If you Google ‘Cuban toilets’ you will read many a horror story about dirty toilets which don’t flush, have no running water, no hand basins, and no toilet paper. It almost put me off travelling there.
But as we travelled around our tour guide had stopped at places where the toilets were not too bad at all although they invariably lacked toilet seats. You either have to hover above, or balance rather precariously on the narrow porcelain rim but you soon get used to it. And always check that the water tap is working before you soap your hands, otherwise you can be left with a sticky mess! It does pay to take your own hand sanitiser and always have your own toilet paper on hand. But all of our homestays had spotless toilets and good bathroom facilities.
Picturesque Trinidad was the place I loved most in Cuba. Founded by Conquistador Diego Velasquez in 1514 it is now a world heritage site and a popular tourist hub with a laid back atmosphere, pastel facades, music and dancing in the streets and a great many cobblestones. The greengrocer plies his vegetables from a horse and cart. You feel as if you are back in time.
The casa particular (homestay) in which we stayed was run by two sisters. It was friendly and spotlessly clean. But there were no home cooked dinners to be had there for a very good reason. When we arrived one of the sisters had gone into labour at the local hospital and the other wanted to be at her bedside to support her.
The next morning, at breakfast time there was a celebratory atmosphere. A healthy new baby girl was announced. I asked if there was a photograph. Out came sister’s cell phone on which she had recorded the whole scenario of the new Mum in the process of pushing the baby out!
In the evening, left to our own devices (and having discovered that there was a big queue outside the restaurant our guide had recommended) we wandered around looking for an alternative. We came upon a large restaurant in what was once an opulent Spanish sugar baron’s mansion. A duo of musicians was playing and it was full of antiques. It looked very promising but it turned out to be the only bad meal of our entire Cuban holiday.
It was impressive to be presented with three different menus (including one Indian), each listing a substantial number of dishes. Indian cuisine became an influence in Trinidad from the time about 140,000 indentured Indian labourers were brought there (from 1845-1971) to work on the sugar plantations after slavery was abolished. Roti are Trinidad’s most popular street food.
The service was poor. We had to wait a long time and when the meal arrived John and I were served the same dish although we had pointed at different items on the menu! We decided not to complain. The food was barely tolerable but Lindsay, who loves Indian food and was keen to try the promised Rogan Gosh, found it seemed to lack any spices and was full of bones.
The worst part was the toilet which was filthy with a mess all over the floor! I could not go! We hurried home.
I can’t remember the name of the place but if you come across a restaurant in Trinidad with three menus, in sumptuous surroundings, I’d suggest you do a runner!
The next evening, as you do if you are a tourist in Trinidad, we joined the crowds outside at the Church steps below the Casa de la Musica, Trinidad’s most popular salsa venue, and had a go at dancing the salsa (with I’d have to admit more energy than finesse) to the sounds of African drums, Spanish guitar and percussion instruments. It was fun!
From Trinidad it was only a short drive to the Valle de Los Ingenues where we were shown around one of the old sugar mills, including the slave quarters. The foundations of the cramped little adjoining cubicles where the slaves were once housed, as well as the watchtower erected to spot runaway slaves were still standing.
After this grim reminder of Cuba’s past it was a different and very relaxing experience to take a dip in the ocean and sit for a while on the golden sand at the tourist haven of Playa Ancion, one of the finest beaches on Cuba’s South Coast. There were two big tourist hotels behind the beach but I would not have wanted to spend time there as there are many beaches closer to home. It was just nice to swim in a different ocean.
We paid our own way but are happy to recommend the tour company we booked with. They made sure we had a great time and can be found at www.locallysourcedcuba.com
By Lyn Potter. Read more here.