Thursday, 21 May 2015
Despite the conditions during our overnight bus trip from Santiago, Susie managed to get some sleep so she was in somewhat better condition than I was when we arrived at the bus station in Trinidad. I slept little because my seat was broken and this caused my arse to go numb. We tried to organise our luggage before facing the crowd of touts outside. A few had somehow managed to infiltrate the bus station, and it was interesting to see how they worked (in roughly the same way that a car accident is interesting).
Casa owners often meet their clients at the bus station. So we found beside us a young man calling Susie by name, saying he would take us to the casa. Susie had enough wits about her to enquire as to the address. He gave an address that we were not looking for. Susie surmised that he had simply read her name off the luggage label. He pressed us several times but each time Susie asked for the address, and he could not name it, so we knew we were dealing with a confidence trick (i.e. he was a jinetero). Finally he asked us which address we were looking for, but we knew better than to turn up to a casa with a jinetero in tow.
Outside the bus station, a persistent jinetera attached herself to us. Susie finally got rid of her by insisting firmly that Yo no quiero hablar con usted. It was hard to deal with the hassle in the heat after a sleepless night. Aggression requires some reserves. All I had was passivity and politeness, both of which are ineffectual in such situations.
Susie also had the wherewithal to memorise the directions to the casa. When we finally rapped on a door, an old man let us in. He asked us where we had learned Spanish, and when Susie replied en España, he responded with approval.
We were introduced to the woman of the house, Marcela, who showed us to our room, which was about 4m square with walls at least 5m high. The floor was paved with ceramic tiles and there were several enormous piece of furniture made of carved mahogany topped by marble. In the centre of the room stood a high double bed with an ornate brass foot and head that featured darkened paintings and women which, judging by the style, dated back to the late 19th Century. There was an opaque glass window near the roof and shuttered doors and windows that opened up onto a cloister surrounding an internal courtyard; and on the other side, there was a breezeway leading to a bathroom, and a sitting area finished with several rocking chairs. Save for an electric fan and a fluorescent bulb high above the bed, the room looked like it had not changed for a century.
The man about the house was a thin, greying Fin who spoke to us in English. We mentioned that we had to extend our tourist visas while we were in Trinidad, and he suggested we get onto that straight away, as queues and delays were par for course, and the immigration office was a little way out of town.
We took his advice and later that day we travelled to the office in a coco-taxi. There was a queue snaking out of the door, but when we joined it, a local asked what we were doing there, and when we told him, he suggested we did not belong in the queue and should instead enter the office directly. We did this, and we were able to quickly establish that we needed to return the following morning at 8 a.m. with two sets of stamps to the value of 25 CUCs each which could be purchased at a local bank. So we asked the taxi driver to take us there.
The taxi driver took us to the wrong bank. We joined a short queue and we were soon directed to the right bank which lay a few blocks away. We had to queue outside to join the queue inside, which involved holding out against would-be queue jumpers. At length we gained a ticket inside and waited for our number to be called. We purchased the stamps, which required us to show our passports. Outside the bank we tried to withdraw some cash from the ATMs but the connection was down.
Back in our local neighbourhood, we had lunch in a bakery/cafe where the food was very ordinary and where we were overcharged. We returned to the house for a rest in the afternoon, to try and catch up on some lost sleep from the previous night. Our host gave us a useful tip about where to dine.
When we emerged from the casa, we booked a day trip with Cubatur for the coming Saturday. Then we walked up hill to the main Plaza where we booked a table on the diminutive balcony of a restaurant called Los Conspiradores.
Before dinner we tried out the self-guided photography tour suggested in the Lonely Planet guide book. This took us past a building where an attendant ushered us into an art exhibition in which all the works were embroidered onto cloth (when it comes to creative arts, we never quite knew what to expect next in Cuba). He then led us up three flights of a narrow wooden staircase to a rooftop that afforded lovely views of the barrios on the western side of town, and the mountain ranges beyond. We could also see the highway to Cienfuegos snaking off into the distance, and we gained a much clearer sense of the layout of the city and surrounds.
After tipping our helpful guide, we walked around the less touristy part of town. Intense games of dominoes were unfolding at card tables on the street, which is where much of Cuban life unfolds. There was plenty of funky architecture; cobblestones; patched-together vehicles; horseshit; discarded pill packets, and children out and about. We saw one young man try out what looked like his first attempt at a rollerblading. He wobbled for three steps and then landed heavily on his arse, much to the amusement of his friends.
At length we wandered back to the central Plaza and took up our vantage point on the balcony where we spent the rest of the evening watching the world go by, sipping daiquiris and mojitos. There were at least three bands playing within earshot. Susie ordered her first lobster and I ordered a potaje of frijoles for starters and lamb cooked in red wine for the main. Later on we retired to a local cervezeria where the beers were a third of the price they were charging up the hill.