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Cuba Libre: Trinidad
The 8 hour bus ride to Trinidad was pretty uneventful, as the road is pretty flat and straight. We passed a lot of farm land and occasionally parts of the southern coast. There were just two notable sites along the way: Playa Giron (a.k.a. the Bay of Pigs), which Castro and Kennedy made famous in 1961, and Cienfuegos, where tourists can enjoy a little of the beach and a bit of the outdoors. I had initially planned on stopping through Cienfuegos after Trinidad, but my plans quickly changed after the events that night.
My first casa particular
I arrived in Trinidad at 2:30 as planned and was eager to experience my first casa particular. Peter and Frank were staying at a casa near the Plaza Mayor, and there should have been someone waiting for me at the terminal, but I instead found my way to the casa on my own by foot. Margarita and her husband Roberto greeted me warmly and showed me my lovely room set in a courtyard. The room was spacious with its own bathroom with a hot water shower. There was a kitchen just for guests that was separate from the kitchen for the family. The resident dog (a part German shepherd) served as our guard at night. This being my first taste of a casa particular, I must say I was spoiled. Not all casas resemble mine, nor do they have such nice, accommodating and helpful hosts. Casas particulares can only (by law) host two separate guests in two rooms. The families that host them pay a steep tax, but get paid in convertibles rather than the local national currency (which is 20 times less expensive).
The Plaza Mayor
Peter and Frank were out and about, exploring the steam train that took them to the Valle de los Ingenios, an hour east of Trinidad. I left them a note and took off toward the old part of the city, which is situated around Plaza Mayor. Trinidad as a colonial city is pretty cute, with cobblestone streets and colorful homes. It reminded me of a more colorful version on Barichara, a small town in Colombia. Aside from the church and some mildly informative museums and towers with nice vistas of the city and its surroundings, there's not much to speak of in terms of things to do (other than shopping).
Almost immediately I spotted Peter's recognizable backpack and we were promptly reunited at the Museo de la Lucha Contra Banditos. I accompanied the two of them as they did some last minute souvenir and gift shopping in town. Frank bought some a really cool fish carved from a bull's horn, and Peter bought a cool Afro-Cuban mask made out of wood.
Lobster dinner in an unofficial (illegal) paladar
We returned to the casa and readied for dinner at an unofficial paladar that they had made a reservation at for our last dinner together. By the time we made it to the paladar, Frank and I were pretty buzzed, as I had brought with me what I had left of our stash of Havana Club rum from Habana. We each ordered the lobster dinner and enjoyed our unofficial paladar meal tremendously.
After dinner we went to the open stage by the Plaza Mayor to listen to live music. After one kind of dreary set, Frank discovered the official Casa de la Musica, which was situated just above where we were sitting. We sat down at a table and watched as a band set up for their concert. When they finished with the sound check I overheard that they wouldn't begin playing until midnight, but confirmed with one of the band members (the cutest one, mind you) to make sure of their start time. He and I started talking, and I asked him as many questions I could think of to keep him conversing. His band had traveled from Santiago to Trinidad just for this concert, and would be leaving the next morning (Saturday) at 9:30. The band's name is "Suena Cubano" and they've actually played abroad in Mexico (all over the country for two months) and Italy (Milan for a few weeks). I was excited to hear them play, but we returned to the open stage for an hour, where an Afro-Cuban band and dance team played to pass the time. Meanwhile, Peter, Frank, and I drank several "canchanchara's," a local drink that is made of lime, vodka, and honey – quite tasty!
Midnight was almost upon us and we returned to the casa, where I talked some more with the band member. I learned his name was Odernis and he has been playing with Suena Cubano for six of its eight years of existence. He plays the guiro, which is a percussive instrument made of a dried gourd. There are 12 members in the band, and they play mainly salsa and son music. He told me his band traveled a great deal around the country and hoped to travel abroad even more. (I told him that, as a travel writer, I would try my best to promote him and his band). He said that only a few Cubans are allowed to travel – mainly just doctors, business professionals, artists, and musicians. The host country must sponsor their visit, pay for their travel expenses, along with their accommodations and food, and explain the request.
Suena Cubano singing "Cuidado, Cuidado"
The music started soon after, and the band was stellar. It turns out Odernis plays the guiro and also raps for certain numbers. I must say I was immediately smitten by him, as he was not only an attractive Afro-Cuban that could dance, but he honestly looks like a smaller version of Kobe Bryant! (Even Frank and Peter agreed that if they were women they would dig him!). The band played several different numbers – most fast, some slow, but almost all of them were danceable. The locals outnumbered the tourists here about 4:1.
Odernis (a.k.a. Mini Kobe Bryant) rapping a modern salsa tune
The cave disco
When 1:30 rolled around (and the band was still going strong), Peter and Frank wanted to make sure we got to experience one more thing: a cave disco on top of the hill past the ruins. While most discos resemble caves, I've actually never heard of one that is housed in an actual cave! We snuck out of the concert (and in my mind I hoped we would return in time to say goodbye to Odernis), and made our way to the cave disco.
Had I been by myself, there is no question that I would neither have found nor wanted to find the cave disco. The place sits on top of the hill and to get there you have to walk 10 minutes in the dark and uphill. It's a pretty scary sight as you make your way there because the abandoned ruin glows up top like a haunted house. We made our way to the top with no problem and were surprised to find several other locals and tourists enjoying the club scene inside. The entire club is inside the mountain – even the bathrooms are tucked into smaller caves inside. The dance floor is sizeable, and it has an enormous ceiling. There were two bars – one on the dance floor level and another near the entrance, and three levels (a patio, a seating area, and the bar/dance floor).
Frank singing to Bob Marley in the cave disco
Needless to say, we had a blast. The music was a mixture of Latin and American club tunes, and the locals outnumbered the tourist here 3:1. I even snapped a shot of Frank and a gay Cuban clubber! I had read that gay/homosexuals were sometimes imprisoned, but was pleased to discover liberal Cubans enjoying the Trinidad nightlife.
Change of plans
We were sufficiently tired by 2:30, and made our way back to the Casa de la Musica to see if he band was still playing. To my dismay, the band had not only finished their set, but already packed up their gear and left! I think it was at that point that I reformed my itinerary to try to find Suena Cubano and Odernis again. Instead of visiting Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Matanzas, I would head to Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa.
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