The best of Cuba

Trip Start May 11, 2011
Trip End May 23, 2011

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We flew back to Havana and took a five hour bus to Trinidad. The countryside fluctuated between lush and green and dry and barren. The amount of Cuba utilised for farming is a proof of the large scale operation of producing almost everything themselves. The signs and billboards promoting and celebrating the revolution now fifty years later are interesting and it's also nice to see that it is equalled by just as positively passionate graffiti. The signs of 'Patria o muerte’ (patriotism or death) are the most confronting and I wonder in what context they are intended to be read.

We meet a couple of American brothers on the bus who were both medical students at different stages in their residencies (one studied at Harvard and the other at Stanford!). They had both studied a bit in Latin America (Nicaragua and DR) so had decent Spanish and one also spoke creole from just finishing 8 months in Haiti. They were posing as Canadians for logistical purposes and we shared our experiences with poorer countries. They had some good new perspectives from the point of view of health systems where Cuba comes out shining ahead of a lot of the rest of the world (developed and undeveloped). We discussed a lot the situation of Cuba and shared conversations we had had with locals. It was interesting to hear that back around the time of the revolution, The Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba were all in a very similar economic and development place so they are fantastic comparisons to show just what the revolution has achieved and in some respects prevented. The more I experience, see and hear the more I get frustrated with the negative protrayal of Socialist Cuba. I can understand why the USA is threatened and pissed off with the revolution but it’s a true shame and makes a lot of the world ignorant of a very important system of government and an amazing system of equality and equal opportunity. Plus an excellent lesson in sustainability from the only country in the world identified as fully sustainable. Plus it's worth mentioning that the vast majority of Cubans think very highly of Castro and the good things he has done are undeniable.

Anyway... we warned the Americans about the hustlers who awaited us at the bus stationin Trinidad and since they had no plan of attack they agreed to come with us to our recommended casa particulare and get a further recommendation for themselves. We were utterly mobbed outside the station, with a mob of about twenty or so illegal casa owners and taxi drivers who literally swarmed around us yelling and shouting. It was hilariously ridiculous and far more intense than anything else I’ve experienced. Through the chaos I managed to negotiate one peso bicycle-taxi fares for the four of us to escape the mob. Our recommended casa was full but the lady showed us to another, equally nice, casa just down the street and we promised to come back one night for a seafood barbeque. We had the most delicious meal imaginable at the casa including a massive lobster each! So cheap.

Our first day in Trinidad we hired a driver to visit the Valle de Los Ingenios where there are some scattered remains of old Sugar Mills. We climbed an old guard tower that was used to keep an eye on the slaves and afterwards we visited a couple of old haciendas converted into restaurants or small museums.

We then went to Playa Ancon on the southern coast, a true white sand, crystal blue water Caribbean beach. We swam, ate, drank, lazed, swam, got sunburnt and then headed back to town three hours later. The blueness of the water is incredible. I’ve grown accustomed to the crystal clear water of the Caribbean, but in Cuba it just seems so unbelievably blue as well.

That night we wandered around the town just after the sunset, chatting with people and enjoying the easy going atmosphere of the town with the old cobbled streets and only very occasional car. Kids played soccer in the streets, Cubans sat on the doorsteps and artists and musicians sat around the squares. It is a wonderful town and deserves its must-see reputation. We stopped by the bus terminal and watched the same bus we had caught come in. We talked and laughed with the same mob members from the day before and it was great to see the friendly Cubans underneath the mob. We returned back to the casa and played dominoes with beer and rum on the rooftop balcony. We headed for our previously promised barbeque fish, which was a huge red snapper shared between two. Another delicious and cheap meal.

The next day the Americans headed back to Havana and Dave and I took another driver out to Topes de Callantes a small town with some hiking trails to waterfalls. We took the most popular and came close to dying on the 1hr uphill return. The heat was intense and the sweat was pouring from us. However, the waterfalls and beautiful swimming holes were probably worth the pain. However, full day hikes back in Australia have never wiped me out like that hike did. Back in Trinidad, we showered, slept and lazed about till dinner.
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