It was in Trinidad that I started to develop an allergy to Cuba’s most famous song, Guantanamera. If we heard one rendition of it during our trip, we heard it a thousand times. In Trinidad every bar and restaurant has live bands, which is wonderful, but each and every one seems compelled to play Guantanamera at least once. Does the government insist on its inclusion in every musical set?
Not that I should complain, it was a miracle that we were staying in Trinidad at all. We’d arranged our accommodation through the owners of the casa where we’d stayed in Cienfuegos and it hadn’t been easy. Trinidad, everyone said, was full. It had taken multiple phone calls and the help of friends of friends of friends to find a place at the Hostal Los Angeles.
When we arrived Zury, our friendly host, told us that a French couple had decided to stay an extra night in ‘our’ room. This happens a lot in Cuba. Not to worry, if we were happy to share the family’s bathroom we could stay in one of the family rooms. That seemed like the best deal we were going to get in Trinidad. While the room was cleaned we went to explore Trinidad’s time-warped cobbled streets.
Founded in 1514, Trinidad was one of the first colonial towns the Spanish built in Cuba, and despite the obvious modern additions of electric light and a few cars, not much seems to have changed since the 16th Century. It’s one of the best preserved colonial towns I’ve seen, with over a thousand colonial-era buildings still standing.
The maze of streets is filled with pastel-coloured houses with red-tiled roofs, grand mansions built from the vast fortunes made from the sugar trade and slavery, beautiful colonial churches and small plazas. Most of the streets are pedestrianised and you’re more likely to hear the sound of horses hooves on the cobbles than car engines.
In many ways, Trinidad is ahead of the curve in Cuba. Since the government legalised casas particulares and private restaurants they have sprung up everywhere in the country. For a small town, Trinidad has more that its fair share of both. There are at least 350 casas and numerous private restaurants offering interesting alternatives to Cuban standards. There are also plenty of rooftop bars to enjoy a sundowner.
Compared to many places we went, Trinidad offered a lot of eating choices. Since our casa only served breakfast (in a lovely garden), we had plenty of opportunities to sample what was on offer. Many restaurants are located inside fabulous colonial buildings or on roof terraces, which definitely adds to the ambience.
Despite the number of tourists staying in Trinidad, it doesn’t feel crowded. Until, that is, coach loads of all-inclusive, beach-dwelling, wrist band-wearing tour groups start arriving around midday. The colonial charm and peaceful atmosphere are shattered by the onslaught. Trinidad’s small centre suddenly feels swamped as guides recite anecdotes to groups in English, German, Russian, French, Spanish and Chinese.
There is a breathlessness about tour groups, a hectic moment of madness dictated by an unforgiving schedule. For Cuba, this is a taste of things to come. Tour groups don’t stay long, just enough time for some sight-seeing, a mojito and souvenir shopping before being herded back onto air conditioned buses. The streets become the preserve of residents and residing tourists once again by 5pm.
Just in time to head to a rooftop bar for a much deserved sundowner…and to listen to another rendition of Guantanamera.
Where we stayed in Trinidad:
Hostal Los Angeles,
Camilo Cienfuegos no. 270
e/ Antonio Maceo y Francisco Cadahia.
Tel. (53) 41 99 2698 (international) or (0141) 992698 (nacional)