Monday, 15 May 2017

Cruising the Carribean, snorkeling, and meeting iguanas

Having shivered all night due to an over zealous air conditioning unit I was really looking forward to spending the day under the hot Cuban sun. What better way to do that than to cruise on a catamaran across an impossibly blue, sparkling,  Caribbean sea. While most of our group of 12 had elected to go hiking, four of us opted for this cruise as an ideal way to spend our free day. Leaving from Marina Trinidad, about 20 minutes from the town, the boat was taking us to Cayo Blanco, a small reef island famed for the quality of it's diving and snorkeling.

With about 30 people aboard  the large catamaran we sailed out through green bushy headlands and onto a completely flat ocean.  After each claiming  a spot aboard we lay back to relax, chat, enjoy our surroundings and listen to the piped, toe tapping Cuban music.  This was the Caribbean and it was as perfect as I could have imagined.

Our catamaran at Cayo Blanco. The beaches there aren't great but the snorkeling and wild life are fantastic. (photo: Lynelle House)


What a perfect way to spend a day


















After around two hours we arrived at Cayo Blanco.  Some people opted to land on the island but most stayed aboard to travel to a good snorkeling spot.  I love snorkeling, I love being immersed in that dreamy other world under water and here the quality of the coral and tropical fish was thrilling to say the least. After a good half hour in the water we headed back to the island for a lavish seafood, buffet lunch, served by the boat crew.
Snorkeling in a pristine sea.  Me in the middle, back to the camera  (photo: Lynelle House)
  Then it was time to relax before the homeward journey. I was idly watching a group of hermit crabs scurrying about when one of our group  said "Come and see this"  As I rounded the corner I saw several large and very tame iguana sitting on the restaurant deck, making themselves quite at home and waiting for the leftovers of our lunch.   I was thrilled. I had never seen iguana before and they were so calm, so tame, we were able to get within inches of them.  They were the perfect icing on the cake of a wonderful day.



There were thousands of hermit crabs, all climbing over each other


It was thrilling to spend some time with the tame iguanas on the island

Then it was time for the return trip.  It had been glorious hot, sunny weather all day so the crew set up sunshades over the decks for people to rest under and before long everybody  was  relaxed and sleepy, some snoozing quietly.

Playa Ancon
Once ashore we were met at the marina by our tour bus driver who drove us the short distance to the lovely golden sands of Playa Ancon, said to be the best beach on Cuba's southern coast.  The rest of our group was there sunbathing and swimming, so we joined them to share stories of our day as a brilliant sun slipped gently towards the horizon.

Lovely end to a brilliant day (photo: Lynelle House)

  The large resort hotel on the beach looks impressive at first glance but take a closer look and it is run down with broken toilets, cracked and weedy walkways and a general air of neglect.   Cuba is so short of money that keeping  infrastructure in a good state of repair and maintaining assets is not seen as a pressing priority.  It is just as well the island's beauty makes up for it.  We had had a marvelous day, felt completely relaxed and content and were well pleased with our choice to cruise the Caribbean.


Right: Thumbs up from our guide, Omar.  I asked him if it was OK to put his photo on this blog. He said it was, as long as it made him look good!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Trinidad, Cuba - Experience life 200 years ago

It is 7am and I am sitting on the rooftop terrace of my Casa Particular in Trinidad.  The view is down a narrow lane and out to sea.  The sun is rising and bathing the brightly coloured casas lining the street in a golden glow.  Two roosters are calling to each other from neighbouring properties and a dog is barking far enough away to not be annoying.   I can look right down into tiny courtyards as families bustle about making breakfast or hanging washing on lines, their conversations floating up on the still air. A  horse towing a small cart clip clops over the cobble stones and a passing vendor selling bread calls out for buyers. I am captivated.  It is as if I have been transported back a couple of hundred years and in reality I have been.


View from our Casa

Settled by Spanish explorers in 1514 Trinidad has had a colourful history, from its origins as a small farming community to a hideaway for smugglers and pirates and then as a centre for the booming sugar milling industry of the 19th century.  When the sugar industry was decimated, due to conflicts and fires during the war of independence, the town became a rural back water, largely unknown and ignored by the rest of Cuba. One of the few good things President Batista did was to pass a preservation law  in the 1950s in order to maintain Trinidad as an historical site.  Today it has UNESCO world heritage status and is considered to be one of the best preserved, and least altered, historical towns in the Americas.
A Trinidad taxi
If you have anything to sell you sell it from your front room
The best thing to do in Trinidad is to just  stroll.  The locals love to be out on the street, or sitting on their doorsteps, so there is always something colourful to see.    Make sure you wear flat, comfortable shoes, though, the ancient cobblestones are uneven and challenging to walk on.  All the streets in town lead  to Plaza Mayor where there are some fine examples of French colonial architecture.  There is also a craft market to the side of the square. 

Doing the mending

Dominoes is a popular pastime




















At night Plaza Mayor becomes a lively hub for the town with $2 mojitos served from a hole-in-the-wall bar and crowds of locals and tourists mingling and chatting.  We had a great time hanging out there but it was also where we saw an unpleasant side of the local bureaucracy.  Our delightful and totally professional guide, a black Cuban, was approached by the police and questioned.  He was asked for his identity card and his details were rung through to headquarters.  When all details checked out he was left to continue his evening.  He told us later that this happens all the time.  He thinks it is because he is black and that the authorities are suspicious as to why he is hanging out with foreign tourists.  Later in the evening more police entered the square. Fortunately our guide spotted them coming and quickly removed himself from our group in order to avoid more hassles. We all felt bad for him and were a bit subdued after this incident. It had burst our happy 'tourist' bubble a little and shown us the dark side of an authoritarian government.
Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

Plaza Mayor becomes a fun and lively gathering place in the evenings
 It was in Trinidad, at Cafe Jazz, that I had my best meal in Cuba,  lobster with a delicious sauce all for the price of a cheap hamburger in New Zealand.  The entertainment was great too with a cool singer crooning well known jazz standards in both English and Spanish.


Late in the evening a few of us decided to make our way back to our casas  and got horribly lost, no hardship, though, because the streets are so picturesque it really seemed to be a shame to be heading home to bed anyway. We noticed the streets had water running down the centre of them.  When we asked our guide about this he said that it is the waste water from the houses which is released every evening, it is the drainage system that has been in place for 200 years.

Warm glow at sunset
Trinidad's primitive drainage system




















I highly recommend Trinidad if you want to experience a town almost frozen in time.  It is  picturesque, quaint and charming but this also means there is little infrastructure for today's modern lifestyles.

Here are my recommendations for Trinidad:

ACCOMMODATION: Casa Carmen Y Pupito - spotlessly clean, wonderful, kindly hosts, good location and excellent breakfast.  I would stay there again
DINING: Trinidad Jazz Cafe - Great ambience in a lovely building, attentive and friendly service, delicious food, inexpensive

I am also on Facebook @ A Wandering Widow - Solo Travel  I'd love to see you there.