|Caught the 8:20am bus for the 5 hour journey to Trinidad passing through both cultivated farm land and scrub country on the journey. Arriving at about 1:30pm the bus was met by an army of touts offering `Casa Particulars` accommodation in private homes - luckily we had pre-arranged accommodation through our `Casa Particular` host in Habana so Jesus, our Trinidad host, was waiting for us at the bus terminal. We were situated only a couple of minutes walk away through the cobbled streets to our Casa - very well situated in the Old Centre and close to the main town square, Plaza Mayor, the centre of town. Our Casa also came with a roof-top deck beneath overhanging mango trees (could eat as many mangoes as we liked) and wonderful views of the town - a wonderful location to appreciate a late afternoon Cubra Libre or two, catch up with diary entries or read a book and appreciate the setting sun.
Brief History of the Region:
In 1514, the first governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez, founded Trinidad, the island's third town (after Baracoa and Bayamo in the east), near the mouth of the Arimao River, an area with a native settlement called Guamuahaya.
A few months later the neighboring town of Sancti Spíritus was founded. Hernán Cortez, the conqueror of Mexico, recruited men from these two settlements to carry out the expedition that started from the Guaurabo River in Trinidad in 1518. This event would be repeated during the 17th and 18th centuries when the town's economic stability depended on trading contraband with pirates. The naval forces of the British Caribbean Fleet tried to invade Puerto de Casilda in Trinidad in 1797, but they were repelled. This port began to import merchandise from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, and tobacco became the region's most important crop, cultivated using slave labor.
This scene changed late in the 18th century when Trinidad became the capital of the island's Departamento Central, and when hundreds of French fleeing the slave revolution in Haiti came here looking for refuge. These colonists immediately began to produce sugar cane. They baptized the northeastern valley of Trinidad Valle de los Ingenios, Valley of Ingenuity. The abundant profits of cane cultivation displaced other products and financed urban development. In 1797 there were 56 sugar mills and 12000 slaves imported to work the cane fields.
The sugar industry was damaged by the Wars of Independence in the 19th century and by the end of slavery. Lots of cane plantations were devastated or abandoned. Core sugar production moved to Matanzas, Villa Clara and Cienfuegos, which became the most important cities of the region. During the years of the Republic, Trinidad suffered the same economic fortunes as the island as a whole, with periods of crisis and periods of recovery. Meanwhile, the sugar and coffee industries were modernized, the population grew and new urban zones developed out from the colonial center. Today only a few sugar cane mills and estates are in operation.
The greatest attraction in Trinidad is the town itself and in 1988 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety. The town's cobblestone streets - so uneven - are a treasure of small and grand colonial homes, churches, and quiet squares.
We spent most of the time wandering the old centre photographing street scenes and colonial architecture and visited a couple of grand old mansions that sported towers with views overlooking the town. One afternoon took a stroll to the ceramics area where a whole range of terracotta pots, wall mounted lamps and mobiles were made and fired.
One day we took a tour of the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), as it turned out we were the only punters on board and our tour guide/driver was a real wag. We had a great day visiting one of the old sugar estates, Manaca-Iznaga; the old manor house (Casa Hacienda) remains and is now a tourist restaurant; but the main attraction is the 45m (148-ft.) high pointed tower, built in 1845, which has spectacular views of the surrounding area. Apparently a huge bell once hung here and tolled for the toiling slaves in the fields, signaling the beginning and end of their working days.
Moved onto another old Hacienda for a walking tour of the banana plantation plus the other crops (mangoes, guiaba, frijolas) grown here; the cultivating of the fields is still done but bullock teams pulling a single blade plow. We were escorted around by a great old guy who seemed to have a close attachement with the place, and knew all of the crops being grown, gave us mangoes to eat, and generally appreciated the fact that we were interested in the farming, cropping etc. He showed us the type of sweet potato they grow and when we passed by his house, he ducked inside and returned with a sample for us to eat - hot and very nice. The other amazing thing was a big cauldron of tomato salsa simmering away over a fire in his back yard. Must have been 30 litres in the open topped pot, and it tated quite good too. He bottles it each year in stubbies and said it will keep for years! He even introducerd us to his 90 year old mum, which was a nice gesture....
Had a great lunch here on the verandah of the Hacienda and was entertained by a local group playing typical cuban music. These guys were real characters, and obviously knew our driver quite well, so played up a treat. They came back some of the way to Trinidad with us and the carrying on continued with the lead singer going though a few classics in his broken english - like 'Hey Jude' and Fernando (Abba). All good fun and a great day!
Trinidad was a great place to chill and re-energise for our next adventure - driving a hire car in the Pinar Del Pio province, prime tobacco growing area. Stay tuned......