It’s time to make a run for the beach. We’re moving halfway down the island of Cuba to Trinidad, where we have heard the best strands are located. A number of our new friends are heading the same direction and we have the same plan as the past few nights: we will meet in the town square. But first we have to get there.
First thing in the morning, we discover that our taxi is not a car for twenty dollars each but an old bus for thirty each. We’re packed in as if we were cattle after a brief argument with the driver – he refuses to take us unless we pay the price he says. We must sit on a bench. The padding has solidified. A few hours drive later we learn we must change to another bus, which is no better. The whole journey takes us eight hours. The taxi we thought we had booked would have been a third of the time.
We leave our things in our casa and go out to find dinner and the internet. Because we arrived at dusk there is no opportunity to see the beach or the town. As soon as we connect to the internet in a pretty little square, we see Teddy has sent us a message. He’s in the main square, Plaza Mayor. Ten minutes later we’re sat on the large steps beside the church with rum and cigars.
Fuzzy, we wake the next morning and meet Teddy in the square to get a taxi to the beach. We eat a slow breakfast and hop into an old Chevy which drives us the few kilometres to the playa. There we spend the morning lounging on deckchairs and drinking from coconuts. Teddy gives me an impromptu Muay Thai session – we run to one end of the beach and do drills on our way back. It’s been about six months since I have trained and I’ve lost all coordination.
Essam and Umut appear with a few beers. They had spent yesterday in Cienfuegos; one of Cuba’s most important ports and the scene of an uprising against Fulgencio Batista during the Cuban Revolution. They seem to have had more success travelling than we did. They’re already a bit lairy – it’s Essam’s birthday.
Anička and Majky go searching for Instagram pictures while I plough through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway spent plenty of time drinking rum in Cuba; although I can only presume he drank his mojitos in Trinidad. Paulina arrives too, and so do Annelies and Celine.
Later that night, we all sit in Plaza Mayor with even more rum. Essam and Ummut are well on their way to being full. We have been joined by another American; a journalist called Philip. Tonight, we plan to visit the cave club. It is the place that everyone told us to visit when we said we were going to Trinidad. Other than that, we know nothing about it.
Up a muddy hill lined by people trying to sell us mojitos, we find the queue to the Discoteca Las Cuevas. The club is indeed inside a cave. We climb down the steep stone steps as the bass thrums through the narrow passages.
After we buy our mojitos from the bar cut out of the rock, we climb up another set of stairs to a large ledge where the floor is already packed with people dancing.
The crowd surges as the Latin American hip-hop and dancehall bursts out of the speakers. It is the sort of crush where there is no space to dance well; just to move as best you can in time to the music.
Drinks are splashed on the floor as sweat drips down the walls and hands are thrown madly in the air as the beat drops. However, Anička has no taste for dance music or orgiastic crowds and we leave the others to it.
Fuzzier, we wake up late. Today is an admin day. We have not lifted any money since Havana and Anička must send a bit of work to university. The cash machines at the bank are empty and we must queue inside. It takes at least an hour. Then the internet is too slow to send information. We try and try until, finally, Anička’s work is sent.
Back at the casa, which is huge, full of diving gear and books in Spanish, Anička and I pick up Majky. They want to make another trip to the beach to top up their tan and I decide to stay in town. One day at the beach is enough for me. I want to spend some time wandering through this five hundred year old town. It appears as if there have been no new buildings since the Spanish founded Trinidad.
Once the girls are in their cab, I try to leave the tourist area. We are very much stuck on the tourist trail. Because foreigners are unable to take the local buses there are few routes you can take without a car. Havana, Viñales and Trinidad is one of those you can.
That means the town is full of travellers, although it is much quieter than Havana or Viñales. People are put off by the difficulty and length of the journey.
I walk along the cobbled streets and pass by the colonial buildings. There are few cars because most Cubans cannot afford them. Mostly people are on foot or a bicycle. Men pull carcasses out of a lorry and deliver them to the butcher who cuts the meat in the shade of an unchilled room open to the flies. Cuban flags hang in living rooms and fly on the front of buildings; even water tanks are painted in the country’s colours.
Trinidian’s houses are painted in blues and yellows and pinks. They are tiny from the front – rarely more than a ground floor a few metres wide – but they look to stretch back from the road. Their windows are glassless but barred and most living rooms look to be in a state of disrepair. Old men smoke cigars on their porch beside a man feeding the songbirds he sells in a cage.
The sunset is a deep red. It turns the clouds purple against the deep blue of the sky. It is almost time to meet the girls in Plaza Major.
I walk under the tower of a church, which now seems to be used solely as a viewpoint, and into a landscaped square. A father plays football with his sons in front of a marble statue of a woman surrounded by floral vases. Teddy and Paulina are already in Plaza Major and soon Anička and Majky arrive. We spend our last night in Trinidad with our new friends. From here, everyone goes their separate ways.