We have chosen to do Airbnb around Cuba not just to make Gordon happy (although that of course is always my priority), but mainly because we felt it would be a great way to meet the people. We were off to a great start with Vivian
Our next stop is Trinidad, but here it doesn’t work so well. Maricela, our hostess doesn’t live in the house. The price is $18 a night, a whopping 20% increase from Vivian’s home. We certainly get 20% more home for the price. We have the entire house to ourselves. The ground floor is one large room that is living dining and kitchen. It opens directly onto the street and has no natural light unless you open the front door, which gives you a shaft of light, a lot of tourists peering in and all the smells from the street (which is not a good thing). The room, like it’s owner has little charm. It is dark and bleak with heavy furniture and little on the walls to cheer it up.
Upstairs is the small bedroom and bathroom much like Vivian’s. But there is one noticeable improvement – we have hot water. This would be perfect if only taking a shower is possible. Here the water drips out of the shower head at an even slower rate than at Vivian’s. It is a hand held shower head, so I have the option of running the thing closely over my body which gets me sort of damp an inch at a time, but not clean. We try to fill the small wash basin with hot water for a good wash, but we have time to make a cup of tea while it fills. To be fair on our hostess we have read that this is a common problem in Cuban homes.
We discover later that the kitchen sink does not have hot water so all the breakfast dishes and utensils have been washed in cold water before we get to use them. Mmmmm!
But what saves the house from being a disaster, is a huge rooftop terrace with a panoramic view over the town. Notice I say panoramic rather than beautiful
But it is a lovely place to sit and enjoy a beer
Maricela is business like rather than friendly, intimidating rather than welcoming. A large woman with remarkably few curves, dressed in sensible clothes and flat shoes. A no nonsense type whom I suspect does not mince words although it is hard to tell as she says very few of them and those that she does say are in Spanish. She reminds me of a matron in a boys’ boarding school. It’s not a good image for a hostess.
She too offers breakfast and this too is 20% more than Vivian’s at $6, but it is not 20% more food. In fact it is quite the opposite. Little effort has been made to set a charming table and the choice is quite limited. Vivian cooked us an omelet every morning (though it may not have been the best omelet we have ever had, it was cooked with love and it is the thought that counts). Maricela offers nothing but some sliced fruit and bread rolls, one foil wrapped pat of butter and one tiny portion of jam. Love doesn’t enter into it, and there was no thought to count.
And Maricela adds nothing to the experience. She calls us down to breakfast and when we arrive the food is on the table (what there is of it!) and Maricela is sitting in a rocking chair reading the paper. She doesn’t make us tea or coffee, just points to the kettle. She says not one word. It is a very strained atmosphere and not one that we want to repeat so we tell her that we don’t want breakfast again. She nods her understanding without breaking her rhythmical rocking and continues reading the paper.
Unlike Maricela, Trinidad is absolutely charming, and unlike Cienfuegos, very touristy. But in Cuba being touristy is a good thing. It means better restaurants and services, but don’t let me misguide you. Better still doesn’t mean good.
Better means that instead of having a scooter in their front room, Trinidadians have cars
The town was isolated with no proper road in or out until the 1950’s. It was a beautiful town when it was built and it stayed that way because no one came to make radical changes to the homes or the streets. There are many beautiful buildings that are completely original and well preserved
and some charming ones
The restaurants and small hotels lay claim to many of the larger homes and are artfully put together. Many of them are full of antiques
Others take the bed and breakfast theme to extremes
The stores however are no different from the stores in other towns. They exist with very little merchandise.
This is the nearest grocery store to us. If you want eggs you are in luck. If you want anything else you are not
And if you are remodeling your home the local hardware store is not going to offer much help:
Knowing that Cuban schools are desperate for even the most basic items we have brought with us a large selection of pens, pencils, markers and crayons. We had dropped off some at a school in Cienfuegos but it was Saturday and the children were not there. In Trinidad we visit two schools. The first is a preschool where we have to speak very quietly as the tots are taking their nap
In the neighboring girls school, it doesn’t matter whether we speak or not, and even the offering of gifts does nothing to distract them from whatever it is young girls talk so intently about.
On our second day we take a trip up into the mountains where tourists rarely venture. We want to see how people live away from the towns. It is a narrow winding road full of potholes that leads us up the mountain. The countryside and the views are lovely. We pass several small cottages tucked into the hillside. When seen from the road, most of them look as if they could belong on a postcard
But we know it would be a different story inside. There are of course other places where you know exactly what the inside of the house is going to be like
There is one small town that consists mainly of what we assume is Soviet era housing. Every town we visit has an area of this style of housing on the outskirts. They are always shocking but we see some of the worst examples up here
I have to be very careful taking photos of this housing as we met some people who were caught by the police doing just that, and the police demanded that they delete the photos and stood over them while they did so. They were terrified by the experience.
The police in Cuba have a marked presence and we have been warned to be wary of them. There is one other creature that we see a lot of. Everywhere we travel in Cuba, the sky is full of huge black birds circling, ever circling in the wind currents, searching for carrion. There are more than usual here in the mountains. They are turkey vultures
They are incredibly unattractive birds with equally unattractive feeding habits. They seem to represent so much of what is wrong in Cuba
Welcome to Cuba