Trinidad Cuba is old and has texture. Let me explain. I liked Havana; I admired quaint Soviet-brutal constructions slammed between Spanish colonial and art deco mildew covered streets scenes. But once the novelty of aging cars, cigars and Habana Vieja had been satiated, I found myself craving another Cuba. Horses tethered to railings; the soft, clipped tone of hooves on cobble stone. Men smoking in the sun, fedoras tipped against the late afternoon glare, the fidelity of another age; Trinidad’s Piro Guinart, Friday 3pm.
“Trinidad es bueno,...bueno” beamed a smiling, sincere face. Quickly followed by “Fin de año será bueno,....bueno”. His smile hung unchanged. Language is not my strong point. However when in foreign lands, I try to make a studied effort. Sensing my struggle to comprehend, our host’s attention swung to my Norwegian girlfriend. Twenty minutes later, we roughly understand we’re invited for New Years Eve dinner.
A tired 100 meters from the small bus terminal, in twilight, delivered us to our casa particulares. Casas are a form of home-stay scheme whereby spare rooms are rented to foreigners for a modest sum. Granddad greeted us in the cool tiled front room. He held our hands, smiled and stared as we made geographical gesticulations of nationality and home, “Nueva Zelanda and Noruega”. He replies “bueno,...bueno”.
The sugar mills of Valle de los Ingenios drove the wealth of Trinidad Cuba, creating the core of the town as it is today. At its heart, the garden square of Plaza Mayor creates a proud backdrop to buildings of yellow, blue and terracotta. Palm trees sway. A remarkably calm centre, partly because cars are kept at bay by oversized cobblestones that definitely don’t find favour with most things motorised. A short distance away is Casa de la Musica; it’s 11.30pm and we’re shoe-horned between a bunch of Kiwi’s and a grumpy French couple. Trinidad’s alfresco New Years Eve party is in full swing. Mojitos are flowing and less than considered dance moves follow; snippets of salsa lessons are revealed and soon lost in a melee of moving bodies. More mojitos follow and midnight passes in a blur of Cuban percussion and staggering feet.
New Years Eve and the entire family is there; mum, dad 1, dad 2 (we’re not sure on this one, but we suspected a Ménage à trois), grandma, granddad and two grandkids. They occupy a neatly formed line behind the kitchen bench. Granddad has a genuine look of expectation, the rest tow the party line; dinner is served. My girlfriend and I are ushered to sit. By ourselves. Looking back with nervous smiles, the family maintains formation and proceed to deliver gluttonous quantities of pork, potatoes, rice, beans, salad, rum and more pork. Then dessert. We asked them to join, they declined. They watched; we ate.
After an hour, with simpering gratitude and feeling mildly ill, an awkward retreat was made to Casa de la Musica. The night passes and with morning hangovers sit heavily. Trinidad was left behind in a taxi after finding the bus to Cienfuegos full. It felt like a cowardly escape, creeping slowly away in an aging Lada after two days; the missed bus framed in the rear window. Hungover, we knew Trinidad deserved more time. Granddad’s salutations of “bueno,....bueno”, rang loud in our ears.