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Throwback Thursday: Trindad Part III: How the West Was Done

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

This week finds us in Cuba, one of our favorite stops of the whole trip so far.  After spending 10 fun filled days in Jamaica we took the 3 day sail over with our friends on s/v Rode Trip and and met back up with s/v Skebenga.  The week we spent in Cuba was absolutely amazing and we were heartbroken when our money ran out and we had to leave after spending only a week there.

Putting ourselves up in a marina in the south side of the island in the city of Cienfuegos, there was never a dull moment in our days as we hunted down all Cuba had to offer us.  It was really hard for me to pick what post to use this week as my Throwback Thursday because I want to share each and every one.  The nerve wrecking time we had checking in to the country, wondering if being American would raise any issues for us?  Or maybe the day we spent touring Cienfuegos, hunting down their $0.50 pizzas and $0.20 ice creams.  Should I choose the nice dinner we had out with Brian and Stephanie where we tried and fell in love with ropa vieja and learned of a new drink called canchanchara?

Then was our whole trip to Trinidad on a set of motor bikes.  An escapade where we traveled 50 miles, were separated from Brian and Stephanie within 5 minutes, but managed to end up at the same bed & breakfast once we arrived even though we had absolutely no plans of where we were going to stay. A place where we discovered we could get ice cold beers for the price of $0.20, or visit a night club built inside a cave.

In the end I think I will take a segment from our trip to Trinidad.  One of those days where you don’t expect much at the beginning but it turns out to be one of the best days you’ve ever had.  On this particular day we had almost literally been wrangled into taking a horseback tour of Trinidad by one of 30 guys standing on a street corner trying to peddle a package to us tourist.  “We’ll take you all through the countryside on horseback, it will be beautiful and unforgettable”, they all call from their street corners. The kind of thing you hear from everyone trying to sell whatever they can to make a living.

But because Brian and Stephanie had stopped to chat to one certain gentleman the day before on their quest for fuel and thought it would be polite to entertain him for at least five minutes while he gave his spiel, we were talked into a full afternoon on horseback for the low price of $12 a person.  Complete with entrance to a private park and a stop at a local farm.  We all figured, “Why not?  It could be fun”.  And in saying yes we opened ourselves to an endless day of beauty and the authenticity of Cuba.

You can find the original post here.

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, serenated 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 my weight into it.
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Juan, trying to sweep Stephanie off her feet.

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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Trinidad Part I: We’re Not Following the Leader….The Leader….The Leader

Wednesday May 15, 2013

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Before our trip to Cuba, Stephanie had done a lot of research and found out that a little town called Trinidad, about 50 km from Cienfuegos, is a World Heritage Town, and wanted to take a visit there while in the country.  We had discussed the four of us renting a taxi or private driver to get there, but on our walk yesterday, we found something that looked like much more fun.  So at 9 am this morning, after leaving an hour after what was planned since I apparently can not figure out this one hour time change, we were at the car rental agency.  But it was not a car we were renting, it was two mopeds.   After paying the $20/day fee and leaving a $50 deposit, we had our helmets on our heads and were next door fueling up before we took to the open roads.  Having grabbed a few maps when we had first stopped by yesterday to inquire about the bikes, we briefly went over the route we’d take that day, starting out on a few side streets so Brian could get the hang of how the bike felt.  Matt pulled out first with me wrapping my arms around his waist, and Brian and Stephanie pulled out just behind us.  Although the signs from the main road made it appear as if this street we had just turned on to would eventually lead us to Trinidad, it very quickly led us to a dead end instead.  We hooked a louie and then turned right on the next street we came to.  Surely this had to be putting us in the right direction.  Traveling down a very residential area now, the street turned from cement to dirt, but we kept pushing forward.  There was another dead end coming up in front of us, but we figured we’d just get there and take another left.  Cocking my head back to wave these directional symbols to Brian, I looked back to find no one there.

Are you effing kidding me?  Not even five minutes into this trip and we already get separated from each other?  We stopped the bike and waited.  And waited, and waited.  After 5-10 minutes we assumed they must have made the previous left, and so we continued forward on our dirt trail until it led out through a construction zone and to the main road we had been trying to find this whole time.  From where we were sitting we couldn’t see them, so we made a left on this main road to go back to where we think they most likely came out from.  No one was there either.  Trying to figure out where they may have gone, we went back up to the road we had just come out on in case they were there, now looking for us.  Still no Brian and Stephanie.  Knowing that this spot was further up the road and closer to Trinidad, we agreed that they’d have to pass by us at some point, so we stood there to wait some more.  Fifteen minutes went by and we still hadn’t seen our friends.  I wanted to trace our route back, but both of us were certain that as soon as we took our bike away from this intersection, our missing friends would of course show up.  I told Matt just to leave me on the side of the road while he went back to retrace our steps and see if he could find them waiting on any other corners.  For ten minutes I stood on a dusty patch on the side of the road, but didn’t see anything other than the occasional car or horse drawn cart.  Matt eventually made his way back to me with no one following behind him.  We were on our own.  Now having been separated for 45 minutes, we assumed they must have left without us, and we’d all meet back up in Trinidad.  It couldn’t be that big of a city, right?

Traveling there on our own presented another small problem in the fact that we only had two maps on us.  One was a detailed map of Cienfeugos, only telling us to follow ‘Cinco de Septiembre’ to get out of town and towards Trinidad, and the other was an outline of the whole freaking country.  If there were any turns for us to make without road signs indicating it was towards Trinidad, we’d be officially screwed.  Fortunately for us there were street signs, and I’d call them out to Matt, making sure he saw them and had time to make the necessary turns.  After making a couple of turns here and there, and almost getting dive bombed by a gigantic hawk, we were out of the city and on our way to Trinidad.  At least we were pretty sure.  It was a little unnerving when no signs popped up for quite a long time, and then once, a sign told us to turn left and then promptly threw us into a left or right intersection with no signs.  There were two young men on the road, and when I smiled and asked “Trinidad?”, they grinned and pointed to the left.  The views in the open countryside were breathtaking, with rolling hills dropping themselves out into open fields, marked with wooden posts made from chopped tree branches.  We enjoyed sights like these until 1/3rd of the way through the drive when I noticed something I did not want to see.  Because of Matt’s need to ‘see what we can get this baby up to’, we were now on a half tank of gas.  Unless we could find a station along the way, and since we had gotten out of Cienfuegos we had seen none, we’d either be walking the bike the rest of the way or sleeping with it on the side of the road.

Cutting our speed almost in half, we meandered forward until we saw a sign for fuel, four miles up a side street.  Getting ourselves there with only one of the eight bars remaining, we topped off the tank and continued back on our way.  The remaining part of the drive was just as beautiful as the beginning, but with many different ranges from what we had been seeing earlier.  The hills dropped off to coastline, and we were able to view it from the other side, as land travelesr looking out to sea, opposed to sea travelers searching for land.  There were rocky hills with oxen grazing on grass, and weathered old men, wearing their cowboy hats low as they trotted their horses down the road.  There was also another very odd sight along the way, and that was hundreds of little crabs crossing from one side of the road to the other.  We were doing our best to avoid them while only going along at about 35 mph, but there were many remaining bodies of other crabs that had not been so lucky during their crossing.

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The same crabs on the same road, taken by another couple who encountered them a few weeks earlier.

(Photo courtesy of Mr. Mrs. Globetrot)


When we finally got in to the town of Trinidad, it was much larger than we were expecting.  Quickly hopping off the bike, I looked at a map on the side of the road that might give me any clue of where we were or even where we might want to be.  Where we really wanted to be was where Brian and Stephanie were, but we had no clue as to what part of Trinidad that was.  Heading toward what we originally thought was the center, we walked down a few streets, poked our heads into a few restaurants, and decided to carry on to the historic center of town.  After taking the bike up a few cobblestone roads, we stopped it once more to get out and look at a map.  It was right when I was trying to find the ‘You are here’ dot that a big burly man came out toward us.  He indicated that the road we were about to dive down was pedestrian only, and we’d need to leave our bike behind.  That’s ok though, because he was a ‘Parking Official’, with a badge a handmade sign above his door.  With his elderly mother knitting in the window and two small children running around, we weren’t worried that the bike would disappear on us, and moved it to sit right in front of his house.  Using the best Spanish I could to get out that I was hungry and needed food, his sister was brought out to show us the way to a restaurant, one that was of course, in the family.  Coming up to a home that had the national symbol for a ‘casa particular’ on the front, we walked through a living room, down a hallway, and past a kitchen until we were dropped off at a quaint little restaurant on an outdoor terrace.

The owner came to greet us and after realizing we spoke very little Spanish, slowed down and enunciated her words so we could get the gist of what she was saying, also adding lots of hand gestures.  She was kind and patient, and an overall helpful person.  We each ordered beer and pasta and talked about how we were going to try and find Brian and Stephanie, something that was beginning to look like a lost cause.  At one point though, I turned to Matt and said, “I don’t know, I have a feeling we’ll find them.  Who knows, maybe they run into the same parking official and he’ll bring them here too.”  He just laughed at me and filed that thought under the category of ‘least likely things to ever happen’, as we continued on with our meal and debated on if we should stay at this place for the night since we did not have any other lodging booked, and I didn’t know how this casa particular thing worked well enough to start fresh at a new place.  We looked upstairs at the two available rooms, found it was only $20, and told her we’d take it for one night.  Plus…is the other room available, just on the off chance that we run into our friends?  She agreed that it was, and we went back down to our table to celebrate the fact that we had just found a place to stay, by drinking daiquiris made from Havana Club rum.

Just as our glasses were getting empty and our plates were being cleared, we heard a noise from the kitchen and looked up to see Brian and Stephanie being led in by, who else, the parking official himself.  We jumped up from the table and wrapped our arms around them as if we hadn’t seen them for months.  They didn’t even have a chance to unsling the backpack from their shoulder before we were rushing them to our table to sit down and tell us their end of the story.  We thought that we had waited long for them by staying in our area in Cienfuegos for forty-five minutes, but they had gone back out to the scooter rental place an waited for an hour and a half!  Serendipitous as it was, once they were in Trinidad they tried to bring their bike down the same pedestrian street we did and were stopped by the same guy.  Once they saw our matching bike sitting in front of this guys house, they explained that they were looking for their amigos, and which way did we go?  Well, having run into only two other gringos that day, the parking official must have known they were talking about us and let them right to our door.  Buddy bikes reunited, and it feels so good.

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Fried plantain chips.  Best.Snack.Ever.

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View from the rooftop terrace at our casa particular.

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‘Official Parking’