Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Trinidad and Trains

As I mentioned in my last post, Trinidad is a spectacularly pretty colonial town. While there are run-down parts, in general the historic centre is beautifully kept and worth a few hours stroll. The most common accommodation option for budget travellers are rooms in beautiful old houses built around interior courtyards, in a style similar to that seen in Andalucia in Spain. Ceilings are high, and the rooms are gloriously cool, even in the heat of ... early spring !

One of the unexpected highlights of the afternoon occurred at an impromptu rum bar on a footpath in a rundown part of town. The bar consisted of a folding card table, some rickety chairs; bottles of rum and much used glasses; filled (2-3 shots worth) for 1 or 2 cents. Staff, owners and clients were all men in their 60s or older. We pulled up a perch; and once we'd adjusted our ears to their unusual Spanish accents (and they'd done likewise to ours) we had a great afternoon chewing the fat and enjoying conversation with locals, motivated purely by mutual curiosity.

Apart from visiting the beach, and strolling the town; the main tourist attraction here is a steam train that runs through the sugar cane fields of the Valley de los Ingenios. The train trip itself was an authentic Cuban experience. Depending on who you asked, it was leaving at 2:00, 2:30 or 3:00 pm. At 1pm the ticket office closed as there was uncertainty as to whether the train was going at all.

Trinidad Ticket Office

And we were afraid that the train would be substituted for some more humble transport:

However we were saved by the toot; a puff of black smoke and a roar as the train finally pulled in (at 3:30).

The chaos was by no means over, however. There were no official communications during the trip; and although the various staff were happy to answer some questions, the answers were random, frequently contradictory and often wrong ! Thus, at the apparent last stop; the train lurched off up the valley. Those left behind had to wait 3 hours (in a one horse shit-hole) - luckily i jumped on as it was pulling out, mostly out of curiosity !

The scenery and experience was well worth it; however (as is often the case with tourist steam trains) the return trip couldn't go fast enough, especially after the sun set and we were travelling in pure darkness.

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