Saturday, 22 March 2008

Round the World Five - Day 17 (Sat, 22 Mar)

Itinerary: Private transfer from Havana to Trinidad. Your driver and guide will take you via Cienfuego, a town worth a short visit. On arrival in Trinidad you will be taken to your hotel for two nights - the Iberostar Gran Hotel, junior suite (no website found). The Iberostar Gran Trinidad Hotel is a five star hotel located in the center of Trinidad city, the third town founded by DiegoVelázquez and whose rich historical, cultural and artistic value was declared UNESCO Heritage of Mankind in 1988. This city is considered as the best-preserved colonial city in Cuba. Gran Trinidad Hotel has 40 rooms (36 standard rooms and 4 junior suites) is only for adults (over 15 years). The rooms overlook the main square and they have furniture specially designed in combination with the elegant and colonial style of this city. There is a Tourist Steam Train from Trinidad to the Sugar Mills Valley - Valle de los Ingenios, Cuba. Explore Valle de los Ingenios near Trinidad, by fantastic old steam train dating from 1906. Picturesque striking green Valle de los Ingenios was once centre of the sugar and slaves trades, home to the plantations that brought prosperity to Trinidad region in 18th centuries. Nowadays steam train is a main tourist attraction. The train track is incredible through small tunnels and over few huge bridges, right through the sugar cane fields to the hacienda of Pedro Iznaga at Manaca, even continuing to the colonial hacienda Guachinango. Today sugar mills and other remnants are visited by tourists who are attracted by the history of slavery and the beauty of the valley. The main site is the remarkable Manaca Iznaga Tower, that was used by one of the wealthiest men in Cuba, Pedro Iznaga to watch over his African slaves. Rumbos operates the Historic Steam Train, tel:419-6495. Departing daily from Trinidad at 9:30am and returning at 2pm costs $CUC10 round trip.

It´s three o´clock in the afternoon and I´ve just arrived in Trinidad, near Cuba´s southern coast after an interesting 4 hour drive from Havana. It appears the Sugar Mills Railway may not be operating. The hotel is trying to confirm. So far, the hotel appears excellent. More below.

I got up early at the Saratoga in Havana and packed ready to leave for Trinidad. Good Breakfast in the Anacoada Restaurant, then I determined to go back to Casa Blanca. Old Havana isn´t particularly clean. This morning I passed an industrial size wheelie bin standing in one of the squares, with most of the rubbish in plastic bags (or not) on the ground. A couple of people were turning over the contents, looking for useful things. There´d been more rain overnight so some of the streets were a bit muddy. There´s usually at least one pavement but they´re often narrow and with all sorts of obstructions. I reached the ferry jetty, passed through the security inspection and stood in line waiting for the ferry to arrive. It was called ´300 Anniversio´ (dunno, I must look up my Cuban history).

Like a lot of countries, construction in Cuba often uses bits of metal welded together. I was intrigued that the superstructure of the ferry seemed to be rectangles of plate, only about 2 feet by 1 foot, welded together like a brick wall. The welding varies from excellent to poor. You can usually find flame cut raw edges on things. I couldn´t see whether the hull was the same construction but it didn´t sink when I was on it, so that´s all right.

We made the crossing in bright morning sun but still pleasantly cool. Next to the ferry there´s a run down electrified railway line. Yesterday, I couldn´t decide whether it was still in use but, today, there´s an antique 3-car electric train standing there and a dozen or so passengers waiting for the doors to open. Apparently, this was the 8.35 to Matanzas. I hadn´t time to try it out, so I walked up the hill away from the ferry, ignored the main part of the town, and carried on up the hill past the old fortifications to the statue of Christ in Havana. Not as large as the famous one in Rio, but quite impressive and with splendid views across Havana Bay. I caught a glimpse of the electric train leaving, then retraced my steps to the ferry.

Another staple of Cuban building is ´Rebar´ - reinforcing bar, the round steel rod used the world over to reinforce concrete. In Cuba, they use this stuff for everything. Many of the window grilles on buildings are made from rebar as are gates and all sorts of things. Two straight parallel bars with a ´wiggly´ bar welded between them form a simple truss. I found these used as roof purlins but I was amused that, if a roof truss got in the way, they would simply cut away part of the purlin to clear it, weakening the purlin and leaving raw ends on the rebar. I also saw rebar trusses embedded vertically in the columns of concrete buildings. You only know they´re there when the concrete crumbles away, exposing the reinforcing. The ferry jetties are mainly reinforced concrete. These are crumbling away as well so you need to check your footing quite carefully when getting on and off.

I´m not sure how extensive the piped water system is, but there are plenty of water tankers threading their way through some of the narrowest streets.

Back at the Saratoga, there was just time for a shower and check-out before I was picked up by a taxi driven by a young lady with passable English. We headed through the city North then took the road tunnel which crosses the narrow strip of water joining Havana Bay to the Caribbean. There are two 2-lane tunnels which lead to the main dual-carriageway road to the East. The two carriageways have a wide, grassed central reservation, with rectangular beds of flowering bushes at regular intervals. Much prettier than ´Armco´! Each carriageway is a broad strip with little in the way of road markings accommodating at least four lanes plus a hard shoulder. It´s more like driving down an airfield runway. I suspect this was a Russian project, from the time when Russia was investing heavily in Fidel´s regime.

My driver was not hanging about, maintaining 140 kph most of the way (the limit is 110). This is quite adventurous, because in many places the road surface is badly broken up, so you either have a punishing attack on the vehicle suspension or a sudden swerve to find a better surface. We did both. The road´s not exactly busy. There were less than 3 vehicles a minute going in the opposite direction and, since we were overtaking everything on our side, we passed about 3 vehicles a minute. We stopped at a ´services´ and drove to the tyre place. My driver had the spare ´pumped up´ but seemed unconcerned about the lack of tread on the rear wheels. We stopped at the next services and I got my driver a coffee - very strong, small cup, chocolate sprinkled on the top. I stuck to orange juice. At the washroom, you are issued with a bit of toilet roll by the attendant, in exchange for a suitable coin. The stalls had very low doors, reminding me of some school toilets.

We turned off the main road and headed for the regional capital of Cienfuegos. It all became much more rural and there were almost as many horses and cart or horse drawn taxis as motor vehicles. Large hoardings appeared again with various political exhortations. One was painted to look like a computer ´screenshot´ with a alert box saying, roughly, ´George Bush Genocide Plan Delete´ then ´Confirm Delete´ (except that, in Spanish, ´Delete´is ´Eliminar´, which sounds far more threatening). I think we took the by-pass because I only saw dreadful, modern multi-storey flats and the University Campus, before we were on our last leg running over hills then along the South Coast of Cuba where there are a number of resorts before turning inland to our destination, Trinidad. 347 km in just four hours, including stops.

Trinidad is a low-rise colonial town. My hotel forms one side of the town square - traditional outside but quite nicely modernised inside. My suite is well-appointed and overlooks the square. After a shower, I explore on foot. Yes, it is charming but sadly dedicated to the hundreds of tourists milling around (French, German, Japanese - I didn´t see many obvious English). I know I´m a tourist, too, but there´s only one of me and I´m quite quiet. I think of Heisenberg´s Uncertainty Principle which states that an observed system is changed by the observation. The act of visiting to see this colonial town has, inevitably, changed it. The market today sells only craft items: the shops sell postcards and souvenirs: the square is full of air conditioned tour buses.


Iberostar Grand Hotel.
Trinidad, Cuba.