Monday, February 9, 2015

Cuba From the Inside Out - Part 3a. - Day One

We selected a two day excursion from the Air Canada brochure after hearing a description from the rep. It was called "Rambo Tour" also "Topes de Collantes Overnight" and was summarized as two days exploring Cuba's natural beauty. Day one would encompass a tour of the cities Cienfuegos and Trinidad on the southern and Caribbean side. Day two was a trip to a nature park (requiring a bit of walking), a cigar factory and the Che Guevara mausoleum. We soon learned that these tours are not alway as described.

Our bus trip began at 8:15 a.m. when we were picked up at our hotel.  This was followed by a long and bumpy, but educational ride through the countryside, with our first rest stop at about 10:45. I was overjoyed to see (after paying my tip) that the two cubicle women's baƱo had just that....two cubicles, no doors, no flushing. Two women were allowed to go at a time and were followed by a local with a bucket of water...interesting.  On the other hand, by now who could be picky? After a few more hours on the bus, we reached the south side of Cuba, the Caribbean side. It was lovely and warm.
Sugar Cane
Lots of horses

Here, we learned about the city of Cienfuegos, built by the French in the 19th century. Our guide explained that this is considered the most important Cuban city. It is a chief seaport and the centre of the sugar, coffee and tobacco trade. The downtown area contains over 300 magnificent buildings from the 1800's and became recognized by Unesco as a heritage site in 2005.

Arco de Triunfo
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
A theatre and college
 Might be a hotel...not sure
After a short visit to the cathedral and a quick look through the shopping area, we espied it. Must be the Cuban version of Timmies. We recognized it instantly by the lineup.  Not sure whether the troops were also anticipating coffee, trying to keep the line orderly or keeping an eye on the tourists.

Sadly, the half hour we were given in this city was far too short...all the rest of the people on our bus were in agreement. On the other hand, it was nearing 2 p.m. and definitely time for some lunch. We ate outdoors under a bamboo roof on our way to Trinidad. I believe the stop was called Los Almendros. The flies were plentiful, the food really wasn't, but at this point, nobody cared. The surroundings were interesting and scenic.
Dining yourself to what you can find
Welcome cocktail was a nice touch

"This is nothing, I've survived the Capilano Bridge."
Bamboo...grows almost a metre in 24 hours.

After lunch, it was on to Trinidad, a city that has been a Unesco heritage site since 1988. Founded in the 1500's by the Spaniards, this is a city rich with history. In the 1800's, the town's fifty six sugar mills were run at the hands of slaves. Nowadays, Trinidad's main industry is tobacco processing.

We went on a walking tour of the town and entered several museums including the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos. It contained photos, uniforms, weapons and other items of male interest. Walking was challenging, on uneven roads made of stone that had once been used as ship ballasts. It all added to the town history and charm but did nothing for our aching soles. We spent much more time than was necessary in this particular city and even got to enjoy a power outage in the early evening (hence one good reason to carry a flashlight as mentioned in my tripadvisor review of Breezes Bella Costa).
Original steps where slaves were sold

Streets made with stones from ship
ballasts...good luck walking
Not exactly as even as cobblestone,
but fit for a donkey

OK, so it wasn't quite the cigar factory tour we envisioned
Hubby scores a freshly rolled freebie thanks to
his note/picture taking observant wife.

Bell tower of San Francisco de Asis. We climbed to
the very, very top on the scariest, most rickety,
decreasing in size wooden triangles we ever saw.
Watch your head!

The view of the Escambray mountains in background and the
city of Trinidad was almost worth the climb...almost. Now, to
get back down...the real challenge began.

A few more hours on the bus and on to the hotel. What a pleasant surprise. The bus chugged, and I do mean chugged up and around as it climbed into the heights toward Hotel Los Helechos, our gorgeous hotel in the Escambray mountains. Of course, I wrote a tripadvisor review entitled, "Better Than Our Veradero Resort". Wish we could have had more time there especially now that I see other traveller photos on the tripadvisor site.

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