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A Cuban Adventure Part 3 – Trinidad

A Cuban Adventure Part 3 – Trinidad

It was a 7 hour journey between Viñales and Trinidad so we made sure to have books to read and a fully charged laptop to watch some movies to keep us occupied! Our new friends were rapidly becoming our biggest irritants and small quarters such as a Peugeot 407 will only enhance tensions! Andrew had asked for a toilet break and Walter refused him only to get the driver to pull over a half hour later (Andrew was not happy). When we got out of the car we couldn’t run away from them fast enough but because luck was not on our side they asked us to join them for dinner that evening – nightmare! Both Andrew and I are pretty bad at saying no so we shiftily said maybe, we were ‘pretty tired’ and we might see how we got on…

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After we checked into Casa Jorge Mendez we soon realised how hungry we were and heard the Belgians talking about a pizza place called San Jose. We decided we would go there early to avoid bumping in to them but after our starters in walked Innes and Walter… I didn’t know how to react when they came over and I was getting to the point of giving up and asking them to sit down with us! Andrew sensed this and gave me a kick under the table and a look to tell me he I would be killed if I dared ask. Then came the most awkward silence and I wanted to throw myself in to my delicious pizza. They got the hint thankfully but that didn’t stop us from bumping in them several more times during our stay there!!

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Our casa was really great with shutters opening to a courtyard and a massive room and ensuite. A pool had been promised but apparently it had been recently closed for renovation although something told us that the pool may have never existed! The roof gave us a great view of Trinidad out to the ocean and we watched the most amazing thunderstorm that night.

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I quickly found out that Trinidad was my favourite town in Cuba. I loved walking down the cobbled streets looking in to the different shops and colourful buildings. The town seemed to not have changed very much since the mid 19th century when it was a busy port and the buildings have kept its character. The old quarter is an UNESCO heritage site on top of the steep hill. It’s a struggle to make it up there in the heat but the views are well worth it especially for the sunset!

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We decided to get a taxi to Cienfuegos for the day – another old Chevy that probably hadn’t passed an MOT since 1964. Cienfuegos felt very different to Trinidad with lots of French influences and more western style shops and restaurants. The day was so hot we needed frequent refreshments so found a lovely spot by the pier to have mint and lemon slushies. After a dander round the town we thought we might try and make a trip to the Guanaroca lagoon on the way back to Trinidad. I had heard there was a wild flock of flamingoes based here and thought it would be an opportunity not to miss…

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And I’m so glad we didn’t miss the chance because this was one of my favourite times of our trip! We had a guide walk us down, pointing out native trees and birds before we reached the canoe. Our canoe guide didn’t have much English but he knew so much about the environment there. He rowed us to the other side of the lagoon, pointing out herons, snake birds, egrets and pelicans before I saw little pink dots in the distance. As we got closer we could see that the pink dots were actually a few hundred juvenile flamingoes – the most flamboyant splashes of colour against the tropical surroundings. It was eerily quiet but incredibly peaceful save for the distant rumble of thunder in the nearby. When we got close enough the flamingoes became unsettled and took off in unison making a circle around us overhead. All I could hear was their feet hitting the water and the flapping of wings – such an unforgettable experience!

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That night we went to Sol y Son, an old restaurant in a colonial home that still has all its original furniture including a bedroom at the front. There was great music while we ate although by this stage I was fully addicted to our chess app we’d been using since the beginning of the trip. Andrew taught me on our first few days and I was obsessed with beating him!!

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After our dinner we headed up to Casa de la Musica – an outdoor salsa club that has the best live music and dancing in the old quarter. Lots of amazing dancers made sure that we dared not dance and make a show of ourselves! We tottered on up the hill from the old quarter to the very top where there is an actual club in a cave – no joke! On the way up are little stalls selling mojitos for inflated prices although it’s a great way to take a break from the climb. When you get to the cave, there’s lots of steps down and then you enter a cathedral-like space with a bar. It’s pretty amazing to see although we would’ve preferred listening to music other than salsa for a few hours at least!

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The following day we hired out bikes to cycle to the Ancon peninsula which was 12km and seemed perfectly achievable. We packed lots of water and began to freewheel down the hill from the town towards the coast. Once we plateaued we realised fast how hot it really was. The sweat was soon streaming down my face and into my eyes. After 10km we were closed to heatstroke and our lives started to pass before us (cue dramatics). The water had ran out and we began thinking we were going to have to sleep on the side of the road but most important of all we had to find shelter. A hut soon appeared like a mirage before us and I had the tastiest lemonade of my life! After about an hour of solace we managed to get the energy to finish the trek.

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The beach was worth the near death experience – the water was a bright blue and the perfect temperature. There was so much coral and fish to dive down and see with a snorkel, I found it a lot better for snorkelling than Cayo Jutias. We didn’t get to spend too long there though because our epic journey took up half a day and we had to start looking around for a lift back to town before dark.

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We met a guy at the snack bar who despite sitting with a beer can was more than happy to take us back to town. With a fair amount of apprehension we agreed, we thought it less risky to get a lift home with a guy who may or may not be a bit sauced than cycle all the way back again. He threw our hired bikes in the back of an old Honda Civic and we sat in the back praying it was his first beer that he was still holding in his hand.

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We had booked to join a tour to Guanayara National Park and our driver, Papa Noel, picked us up in the morning. Turned out Papa was a big fan of Celine Dion and played her greatest hits all the way up the mountain. There’s something to be said about climbing up through a jungle with a view of the Caribbean in a car belting out ‘Don’t Think Twice’.

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We were in a small group tour with a guide, Eddie, who spoke perfect English. Eddie was a fascinating guide and it was great to have a conversation rather than just exchanging names in Spanish. He had studied in Santa Clara and had relatives on both sides of his family who had fought on opposing sides of the Revolution. He explained how the rebels hid in the mountains we were in and how the locals had helped them. He also knew an incredible amount about the flora and fauna of the jungle; I could have listened to him all day.

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We trekked around 5km before reaching beautiful waterfalls and then swimming in natural pools. These pools were the real deal, not like the puddles in Viñales! The water was crystal clear and we could dive underneath the waterfall in to caves. After our lunch we were taken to a coffee plantation which told the history of the coffee trade and all the different beans grown there. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of coffee but felt because of where we were I should give it a go. Mistake. I could barely drink it but smiled at the farmers anyway to show I wasn’t really repulsed by the bitterness. I took a sneaky stroll round the back and threw the coffee over the fence. I couldn’t bare to give them back a full cup!

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That night we bumped in to the Belgians – again – and decided that since we were leaving the next day we could manage one last night with them. We took them to Casa de la Trova which we had enjoyed before but they thought was too loud so made tracks to Canchanchara. This bar was very chilled although I wasn’t too impressed with our Cuba Libres, they used cordial instead of fresh limes which I thought was complete sacrilege. We said our goodbyes to Innes and Walter, promised to stay in contact (got to love these false holiday promises) and headed back to our Casa. We sat on the terrace watching the shooting stars and planned the next part of our trip to Remedios.

 

 

Local Favourites: Rathlin Island

Local Favourites: Rathlin Island

Have you ever seen a puffin in real life? Until recently I never had and almost thought they were mythical with their wee red beaks on them – they look like they should be nowhere near the Irish coastline, much too exotic for our island! But you can find them here – on an even smaller island off the north coast of Antrim actually.

Rathlin island is only a 20-minute ferry journey from Ballycastle and really you had me at ferry. I will find any excuse to be on a boat and feel the salty air whip around me, it can really awake something in me – which was breakfast for poor seasick Andrew.

We set our alarms early on a Sunday morning (!) in May to make sure we were there brave and early to see these elusive sea parrots. The forecast was promising to be a good day and even though the sun still hadn’t appeared when we boarded the Rathlin Ferry, I was feeling optimistic. Sure I’d packed a picnic and everything!

What struck me when we approached Rathlin was how it was much bigger than I expected. I half thought I could stroll quite easily around it and I had that anxious feeling I get when I know I might have to exercise too much. The horror! Luckily there was a bus waiting for us when we got off that could take us to the RSPB seabird centre on the other side of the island so sighs of relief all round.

The bus driver was terrifically cheesy, pointing out Rathlin University (the local primary school – hardy har har), the place where the last bus fell off the cliff (Jaysus you’re killin’ us here) and the island’s all weather pitch which was actually a tennis court (OK now let us off). We courageously bought a single ticket even though I was eyeing up the picnic basket thinking there was no way I was carrying that for over 4 miles.

We bought our tickets and trotted down the steps to the centre. Before I could see the birds I could hear them. It was like walking in to an ornithological metropolis – so much going on, birds on the move everywhere around me and so much noise. It was amazing. Then I was struck by the beauty of the coastline, the dramatic cliffs and sheer drops. It reminded me a little bit of the Cliffs of Moher, that dramatic end to the earth with endless blue sea ahead.

I couldn’t get the binoculars on me fast enough. I haven’t got the best eyesight so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see the puffins and I’d have to do the whole “Oh yeh I see them there, yeh over there near that thing” bit when I really can’t see a damned thing. I scanned past the guillemots, the razorbills and the kittiwakes (don’t get me wrong they are lovely birds but I wanted to see the top bill..pun intended) and searched for a splash of red. Admittedly I did have to be pointed in the right direction but I saw them! And they really are real!!

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I was so excited and watched a few of them flapping their wings, enjoying the sun and dipping in and out of their burrows. Yes, they nest in burrows – the mad eejits. Apparently they do so well here because they have limited predators so the burrows can remain protected. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a decent photo of them – the wee rascals stayed down on the flats and there was no amount of zoom that could capture them. I could’ve watched them all day but the 4-mile trek back to the harbour was looming and we wanted to get there by Monday so I said bye bye to the birdies and left with a huge smile.

So off we went like the hobbits on an adventure practically skipping with the picnic basket. We stopped off for food at the first picnic bench we saw. It was a bit nippy when we sat down so Andrew draped the blanket around him like he was about to be shipped off from the famine. He cleverly forgot his jacket and TEA BAGS. He had to get Earl Grey tea bags from the centre and we used luke warm water from his flask. The most horrific cup of tea I have ever had. But at least I got to drink it from an adorable picnic cup.

We also kept bumping in the same people. Although Rathlin Island was bigger than I had expected it took on a supermarket feel where you keep bumping in to people you’ve already said hello to. Eventually you get to the point where you do anything to avoid saying hello for the hundredth time, stopping short of hurling yourself over the nearest hedge.

And do you know what else? The walk was really really nice! I enjoyed it! We dandered along the lane, talking and not talking. Mostly not talking but not because we didn’t want to but because we were so relaxed. All we could hear was the breeze, the trees and the waves. I have not been able to shut off like that for a long time and we even had a nap in the sun (it finally showed up).

By the time we reached the harbour I felt rejuvenated albeit a little blistered. To be honest I was blissfully happy. And I got to go on another ferry!! Good day all round.

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