Tuesday, 26 May 2015
The Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of industries) lies between the hills at the back of Trinidad and the Escambray mountain range beyond. It was formerly the location of sugar plantations worked by African slaves, which explains the strong influence of African culture in and around Trinidad today.
After breakfast, we set out on a walk into the hills behind the town. This involved walking up to the Plaza Mayor and then continuing along as straight as possible. We walked past a large hotel that was still under construction near the ruins of an old church, and up a litter-strewn path that passed by the entrance to an underground disco in a cave, which is a popular night spot. We greeted a man who was guarding the premises, and continued on. As the path ascended a series of hills dotted with low bushes, a panoramic view of Trinidad and surrounds began to open up behind us.
The path led to a TV transmission tower. The security guard there came out to meet us, but instead of shooing us away he segued into a tour spiel and took us around the back of the building to a mirador on the roof of an outbuilding that afforded panoramic views of the Valle de Ingenios and the the Escambray mountains beyond. He told us about the sugar industry and the slave trade and he pointed out features of the landscape including a railway line and factories and houses of well-to-do families. His spiel was well-memorised and he carried a guide book with pictures. His Spanish was tailored for tourists, so we understood a great deal of what he said. We had not counted on a tour that morning, but it was genuinely informative. We gave him a tip as we left.
On the way back down the hill, we inspected the ruins of the Spanish military building that our impromptu guide had pointed out to us. It was hidden amongst an outcrop of trees at the top of the hill with the remains of a cow scattered about nearby, and tell-tale signs of Santería.
After taking in the marvellous views, we returned to the casa, freshened up, and settled the account with our host. We then packed and went to a restaurant near the bus station where Susie had by chance heard some lovely singing the day before. We had to hang around a bit before the band was ready, so we ordered a couple of beers and browsed the menu. The service was so lax, however, that the waiter never bothered to take our order. This turned out quite well, as it happened, because it was the singing we were there for, and the food looked like the usual fare that was served in state-run restaurants. The band consisted of two guitars, a double bass, and a bongo drum. All the players sang in harmony, and they played romantic hits like Bésame Mucho. It was divine, and we obliged by buying a CD.
After settling the account at the bar, we made our way to the Parque Céspedes where the Etecsa office was located. We transferred some money to Clare’s account and checked our email. There was a brief message from our host in Playa Girón, so we knew they were expecting us.
From the Etecsa office we walked to the restaurant San José for one last meal. We chose to share two small dishes: a Cuban sandwich and plantains that had been fashioned into small cups and stuffed with Ropa Vieja. The latter was excellent. This paladar had been a real find.
After lunch we picked up our bags from the casa and bid farewell to our hosts in Trinidad. The old man of the house asked us where we were heading next, and when we told him, he opined that, whilst Playa Girón was of great historical significance, it was nevertheless feo (ugly).
We went to the Viazul office in the bus station, exchanged our booking confirmation for some tickets, and boarded the 4 p.m. bus that was heading towards Havana via the Zapata peninsula. The bus ride took us through Cienfuegos, which we had reluctantly struck off our itinerary at some point.
We arrived at Playa Girón about 6:45 p.m. On arrival, we asked if we could book our onward journey to Havana the following Saturday, but the advice was just to turn up at the bus stop between six and seven and hope for the best.
We were greeted at the bus stop by a bici-taxi driver who seemed to know the name of our hosts, so we went with him on the short ride to our casa. We had been corresponding with Ronel and Yvette, but our hosts were actually their neighbours, Julio and Lydia. The house was a pleasant, breezy bungalow with some attractive 1960s style architectural features out the front. We were shown to a heavily curtained room with a vast bed, an air conditioner, a fridge, a TV, a fan, a mile of cupboard space, and a nice bathroom attached.
Before long we were sitting down to our first oversize meal of fish with half a dozen different kinds of carbohydrate. There was a European couple staying there too. They were pleasant company and they gave us some useful tips about which beaches to visit in what order. We retired fairly early to our room, as the day had been a long one.