After the Marlin Marina, we decided to head in to Trinidad. We had already been slightly biased by those Italians the previous night who said that it was too touristic and not authentic. We tried to clear that from our heads and go in with an open mind, but on our drive in, and through our first experience with parking and trying to find a currency exchange, we started to think they were on to something. People stopped us as we drove in every minute or so to try to sell us on something, tell us some bit of useless and obvious information (for a fee), or try to guide us somewhere. For example, we were driving up a cobblestone street that had a barrier at the end. People stopped us to let us know that the road was closed and that we needed to turn around. At first we were like, “Cool, these people are friendly and helpful” but then they wouldn’t leave us alone. Even when we SAW the roadblock and it was beyond obvious that the only option was to turn around, people kept pointing at the roadblock and shouting at us to turn around. We were just waiting for a street we could easily make a 3 point turn in…and we weren’t sure what they expected us to do – stop on a dime and make an obscene 15 point turn on a one way road?
So this immediately got our guard up as we entered the city, not to mention the fact that the roads were really crowded with people, animals, bikes, tractors, horses and sometimes cars. It reminded me of India, but with less people and less trash and slightly more organization.
Since our first order of business was to find a bank, we asked one of these “helpful” people about where that might be. He gave us some directions, and we started heading that way. Moments later an old guy on a bicycle appeared and started waving at us to follow him. He rode directly in front of us so that we couldn’t pass him and kept waving his arms to “follow him”, as if we had any other choice considering he was blocking our path and we couldn’t go backwards (Although this would have made a funny situation. Alternate: I could have gotten out of the car and pretended to guide Dave to the bank also, since I already had directions).
When we got to the bank, we looked for parking. We found a spot and immediately a “parking attendant” came up and asked for money. He was holding a very official sign that said “Official Parking”, hand-written on cardboard. We were fairly sure it was a racket and he was just some guy who maybe had an agreement with the cops (or maybe not), but we were already getting worn down and I didn’t have much fight left in me so we just forked over the 2 CUC and walked to the bank from there. We were super confused though because both the bicycle guy and the parking attendant both were sending us mixed signals about the bank – they said it was both closed and open, and then led us there. When we got there, the bank official said it was closed (it closed at 3PM and it was 330PM), but she told us there was another Cadeca (money exchange) down the street.
Again, we already had the directions, but the bicycle guy led us there. We got to the second place, and arrived at about the same time as some other tourists, and heard the security guard explain that it, too, was closed. The other tourists walked away, but I needed more. I could clearly see that the place was open, and that people were inside waiting in line, and the hours on the door said open until 4PM. So I pressed the guard, but he still wouldn’t let us in – he said that by the time we made it to the front, it would be after 4PM. He directed us to yet a 3rd place around the corner, and again, the bicycle guy led us there (at this point we had already given the bicycle guy a little coin if only to get rid of him, although it was becoming farcical). The third time was a charm, because this place was open. Both Dave and I went up to the counter (no line) and tried to make an exchange – except I was yelled at that we could only approach one at a time. Of course I didn’t like that, so I just handed Dave my money and asked him to make the exchange for me. 🙂
But, we got it done, and our car was parked, so we headed up the hill by foot to see the city center and the old town. We ran in to several maps which showed us where we were, and from this we deduced which way we thought we should be going (I was definitely not where I thought we would be). We saw some signs about the Pope’s upcoming visit.
After wandering around aimlessly for a while and seeing the normal life of Trinidadians, and passing the local cigar factory, which was quite noisy, we finally stumbled in to an 18th century Spanish plaza, complete with a church and a Patron Saint statue. This clued us in that we were only 5 blocks away from the main square.
As we approached the “old city” and the Trinidad main square, architecture immediately began to improve (more old Spanish stuff), houses got nicer, streets got wider and cleaner, and of course with all of that there were more tourists.
Dave took a picture of a few folks playing dominoes.
We ordered a couple of beers, and the bartender downstairs left us alone for over an hour, giving us ample time to take in the few and catch our breathes (and let our angst die down).
Coming down, we were new people.
We got over the bad juju we had felt before and looked at the city with new eyes. The rest of our night was fabulous.
Note: perceptions of Trinidad starts here.
Coming down from the Restaurant Buena Vista (which literally means “good view”), we saw this old car parked nearby and just had to take a picture.
Then, we stumbled in a square with 10 different art galleries showcasing works from local painters. While many of them were just replicas done well, some were originals signed by the artist. A few we liked, asked about the artist, and got some prices – the good ones were around 150 CUC each. Several of the artists were hanging around in the galleries and we were able to chat with them. I also went in to some of the artisan shop and captured some artisans at work.
We also finally made it to the main square, and passed by several more areas where live music was being played outside (there was apparently another Casa de Musica in Trinidad).
We saw a group of musicians playing in the one of the pedestrian streets, and stopped to listen for a while. Then, Dave did a quintessentially American “bull in a China shop” thing and went to give them a donation, and accidentally kicked over the donations cup. 🙂
After looking at art (and still not buying anything), we decided to go to another rooftop terrace for some tequila shots of the Cuban tequila.
It turned out be good enough to sip (the Reposado) and we enjoyed it as much as we’ve been enjoying Herradura back in Denver. The rooftop again was ours alone, as most people were hanging out downstairs (although we’re not quite sure why).
We came back down in to the artist’s square and immediately were approached by a caballero looking to sell tourists on guided tours on horseback through the mountains. We explained to him in broken Spanish that we were from Denver, a place where we did this all the time, and that we weren’t interested. We asked him instead if he knew any good galleries to buy art. He was more than happy to lead us around for the next 30 minutes in and out of about 10 different galleries that we hadn’t seen before. The first handful were very bad, but the last two were totally original and quite interesting, but not interesting enough for us to buy. In a last ditch effort to at least get some of our money, he asked us if we already had some cigars. We explained that we did, but we were still looking for a few extra to smoke during the trip ourselves. He led us to a guy’s house how had all of the cigars for sale laid out on his bed. We negotiated for a small box of Cohibas for 20 CUC. They looked genuine, but who knows.
We ran in to some other people also buying cigars at the guy’s house – one of the locals that brought them in posed for us.
We said goodbye to our cowboy and we thought it was time to grab another drink, so again we ventured up to the rooftop of a restaurant that had some live Cuban music.
We again had tequila. While there, it started to rain, and moved ourselves to a place under the umbrella. Some other people shifted over as well and joined us. They turned out to be a German and an American. The American was a woman in her 40s, from LA, but who lived in NYC, and she was a total snobby bitch. The man she was with could not have been older than 25 and had recently graduated university in Germany. They apparently had met that day and she was pretty hard core and desperately hitting on him.
Everything we said elicited some snarky condescending comment from the woman, who clearly either came from a family with money, or was used to a certain style of living…which seemed be the opposite of the way we had chosen to travel. The German guy, on the other hand, was very cool, and we hit it off. By the end we were just ignoring her completely and/or overlooking her offhand Debbie Downer comments. Everything she said just had a tone to it – a tone of, “Why did you do it that way?” After a while, although we felt sorry for abandoning the German guy, she was starting to be a buzz kill, and we were hungry, so we headed downstairs for dinner.
Here is our parting shot of the restaurant:
We found a restaurant called “La Botija” which again had some live music and had an interesting menu of Cuban tapas.
The place was quite enjoyable. It’s named La Botija due to the slave history in the city (a botija was apparently a small receptacle that slaves drank out of). There were genuine slave artifacts (kind of depressing actually) of shackles and chains hanging from the walls.
On a slightly more cheerful note, the first song the singer sang was an Adele song, which made my heart happy at least.
We ordered a couple of mojitos, and, while refreshing, they weren’t as good as the mojitos we had at Jose’s the previous night.
We also ordered four tapas to share – the lobster cocktail, the stuffed habanero peppers, the Tapitas de Diciembre (pepperoni and cheese croquettes), and some pork short ribs. The winner hands down was the ribs, followed by the Diciembre (we still have no idea why it was called that), then the peppers, and the lobster came in last (too much mayo and not particularly good meat). The portions were large so this was enough food for us, and we walked away full but interested in dulces (dessert).
Apparently Trinidad is not known for dessert. We went across the street to ask about dessert and they didn’t have any, and pointed us to the ice cream shop a few streets down that we had passed earlier. We wanted something Cuban, not just ice cream, so we passed on that. Along the way we found a fat woman that told us she knew just the place – and she took us in to what appeared to be the home kitchen of a resident. A woman reached into a giant vat and pulled out some deep-fried something. It looked terrible, so we politely waved it off and were on our way. We decided to go to the ice cream place after all and ask about other places – they told us to go to La Botija. LOL.
So we didn’t get dessert in the end, but the adventure was fun nonetheless.
After a productive day meandering around Trinidad and learning very little about the city’s history, but a lot about the current culture and situation, we decided to call it a night. As we walked back to our car (a little lost), we wondered whether it would still be there.
It actually was, and so was the parking attendant (at 11PM at night!). We got in el coche and rolled home by 1130PM, and were in bed shortly after.
Note: in case you’re thinking about staying in Trinidad and not in La Boca (where we stayed), we have a few recommendations for you gathered from our friends:
- Casa El Capitan
- Luci y Baldi