It was five years ago this past week that we returned from an eight day trip to Cuba. When I close my eyes and think of our time in Cuba, I feel the warm winds, see the cars from my youth, and sense the presence of the warm and friendly people we met on our journey. When friends ask us if we felt safe in Cuba, our immediate reply is: “Definitely, yes!” There is very little crime, especially involving tourists, as tourism is the life-blood of the Cuban economy. It is after all, a dictatorship. When friends ask if we’d go again, our answer is: “When do we leave? Yes, we would go again in a heartbeat.” Well, after the pandemic is under control and air travel becomes safer.
It’s with those memories that I bring you this weeks post. The title of this article comes from the song “Cuba Isla Bella,” translated to English as “Cuba, Beautiful Island.” Click here to listen to the song and see images of Cuba.
Today, I’m going to focus on the time we spent in Trinidad, Cuba. We were in a group of twelve photographers from Madison that took this trip through Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel. (Full disclosure, I’m a Road Scholar Ambassador, check out their website here, tell them I sent you.) Leading the tour was Essdras Suarez, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, see his work here. We also had a Cuban photographer, Joel Hernandez Marin. Check him out at Instagram. The first part of our photo tour was spent in the Havana area, lots of things to see and do. We had a wonderful, fun time.
From Havana, we made the nearly two hundred mile trip to Trinidad by chartered bus. After a stop for lunch in the charming town of Cienfuegos, we arrived in Trinidad in the late afternoon. We would be staying at casa particulars (individual homes, like a B&B) scattered throughout the city. My Traveling Partner and I were assigned to stay with Ms. Ruiz. Anabel was a sweet woman in a modest comfortable guest house. We had the whole second floor of her house including a balcony overlooking the street. She doted on us even though verbal communication was challenging. Every morning, she would walk with us to our group meeting place to make sure we got there. Not only that, she sought out the translator so we could assure her that everything was fine. She was one of the many fine people we met in Trinidad.
First, a little about the city. Trinidad is about at the half way point on the long narrow island of Cuba. It’s near the Caribbean Sea facing towards South America. It was founded in the early 1500’s by Spanish explorers. Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its well preserved colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. The main economic activity is generated by tourism but there is also a significant tobacco growing industry in the rural areas around around the city.
During our three day stay in Trinidad, we had free time in the late afternoons and evenings to wander on our own around the walkable city. During those free times, we stayed close to our lodging so as not to get lost wandering too far around a strange city especially in the dark. Let me introduce you to some of the people we met on our walkabouts.
These sisters were chatting on the front porch of their house as we walked by late one afternoon. They waved at us and motioned to us to come closer. We conversed as best we could with their little bit of English and our tiny amount of Spanish. I asked them if I could take their photo. This produced a discussion about their hair, clothes, and wrinkles. I told them they looked fine just the way they were with nice, friendly smiles.
Just up the road, this young fella started conversing with us in rapid fire Spanish. He motioned us to follow him. When we got to his house, he told us to wait and he ran behind the house and brought out his goat. He was so proud of it, we admired and petted the goat. His family, mom, dad, and three or four sisters, were sitting on the porch watching this all unfold. They waved and when I did the universal signal for a photo, the women all scattered, laughing as they went! The dad was the only one that stayed put, he wasn’t that photogenic!
A bit later, we came across some young boys playing with tops on the cracked and uneven sidewalk. They would wind the cord around the top, then “flick” the end of the string to hopefully get the top to spin. I expressed interest and they did their best to show me how it worked. We had a few small give aways in our backpack and offer them Bucky Badger pencils. They were happy with their prizes.
As we were walking along, I saw this interesting scene, a horse drawn cart at a gas station. Now they could have been getting gas for an engine of some type at their home or maybe it was for some snacks at the convenience store.
This photo is one of my favorites. These kids were getting a ride home from school. The boy is giving me the stink eye while the girl in the back is smiling. She waved after I took the photo. This is one of the only photos that has brought me profit. It’s in a magazine article on how kids get to school and a book publisher bought one time rights for a children’s book. I wish I could share the few bucks I made with this family.
On one of our walkabouts, we came across this scene. A barber giving a haircut on his front porch, likely a side job to make a little extra money. Note the birdcage, lots of families in Cuba have birds and even take them for evening walks. In the cage of course.
This guy was sharpening his machete with a file with a disinterested black cat nearby. I’m guessing he was home from the fields and preparing for work the next day. The cat, I don’t know!
Dominoes is the most popular game in Cuba and among those of Cuban descent in other parts of the world. Every evening after work, the square table and four chairs would come out along with the dominoes. The players would come out of the nearby houses, seemingly knowing a game was about to start. They went fast, the losers giving up their seats to bystanders. The players totally ignored the photographers during the game, concentrating hard on their next moves.
As we walked, we could hear the clip, clop of the horse shoes where there was pavement. Some of the carts served as methods of delivery of goods or people. It was common to see the full “school bus” go past our lodging in the morning taking kids to school.
People were friendly, calling out greetings and waving to us. We stood out, they knew we were gringos and pumping up the economy.
From our balcony, we would watch these young men playing a game of basketball across the street. We could hear them trash talking each other just like players in any other part of the world.
I’ll close this weeks post with this photo. It’s one of my all time favorites. I saw these little girls sitting on the stoop looking at something behind me. Their expressions were so sweet and curious I couldn’t resist a photo. After kneeing and snapping a few, they finally noticed me and then wanted to see the photo on the LCD screen of my camera. They crowded around and had big smiles and laughed at themselves with they saw the photo. I wish I could have left them a copy, they were so precious.
That’s it for this week, a few photos from Trinidad, Cuba. Thanks for tagging along on my reminisce.
Until next week, happy virtual travels!