Trinidad Part III: How the West was Done

Thursday May 16, 2013

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(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

In the morning we set our alarms bright and early so we could enjoy the complementary breakfast at the casa particular before heading out to spend the morning on horseback. Getting a very quick shower under cold running water in, I ran down the steps to the restaurant to find a nice little spread waiting for us. Breakfast that morning was a mix of guava, papaya, pineapple, meat and cheese, and fresh espresso plus a very thick mango juice. I know a certain set of friends that told us the meals here in Cuba were the worst part of visiting (ahem, Tamarisk!), but this was really one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Probably one of the most fresh, and definitely better for me than my usual bowl of Lucky Charms. We were going through it so fast that I even had to bring the coffee pot back to the kitchen and ask for ‘Mas cafe, por favor’.

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Good morning sunshine!

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

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Our room at the casa particular.

 

True to his word, Daniel met us on the corner of our casa particular, sharp at 9 a.m. What he also had with him, and what we weren’t expecting, was for the horses to be joining him there as well. I guess we all assumed that we’d be caravaned to a ranch at the foot of the mountains where our caballos would be waiting for us, but nope, they were here at our door. Putting on our helmets and learning the Spanish names of our horses, no Buttercups here, so of course the names were promptly forgotten, we saddled up and were ready to go. Clomping down the cobblestone streets of Trinidad, I almost felt cool as we headed out toward the mountains, passing the locals on the street and thinking ‘That’s right. I’m pretty bad ass on my horse here while you’re down there using your two feet to get around.’ It was pretty damn awesome. Then the town gave way to a steep winding hill in which we tried to keep our horses from sliding down the sometimes slick cement, and definitely off to the side of the road from the trucks that came whizzing by us at lightning speeds. Soon though, we were on and open road, lazily ambling toward the mountains ahead as we watched farmers and crop workers leaving their little huts on the side of the road to start their daily work.

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There were times we’d be moving forward at our lieserly pace when Daniel would crack a little whip, or whatever he had at his side, while yelling “Ya!…Ya!”, and the horses would pick up to a trot, making the ride a little bumpy and just a bit uncomfortable for most of us. Stephanie, an equestrian in her previous landlubber life, showed us how to stand up on the stirrups to give an inch or two between yourself and the saddle when the horse was riding like that. If it took a lot of bruising and possible future infertility away from me, I can only imagine the wonderful effects it had on the guys. Along the way we met up with another couple using a different guide, but all of us headed toward the same destination. They were from Australia, and taking seven weeks to travel around the Caribbean. Their children were out of the house, they had vacation time to burn, and this is a part of the world they hadn’t been yet. They swapped stories with us on great places to visit in the Caribbean, and we told them where they could find a good 5 peso beer in town. Merging our groups together, we chatted between steps and trots, and even a few gallops until we made it to a plantation where it was time to take our first rest.

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Set under beautiful rolling hills, which there doesn’t seem to be a lack of here in Cuba, this ranch specialized in bananas, mangoes, and sugarcane. From the amount of animals roaming around though, I’m guessing there was a little bit of meat specialized as well. Once the horses were tied up, I took a quick moment to run walk around while playing my own version of ‘Old McDonald’ in my head. I think they contained a lot of the same things, as this farm came complete with pigs, a 7 day old calf, hens, chicks, cats, but this one was run by a cute little old man named Juan. I’m pretty sure his last name wasn’t McDonald. This wasn’t a resting break though, and soon all of us were put to work, getting the sweet water out of sugarcane. After watching the demonstration by the farm workers, each of us took a turn behind the crank, running a piece of sugarcane through once, and then bending it in half a sticking it through a second time just to make sure we got out every drop. This was much easier for most other people than it was for me.

Once all six of us had our go at it, the water was mixed with lemons and rum, making a sweet little treat for us to enjoy as we enjoyed some time in the shade. Juan played a few tunes for us on his guitar, seranated Stephanie a little, and then her and Brian danced along for a bit, turning and twirling to the beat of the music. We sat down down enjoy some more tunes and tried to decipher the Spanish words being played out. Brian, who has been building his vocabulary with Rosetta Stone, was able to pick up on the chorus that was being sung of “Mi casa es su casa, mi mujere es su mujere”. Which, if translated right, means, ‘My home is your home, my woman is your woman’. These Cubans, they really are a friendly and sharing bunch.

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I may have had to put all of my weight into it.

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Juan, trying to sweep Stephanie off her feet.


Juan playing guitar in Trinidad, Cuba from Jessica Johnson on Vimeo.

 

Back on to our horses, before we could find out what else Juan wanted to share with us, we were on our way to the waterfall. This was the two hour rest stop we had been told about the previous day, and the $6 fee that was being payed by our leader and we had to keep our mouths shut about. Changing from open air and fields, we transitioned into a tree covered forest where the horses were tied to posts, we were pointed in the direction of the falls, and told to be back in two hours. When we came out to the falls and I saw there was a nice pool underneath for swimming, just like back in Jamaica, I cursed Matt for making me remove my swimsuit from the small backpack we both shoved all our things into for the trip. “When would you possibly need your swimsuit there?”, he asked. I don’t know why he can’t get this through his head. I am always.right. Since none of us did in fact have our suits on us we decided that underwear would suffice, or a tank top and underwear in my case. Stripping off our clothes we placed them down on the surrounding rocks and got ready to jump in.

The guys, taking cues from one of the locals that ran a drink stand just next to the fall, were quick to scramble up the rocks to make a jump in from dizzying heights. Watching them plop in one by one, I was pretty sure that the slick climb alone would kill me and I was much better off only jumping the three feet from next to the pool. The water was cool and fresh, and we divided our time between swimming beneath the trickle of a fall, and sunning ourselves on the rocks. When our time was up we hiked the trail back to our waiting horses and guide to begin the trip back home. Not however, without a stop at the ranch once more for lunch.

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Thanks, but I’ll just watch from here!

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Not part of the packaged deal, but still pretty low at only $10, we were served one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Anywhere. So much for crappy food in Cuba. (Ahem, TAMARISK!!) First was a bowl of veggie soup and a key lime on the side for an extra kick of flavor, and wow, just that little touch makes a huge difference! Then I was served a heaping plate of fresh salad greens, rice, and perfectly cooked and flavored shrimp. Dessert was fresh banana and mango, products of the very plantation we were sitting at. It was one of those meals where I should have put my fork down long before I did, but I could not keep myself from heaping all the delicious food into my mouth. One more tour around the grounds to say goodbye to all my little animal friends, play with a couple of kittens, and take what is possibly the cutest photo I will ever capture, it was time to leave once more. Ready to fall into a food coma, I was glad that the horses knew their way home by heart and I had to do little more than keep myself upright with my eyes open, which didn’t become very hard considering all the beauty surrounding us. Daniel also took it easy on us after our big meal and kept the horses at a walk, although after 20-30 minutes, Brian and I decided we were ready for some action and would command our horses into a gallop and race each other back and forth ahead of the group.

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Too soon it felt like the horses were exerting themselves in the daytime heat, bringing us up the hill that led back into town and toward our casa particular. It was time to gather our belongings and start the trip back home. We may have only had the previous evening to explore the town that we spent a bit of time and effort getting to, but I think we were all very happy with how we ended up spending it. For an adventure that none of us initially wanted to take, our day on horseback out in the mountains and fields of Trinidad is now one of the highlights on our trip, not just in Cuba, but since leaving Michigan.

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(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

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