Cuba. Hmmm…negotiation, we got away with less…and let’s hit the road.

The highway, like any other highways in the world is boring. Furthermore, it is also empty, from now and then passing by you can be a truck produced in USSR, a vintage American car or a tourist with a Peugeot…. By the way…in Cuba the plates have about 9 colors – it’s how you know if the car is private, owned by the state, by a state owned manufacturer or military. For foreign tourists – practically the only ones that rent cars in Cuba, the plates are burgundy so everybody knows there’s a gringo just passing by.

One of the advices I received was to take a hitch hiker out of the countless ones that stay at the crossroads to guide you. Here, you can get screwed. If the hitchhiker really goes in the direction that you want to go, then you are a made man, if not, he can guide you to the place he actually wants to go and claim that this was the way to Cienfuegos or Trinidad. That’s why you need a great orientation sense and a good map with you.

Finally, we arrive to Cienfuegos. The final destination was Trinidad, but it is not that bad to go to Cienfuegos as well, a pretty cute and lively small town. The commercial center is extremely animated and we had dinner at “El Rapido”, the Cuban version of the McDonald’s , only it doesn’t serve hamburgers…only pizza. Pizza is not really bad, so after a tour around the center we head to the Palacio de Valle, a palace build in the 1917s in a … moorish… style. Truth be told, among the palm trees the style fits, but it does seem transported from another world… Anyway, the view of the sea from the roof top is gorgeous and the sugar cane juice with lemon is magnificent, so it’s time to hit the road. Rush hour in Cienfuegos means that on the major boulevard, there are four cars, not two like until now and the correct direction was indicated to us at the exit of the town by a policeman that didn’t seem to have hidden interests.

We would have wanted to reach Trinidad across the mountains, but I understood that the road is pretty bumpy so we decided to spare our Peugeot and take the road down the valleys. Trinidad is a superb colonial town, it is on the UNESCO heritage world list, a small town which must not be missed by anyone who visits Cuba.  Obviously, this makes it more commercial, almost every house downtown is a “private house” and there are “paladares” everywhere – small restaurants, owned by private entrepreneurs, but restricted to 12 seats. If in Havana, these “paladares” are pretty commercial, in Trinidad they are actually in the houses of the owners…you feel like you are visiting somebody. Although usually the atmosphere is pretty relaxed, some shy marketing methods to gain clients did start to appear… around the main square in Trinidad in one evening, we were recruited by a black woman that was walking by with huge books full of testimonials of the customers in their own mother languages, the huge majority being appraisals…It’s true, that woman’s house was in a more worn down area of Trinidad, but if was worth taking the road there….the food was absolutely incredible and from there on, the Romanian language lies in the big book together with other dozens of languages, recommending the landlady…

What can you do in Trinidad? …well, first of all breath in the air of the colonial past and let yourself get lost on the small streets that are unchanged for hundreds of years. You can listen to music in any form or way at the numerous community centers. You can visit “the Museum of the Fight Against Banditry” in a former church. You can visit the houses of the old noblemen. You can go to the beach – playa Ancon with fine, white sand is only a few kilometers away and it’s one of the few places in the country where the locals can bathe next to foreigners. Truth be told, the transportation modality differs…the foreigners travel by car and the Cubans in a trailer pulled by a tractor, but does it even matter when the water is so pleasant ?

Trinidad developed due to the vast sugar cane plantations. I bought a tour out of Trinidad to Valle de los Ingenios. And it was an excellent day – I visited a tower that dominates all over the valley from where the lazy slaves were observed, I witnessed the ancient manual process of extracting the juice out of the sugar canes, I tasted sugar cane juice with lemon, I rode through out banana trees plantations, we took a bath in a pond, and finally, over dinner we listened to the voices of some minstrels from the next village, to the famous “Guantanamera” or “Comandante Che Guevara”…

From Trinidad, going further, we cut the island in two to reach the northern shore. We stopped a bit in Sancti Spiritus, the capital of the province where we relived the pre- 1989 frenzy of “they brought meat at the grocery store”, judging by the queues downtown and finally we reached the small town of Remedios. Here, we stayed also at a “private house”, at a guy that built a pretty modernist house, in comparison to what you find elsewhere in Cuba. As the town is small, the other alternative was to stay at the town’s witch, specialized in voodoo….

From Remedios, the most pleasant is to take the Cayo Santa Maria. The road of over 50 kilometers was built through the sea to tie to the continent a paradise island, now an “all inclusive” enclave for the foreign tourists. Actually, at the entrance on the road, the passports are controlled and only the foreigners and the Cubans with a permit can enter. And there is stuff to see… tens of kilometers on a road that crosses the sea through islets and mangroves. And what a pity that this road over the water affects the surrounding environment and the numerous crawfish can’t cross freely from one islet to another… but what matters the ecology when the “all inclusive” brings the so much wished for Euro in the island….

From Remedios, the closest city is Santa Clara. The city is famous and sung about in all the ballads and history books – here Che Guevara won over dictator Batista’s troops, also derailing the train that was transporting them with the help of a Caterpillar excavator. The fight only lasted 90 minutes and the few of Che’s barbudos won over 408 government troops on the December 29. 1958. Three days later, the Batista’s dictatorial regime, that was supported by the Americans collapsed and Fidel, Che and Camillo entered Havana, a city filled by the frenzy of liberation and victory.

After taking some pictures with the train and the victorious excavator, you cannot but notice that the public transportation is in fact provided by some carriages, pretty chic ones though, but even so, pulled by horses and the main amusement for the children in the main square is to ride in a mini-cart pulled by a male goat! But Santa Clara houses one of the dearest Cuban altars – the monument dedicated to Che where the remains of the Argentine hero rest, remains that were returned by Bolivia in 1997. Here as well are the remains of the 17 of Che’s brothers in arms that were also killed in Bolivia in 1967. In Cuba, the cult of Fidel is somewhat shadowed by the cult of Che and of Camillo Cienfuegos…”Seremos come el Che” is the slogan of the Cuban pioneers.

From Santa Clara, we reached the highway pretty fast. As the road was clearly heading to Havana, but the entry in the town wasn’t as clear, we took two hitchhikers, a couple in love…she was a military woman, he was a policeman …love and Revolution intertwine in Cuba, the small island that continues to defy for over 50 years the “Empire of Evil” up north.

Pictures of Cuba:

Cuba

They will be back! Cuban agents arrested in the USA

Cuba: The Moor Palacein Cienfuegos

The Moor Palacein Cienfuegos

Cuba: The Moor Palacein Cienfuegos

The Moor Palacein Cienfuegos

Cuba: Cienfuegos

Rush hour in Cienfuegos

Cuba

Shopping on the side of the street

Cuba: Cathedral in Trinidad

Cathedral in Trinidad

Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba: Breakfast in Trinidad

Breakfast at the private house in Trinidad

Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba: Valle de los Ingenios

Valle de los Ingenios

Cuba: Valle de los Ingenios

Valle de los Ingenios

Cuba: Producing sugar cane juice

Producing sugar cane juice

Cuba: Valle de los Ingenios

Riding safari :)

Cuba

Cuban and Romanian cowboys

Cuban singers

Guantanameraaaaaaaaa

Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba: Movie cinema hall in Trinidad

Movie cinema hall in Trinidad

Photos of Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba: Ancon beach

The Trinidadbus – Ancon beach

Cuba: Playa Ancon

Playa Ancon

Cuba

Production of cigars isn’t stalling!

Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Photos of Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad

Cuba

Could I say they’re not right?

Cuba: Sancti Spiritu

Sancti Spiritu

Cuba: Sancti Spiritu

The GPS in Sancti Spiritu

Cuba: Remedios

The private house in Remedios

Cuba: Cayo Coco

Cayo Coco

Cuba: Cayo Coco

Cayo Coco

Cuba: Cayo Coco

Cayo Coco

Cuba: Cayo Coco

Cuba: The main square in Remedios

The main square in Remedios

Cuba: Libertystatue in Remedios

Libertystatue in Remedios

Cuba: Public transportation in Santa Clara

Public transportation in Santa Clara

Cuba: Santa Clara

The goat- horse – the joy of children in Santa Clara

Cuba: Che’s monument in Santa Clara

Che’s monument in Santa Clara

Cuba

Che

Cuba

Che, Fidel and Camillo – hasta laVictoria, siempre!

Până acum există "5 comentarii" la acest articol:

  1. krossfire says:

    I want that sugar cane juice machine 😀

  2. Andreea C says:

    T minus 16 days till Cuba. What a great timing for your articles Cezar!

  3. Can says:

    Volverán = they will be back

    We will be back = volveremos :))

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