Monday, May 26, 2008
First Impressions from Trinidad
Trinidad in Cuba that is ... I haven't jumped across the Caribbean. Trinidad is an extremely picturesque colonial town near the south (Caribbean) coast of Cuba, a couple of hundred km from Havana. I'm spending some Saturday morning time in the super slow USD6/hour internet cafe, prior to taking a steam train through the sugar cane fields that are in a valley (Valle de los Ingenios) to the north of here.
Cuba has of course been an experience ... not extraordinarily different to what i expected. In some cases it has been easier ... the soviet style visa controls at the airport have been relaxed; and getting into town was a cinch, especially after befriending the two other solo travellers on the flight. There is however the impression common to travelling in other poor countries in that you the tourist are seen by many as a walking ATM; and sometimes it's a challenge to stop that from colouring every encounter that you have with the locals.
The Internet has spread in Cuba since my guide book was written, but still only one or two outlets per town and beyond the reach dollar-wise of any Cuban not in the dollar economy. The government are still pretty paranoid about the power of the web: that big central computer in Havana must be getting tired monitoring all the tourist emails it has to read ! Power comes and goes so a rigorous saving technique is called for.
I'm now in a town called Camaguey for 24 hours, on my way to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second and supposedly most scenic town. Camaguey is quieter and not very touristed, which is great, much less hustling on the streets and more of a chance to see real life here.
The shops are nearly evenly split between dollar shops versus peso shops, and the peso shops are quite similar to what i saw in Russia 10 odd years ago. I've only managed to buy snacks and rum (which was rough as guts) for pesos so far; all 'meals' accommodation, and travel must be paid for in dollars. Even the local donkey taxi wanted dollars to take me into the city ! Instead, I came into town in a 74 year old ford (possibly and L-class), powered by a 10 year old Lada engine which was quite a cack ! The driver was a real character and popped into the first destination (it was a shared taxi) for a coffee while I waited outside in the car.
I also went to the beach yesterday for my first dip in the Caribbean, in a place called Playa Ancon. Not quite yet the April Sun in Cuba (originally written March 30), but getting close. The beach itself was pretty but nothing too spectacular; it was also pretty distasteful watching the fat rich Italian and German men cavorting with teenage girls - apparently the northern (Atlantic) beaches are a lot worse for that, but it was bad enough. The immense 50 year old Russian lady with her lithe African 20 year old was not much more pleasant either, but unfortunately this is a reality of Cuban tourism (not the independent kind !) at the moment.
We took a 'cocotaxi' to the beach - this basically being a motorbike powering a yellow plastic cocunut shell shaped two seat contraption. They're very inventive with the transport here and i've experienced most of them - including the 1950s chevvy that is emblemic of Cuba. I'll save the pictures of that for the Havana post.