Mas Tranquilo

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
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Trip End Mar 01, 2007


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Friday, January 26, 2007

Our casa in Trinidad is an oasis in the heat. Eumelia´s glowing description was justified. We are in one of two large rooms in a detached building a long and leafy courtyard from the main house. By Cuban standards it´s deluxe: AC, remote-controlled fan (with sleep function!), touch lamp, hot & cold water. We even have a crib.

The household proper gets its hot water from a tap off a small water heater in the backyard. For the tourists, the water is heated at the shower itself. This mechanism is better insulated than at Eumelia´s, where the threat of electrocution kept the hot showers brief and exciting. At one point the mechanism broke, so water was flowing over the terminating wires of what I originally thought was a 220V line. Yikes!

Breakfast, after the suspense of showering, is an unhurried experience in the courtyard: fresh-squeezed juice, a big bowl of chopped pineapples and papaya, industrial grade coffee, a pot of heated milk, chocolate condensed milk paste for the bread, scrambled eggs.... No one goes hungry.

Odalis's father Jorge prepares most of the breakfast. Once that's done, he enjoys a semi-retired existence, which involves quite a bit of chatting with their guests in the coutryard. During our stay, we have some relaxed (if poorly understood by me) conversations. Topics cover coffee harvesting in the surrounding mountains, the challenges of procuring stuff for running the casa and the history of the town. It should probably alarm everyone reading this that much of the information I narrate from my time in the country is acquired through similarly poorly grasped conversations. Jorge persists in talking to me, so I guess I must offer some level of diversion.

The author of the Lonely Planet book we´re using stayed here and told our hostess, Odalis, that it´s one of the best casas particulares in Cuba. But maybe he says that to everyone. The house dates from the 1870s, and shares the high ceilings, tile roofs and elaborate plaster door arches of most casas in Trinidad. All these lovely places with their lush inner courtyards lie hidden behind mostly non-descript housefronts that hug the sidewalks.

We tour one of the most opulent of these homes, now converted into the Museo Historico Municipal. Our lingering breakfast now means we´re caught in a river of tourists pouring out of the newly arrived tour buses, but this has one benefit -- we piggy back an excellent English-language guided talk.

Besides tourists, the house is full of marble floors and al fresco wall paintings. Spaniards shipped all the marble over from Italy, not realizing Cuba has its own plentiful and varied supply.

Julie aborts the attempt to climb the bell tower after the ascent to the first giftshop landing. Regardless of her acrophobia, the initial ascent would fail any safety standard back home. A Cuban woman at the shop offers to hold Jonathan so I can go up the three more sets of.... ¨stairs¨ isn´t really an aggressive or confined enough word for them. The final set to the 360 rooftop view is basically a permanent ladder.

Jonathan´s unhappy voice seeps into my contemplative landscape gazing. I abandon the lovely views of the town, sea and hills, but am stranded behind a sloth-like French group. By the time I je m´excuse my way to the first landing, the crying has retreated to the ground. Julie had assumed Jonathan was fussing with me, so is surprised to have a stranger Sherpa-ing him down the worst part of this set from "Vertigo".

I go back after we finish our eavesdropping of tours to offer the woman something for her troubles. Her firm refusal and our animated discussion about the pleasures of her own family is typical of the majority of Cubans you meet off the tourist circuit. But the museum employee who brings Julie a chair for breastfeeding (she looks like a weird demonstration exhibit, in front of the large bore canons as a tour group streams by) is only too happy to take a 10 Cuban peso note, about 40 cents.

One of the most awkward dances I perform as is tourist is knowing when a genuine expression of gratitude is enough, or a bit of money (and what kind and how much) is in order.
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