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La Habana - Trinidad  17 - 18 April

The doorman of the Lido hotel found a privately owned taxi to take us to Havana airport.  It was half the price of the official one we had taken on arrival, but 10 times ropier!  I doubted whether it would make the journey, but needn't have worried since our driver was a mechanical engineer.  He wasn't allowed to use his car as a taxi carrying foreigners so left us about 100 meters from the entrance to the general aviation building. The government handling agent had seen us approach carrying our bags and asked why the taxi driver didn't take us to the door.  When I said I didn't know, he shrugged his shoulders and said he supposed the driver didn't know the way.

Apart from handing over the US$ 290 to the handling agent, there were few formalities as we weren't leaving the country.  Out at the plane, Flemming did his usual pre-flight check and found a bird's nest in the tail cone.  That was quick work - we were only parked there for three nights!  After  removing the tail cone to dismantle the bird's home, we took off for Trinidad. It was early enough in the morning to be able to top the rising cumulus clouds at 9000 feet. We flew over a lot of farm land and then the terrain became mountainous as we approached Trinidad, south-east of Havana near the south coast.  We were able to make a visual approach and landed after a flight of 1 hour, 20 minutes.

We were greeted again by a friendly government handling agent and some willing porters.  We wondered how much they were going to charge this time.

The airport was only a kilometer from town so it was just a short taxi ride to the private house we would be staying in.  Felipe (our Havana guide) had recommended that we stay at the house of his friends Ruth and Mario, and had phoned them to let them know we were coming.  Theirs is an official guest house and they have to pay quite a hefty tax to the government for the privilege.  Even so, they make more this way than Mario can earn as a doctor.  Their home was quite ordinary and didn't fulfil my dream of staying in a charming  old colonial house.  Also it was a fair walk from the historical centre of town.  On the other hand, Ruth had a heart of gold, did everything to make us feel welcome, and cooked us excellent and copious breakfasts.  Although there were two guest rooms, she didn't fill the other one so that we could enjoy our privacy and have the bathroom to ourselves.

Although Ruth talked pretty fast in Spanish, I managed to carry on a conversation with her about life in Cuba.  She said that things were much worse ten years ago before the government decided to open the country to tourism.  They used to live in fear of their washing machine or other appliances breaking down because they would have had no means of fixing them or replacing them.  On a more general note, she talked about the problem of prostitution in the country.  I had seen a nice looking young girl making eyes at Flemming when I returned from visiting the baños in one of the smarter hotels of Havana. In any other country she would probably have been a student - and perhaps she was but did this to finance her studies.  Ruth said it's not surprising that girls are tempted when they can earn the equivalent of 2 months' salary in just one night.

Trinidad is just a large village in comparison with Havana, so it is easy to get around on foot.  In the space of the afternoon we were able to visit the whole of its historical centre, including the museum and a cigar factory.  We also purchased a couple of small naive paintings.  Luckily they were just small enough to export without a permit as we discovered on leaving the country a couple of days later.

After a huge evening meal prepared by Ruth, we went into town again to join the lively scene at the Casa de la Musica.  Why they called it the 'Casa'   I don't know as all the action took place outside.  There was a band playing salsa and it was a joy to watch all the young locals dancing to it while others gathered round to witness the fun. Those who could afford a drink sat at one of the tables. Others sat on nearby steps (reminiscent again of the Spanish steps in Rome - the last time we'd seen something similar was in Zacatecas, Mexico).  We were pleased to see that the locals outnumbered the tourists.

The next day we hired a taxi to take us to the Valle de los Ingenios where we visited several old sugar cane plantation owners' houses dating from the 18th century.  The best preserved one was Manaca Iznaga with its 44-metre tower, from which Pedro Iznaga could keep watch on the slaves working in the fields.  Flemming got to work the old sugar cane press in order to help prepare the local punch made from cane juice, lime and, of course, rum.  It was the best punch we tasted while in Cuba.

At the other old sugar plantation haciendas there were guardians who delighted in telling me some tales about the ex-owner Mariano Borrell.  According to one tale, Borrell had some treasure that he wanted to hide.  He ordered   three of his slaves to go and dig a hole somewhere on his property to bury it.   Then he planned on silencing the slaves by poisoning them.  However, one of them escaped by vomiting the drink.  He moved to Colombia and told his grandson the story.  The grandson returned to look for the hidden treasure but never found it.   Just 15 years ago, some people came to dig for it and even broke some of the marble floor tiles in case it was hidden under the floor of the house.  But it has never been found.

Are there any keen treasure hunters amongst our readers who want to try their luck?  But don't blame me if all you find is the bones of Borrell's poor wife.  The other story was that Borrell shut his wife up somewhere under ground, feeding her scraps like a dog for having plotted with a slave to kill him!

In the evening we went to eat at a paladar (privately operated restaurant, tolerated since 95) called 'Sol y Son'. The food and the service was some of the best we had in Cuba and the setting was attractive: a nice colonial courtyard. Not bad for a birthday celebration.

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On the top of the tower above the Museo Histórico Municipal with view over Trinidad

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Another view of Trinidad from the tower
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Trinidad's Plaza Mayor
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Wrapping the tobacco leaves into cigars at the local factory
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Manaca Iznaga tower built in the 18th century to keep watch on the slaves working in the sugar plantations
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It was a long climb to the top of the tower
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Iznaga's house seen from the 2nd floor of the tower
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Flemming working the old sugar cane press for his birthday sugarcane and rum cocktail
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