FOLLOWING a sugar rush in the 19th century, Trinidad fell asleep and never awoke. A small gem of a town, Trinidad is ever enchanting in its unassuming charm and sense of community.
While Havana boasts tall buildings of an assortment of architectural influences, Trinidad is made up of vibrantly coloured one-storey casas (homes) and mansions from Cuba’s heyday as the centre for the booming trade of sugar plantations. However, it’s not only the architecture of a Spanish colonial settlement that adds to its charm but also the spirit of the place, thus earning its UNESCO World Heritage site status since 1988.
Nestled by lush greenery, Trinidad moves at a much slower pace than Havana with its horse-drawn wagons clopping along its cobbled stone streets and eclectic hole-in-the-wall bars that feature their local troubadours — making that three-day jaunt from Havana a welcome shift in pace.
Dripping In Charm
It’s a charming little place dripping with antiquity — with a handful of museums littered around its main square, Plaza Mayor. We stopped in at Museo Histórico Municipal — a museum housed in a traditional Spanish mansion that showcases antique furniture of the 18th century and some information about the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Most of the sparse exhibits are in Spanish and as of 2016, the tower that most people pay the CUC 2 (SGD 2.70) entrance fee for is closed for renovation, making the streets of Trinidad the best way to discover the town’s stories.
Travel a little off the beaten path and find just one of Trinidad’s many hidden gems — Barrio Los Tres Cruces. Here in this tiny street lined with brightly painted homes you’ll chance upon the essence of Cuban charm — its community. Cuba is synonymous with community. Unlike many modern cities, its people don’t shut themselves in or away but rather perch themselves at a corner or on their door step while they talk, mingle and play music together. This is as true of Havana as it is of Trinidad in spite of the change in pace; and tourists are not shut out from the warmth of the local community.
Information For Soap
Ever a curious bunch, the locals will call out to passing tourists to find out where you are from, where you are going; and for female travellers, more often than not, to just show you some good ol’ Cuban lovin’ – or what they call “piropos” (the wolf whistles, the cat calls and the kisses they’ll blow you as they call out for you “Linda!”, “Bonita!”).
It’s a fascinating different culture altogether where such reactions in many other countries would be deemed borderline harassment — but in Cuba it functions almost as a transient exchange.
The women, of all shapes, sizes and ages dress themselves in neon skin-tight lycra and walk the streets with a strong ownership that expects, if not demands, attention. And the men return the favour in kind. For a female tourist who may initially be put off by the attention, at no point does it feel unsafe or disrespectful and the only way to be in Cuba is to do as the Cubans do — live and let live. And live they do in Barrio Los Tres Cruces!
Here you will find women with curlers in their hair, men in cowboy hats, old timers smoking cigars together and boisterous children running up and down the cobblestone streets. It is near impossible to walk down this relatively short street without at least having a handful of conversations, be it in Spanish, Spanglish or hand signals. No matter the language barrier, Trinidad’s residents are as colourful as their houses and they will take every opportunity to speak with you — just beware of touts who will offer you help or directions for the purchase of a bar of soap in return.
We found most commonly that in Havana we were asked to purchase baby’s milk, but in Trinidad the stock in trade seemed to be body soap.
Bland Food But Hot Music Of Trinidad
Until 2011 there were only three private restaurants. Since then, it’s exploded, with nearly 100 restaurants to choose from. Mind you, despite this, the food in Trinidad is lacklustre. The small little eateries that dot the town don’t quite have the same culinary finesse as Havana. The one gem we did find in our short weekend there was Guitarra Mia on Jesús Menéndez Road. Just a few blocks away from Centro Histórico, the restaurant is a quaint and homely little place with guitars decorating the wall and an acoustic duo singing and playing some relaxed Latin tunes. The food here is flavourful and markedly cheaper than the restaurants closer to the two main squares in Trinidad. You can get a lobster dinner for CUC 10 (SGD 13.50) which is about CUC 5 cheaper than the rest of the town’s offerings.
While the food in Trinidad is nothing to write home about, what doesn’t pale in comparison to Havana is the music and the richness of its vibrant culture. In Taberna La Botja, you will find soul and blues played to a violin and bass. Stop in here for a rum-laden mojito and wile away some time listening to the sweet jams and taking in the decor that transports you back into an era of Trinidad’s pirate heyday. Get there earlier in the day as the tavern is almost always full close to meal times.
Just a further stroll down back into the heart of Plaza Mayor and you’ll find the bright yellow Casa de la Musica (Home of Music) where from the afternoon to the late evening, you can find a great salsa band and an eclectic mix of tourists and locals lining the steps smoking cigars, chatting or dancing. On random weekday nights, you may even have the fortune of chancing upon school children dancing the rumba in their school square.
It seems that no matter what time of day it is, there is always something going on in this tiny little town and its one of the few places left in the world that transports you back in time where the true charm and richness of its culture is best experienced just walking the streets and meeting its people.
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