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Journal - 07-Apr-2001, Saturday, Cienfuegos - Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Cuba
(Trip: Cuba)

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Click for larger image! Cigar making. Keywords: Cuba,coast,tourist,travel,drive,car,cienfuegos,trinidad,colonial,sugar,cane,rain,storm,cigar,cuban
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Click for larger image! Colonialism restored. Keywords: Cuba,coast,tourist,travel,drive,car,cienfuegos,trinidad,colonial,sugar,cane,rain,storm,cigar,cuban
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Cigar making
Colonialism restored
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Click for larger image! Los viajeros. Keywords: Cuba,coast,tourist,travel,drive,car,cienfuegos,trinidad,colonial,sugar,cane,rain,storm,cigar,cuban
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Click for larger image! The Priest and the Donkey. Keywords: Cuba,coast,tourist,travel,drive,car,cienfuegos,trinidad,colonial,sugar,cane,rain,storm,cigar,cuban
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Los viajeros
The Priest and the Donkey
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Click for larger image! Fun in a bath. Keywords: Cuba,coast,tourist,travel,drive,car,cienfuegos,trinidad,colonial,sugar,cane,rain,storm,cigar,cuban
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Click for larger image! Parked in the sun. Keywords: Cuba,coast,tourist,travel,drive,car,cienfuegos,trinidad,colonial,sugar,cane,rain,storm,cigar,cuban
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Fun in a bath
Parked in the sun
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In the morning, we get up early enough to take some nice photos of Cienfuegos, including the town square. There's nobody hustling at this time of day.

Photographs taken, we head for Trinidad. As usual, we play 'Taxi' and give rides to countless numbers of people. It's probably just as well as we'd have got lost otherwise. There are a couple of junctions without signposts.

The landscape is fields and gentle slopes, mostly planted with sugar cane. When the cane catches the light, it gives off a luminous, yellow-green, glow. To the right is the sea, which jumps in and out of view as the we follow the road.

Approaching a bend, there is a young child by the road side, maybe seven years old. He's holding something bright yellow in his hand which he stretches out towards the road as hard as he can. As we get closer, we see it's a bunch of bananas. The eagerness of the child waving the bananas is so great that it's tempting to stop. Unfortunately it all happens so quickly that we've driven past before we've really registered what we've seen.

Arriving into Trinidad, we hit cobbled streets, rising up a steep hill. It's clear from the start that this is a popular tourist spot, as colorful new signs direct us to a car park. From the moment we get out of the car, we're beseiged by requests for sweets, money, and clothes. A little boy of six walks away with my broken flip-flops.

Trinidad is indeed picturesque in many ways. The town is on a hill, with nicely painted colonial houses lining inclined cobbled streets. Outside of the center, however, it is also quite derelict and there seems to be more poverty here than in other places. We are almost constantly heckled. In the end we just start ignoring people. Dreadfully ignorant but the only way to get through.

In the shadow of a church, a small square has a couple of tables set up, with men playing dominos. This is the first time we've seen this supposedly typical Cuban scene! They look like they've been there a while and aren't moving any time soon. People stand around, watching the game. They play at high speed with a constant slapping sound of dominos being laid down.

Great numbers of tourists roam the streets. Many of them are part of organized tours, while others seem to be independent travelers like ourselves. We watched a middle-aged european couple be particularly insensitve with their photographs. The woman, snapshot camera against face, stood not 2 meters from a boy in the street, waiting for him to do something. Her partner, meanwhile, videotaped the scene.

It seemed to us that they were treating the locals like animals in a zoo. There as exhibits to take photographs of. We had the idea of following the couple and taking pictures of them at close range every few meters. We'd follow this with wild pointing at their pale skin and fat stomachs.

While walking a street, Monica stumbled across a small cigar factory. Vistors can pay a gratuity and step inside to see cigars being made. Monica has wanted to see a cigar factory since we arrived in Cuba. Now's her chance.

Inside, there is a room with about 10 desks arranged in rows, like a school room. Two people sit at each desk, piles of tabacco and finished cigars in front of them. A couple of supervisors sit around with vacant expressions. Sacks of dried tabacco are stacked against the walls.

The workers are keen to talk to us and call us over. The conversation inevitably leads to whether or not we want to buy some cigars or not.

Outside, a master cigar maker works alone. He's there to allow tourists to take photographs of cigar making without disturbing the workers inside. The man works quick and efficiently, churning out a hundred finished cigars a day. We take a lot of pictures. Monica offers him a tip, which he refuses awkwardly. Maybe it's not permitted.

Leaving the cigar house, we walk towards a church that Monica has spotted at the top of town. Finding our way to the church turns out to be a bit challanging and we have to walk through some unwelcoming streets. The church is just outside the town's edge with green hillside surrounding it. The view over the town is quite pleasant.

Continuing up the hill, we follow a dirt path, with the back gardens of houses on one side and open ground on the other. A couple of young girls in a garden are yelling at us to take their picture. The girls are in bathing suits and playing inside an old white enamal bath tub, full to the brim with water. The bath tub is right in the middle of the garden and quite a sight.

Before taking the photograph, Monica clarifies that we don't have any sweets, pens, pencils, or money to give away. The girl's father, tending his garden, laughs at this. His daughters obviously get a lot of treats from passing tourists. The big healthy smiles and new bathing suits indicate that the family is far from poor.

After taking a picture, Monica realizes we have some chocolate biscuits and offers the girls one each. They scramble keenly out of their makeshift swimming pool over to the fence, where Monica hands out the reward. The girls jump back into the bath, biscuits in mouths. Monica and I feel like jumping in after them - the day is hot and we've been walking around for a few hours!

At the top of the hill, two men offer a tour of a cave. It looks a little lack luster so we decline, and walk back down the hill. The girls are still enjoying their bath.

We leave Trinidad around 6 in the evening. A teenager rides with us to Cienfuegos. He tells us that it's very difficult to travel between the two cities, even though they're only a couple of hours apart. What little public transport there is doesn't even run on the weekend.

On hearing we're from Mexico, the boy tells about his uncles who have been there for long periods to train the Mexican rowing team, and to do environmental research. He says both loved the place. One of the uncles was even engaged to a Mexican woman but was subsequently denied a travel permit to visit Mexico again. I've heard that passports were invented by the French to stop people leaving the country during the revolution. It seems Cuban passports are still used for this purpose.

On the way home a spectacular storm brews up. Dark grey rain clouds cover the sky, with bright shafts of sunlight breaking between them. We're suddenly in the middle of a torrential downpour. There is so much rain that at times our field of view is completely obscured, despite the frantic efforts of the windscreen wipers.

The rain continues to bucket down all the way to Cienfuegos. There are some beautiful scenes as the light breaks through to highlight a single cane field, for example. At the town, we take our passenger right to his door - we don't have the heart to let him out into waterfall cascading from the sky. He thanks us profusely and even offers us a packet of cigars. It feels nice to have been good ambassadors for our countries!

We return to 'El Rapido' fast food for dinner. The streets are empty thanks to the rain. We park right outside the door but still get a reasonable soaking running inside.

After ordering food, Monica goes to wash her hands but is told there is a 50 cent fee. There is a man there who seems to do nothing else but collect money for the bathrooms. I can't believe they'd charge a customer of the restaurant. Monica offers him 20 cents just to wash her hands, at which point he says that hand washing is free and unlocks the door for her. What a business. I decide to take my chances with my dirty hands.

As we eat, the manager sits down at a group of tables near us where about five men are lounging around. He has a bottle of rum in his hand, so in the absense of customers (apart from us) it looks like they're going to party. The manager is the fattest Cuban we've seen, measuring a good meter from front to back. He's also pretty good at dishing out orders to his staff. I guess he's got a stack of money from somewhere - probably an overseas relative.

When we leave, the rain has died off a bit and we drive back to our lodgings. The rest of the evening is spent organizing our stuff. We drive back to Havana tomorrow. The car has to be returned by 2pm, which means we have to leave here before 10 am.

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Cuba - Rotorua, New Zealand - Christ Church, Dublin - Monument Valley, Arizona - Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico - Staffa, Scotland - Huamantla, Tlaxcala, Mexico - Costa Rica - Tule Tree, Oaxaca, Mexico - Fiesta, Mexico City - Making Lacquer, Olinalá, Mexico - Talavera Ceramics, Puebla, Mexico - Mata Ortiz Pottery, Mexico - Lebanon
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