Off the Beaten Track
Story by Rick Goodman / Photos by Beatrice Daigneault
of theHoly Trinity in the Plaza Mayor - historic centre
of Trinidad, Cuba.
of the Church of theHoly Trinity, Plaza Mayor, Trinidad,
our accommodation booking thru Travelerspoint and Hostelbookers
online, arrived in Varadero and were met at the airport by
our casa owner. She put us in a taxi and we didn't see her
again for two weeks. The taxi driver took us to a different
address and that was that. This seems to be common in Cuba.
The casa owner will overbook and then pass the overflow guests
onto family and friends. They seem to act as a sort of booking
agent for local casas. Not likely that its free, there's
probably a finders fee or a split on the client fee.
means to you is you may or may not be staying where you thought
you were going to be and your housing may or may not be on
par with what you agreed to pay when you booked your room.
call it an intentional rip-off, its more just the way
things work here. When it comes right down to it youre
probably not paying more than $25.00/night for the room anyway.
of the cooking varies too... from adequate to excellent. The
going high season rate seems to be around 4.00 CUC for breakfast
and 8.00 to 12.00 CUC for dinner. Count on eating a lot of
fish, pork and chicken backed up by a salad and rice and beans.
Lobster runs around 12.00 CUC.
the pricing is the same as that in a good restaurant in town
but often the food will actually be better in your casa.
in two different casas in Trinidad. It was a pleasure to leave
the first one. It was advertised as having air conditioning
but it didn't, in our room anyway. To be fair, it's possible
they said the room had an air conditioner and let us draw
our own conclusions. I really can't remember.
pressure was very poor, the food indifferent, and the room
was not cleaned in the four days we were there.We left a couple
of days early and moved to the Casa Rosa de Saron.
say enough good about this casa. For our money we had a huge
bedroom, modern private bathroom, private entrance and personal
balcony. Rooms were cleaned and sheets and towels were changed
and his wife Barbaro were perfect hosts and very good cooks.
Their personal belief seemed to be that only too much food
was enough food. Tomasa also made an excellent but lethal
mohito. Bea and I had one before dinner and laughed and laughed
all the way thru the meal. Something about me missing my mouth
with my fork struck us as absolutely hilarious for some reason.
After dinner we decided to go upstairs and serenade the pig
next door. Bea wanted to go with "You Are My Sunshine,"
but we settled on a couple of verses of "Old MacDonald
Had A Farm" instead. Hard to tell if the pig enjoyed
it but the neighbours gave us a round of applause. Early to
bed that night.
had the use of a patio and a sun roof so we could always find
a comfortable spot to sit and watch the light change on the
Sierra del Escambrays off in the distance.
I have very little Spanish and most people here have very
little English but it doesnt seem to matter. We used
a little phrase book and managed to get by. If you ever really,
really need someone who speaks English someone will show up.
That's just the way it is.
wandering around Trinidad for a week and had started to get
a feel for the place.
night we were there one of the street hustlers took me to
buy cigars. What happens is cigar bands are either stolen
from the factory or counterfeited and inferior cigars are
fitted with these bands and sold out of back rooms to tourists.
We were taken to somebody's bedroom where a man was busy unpacking
cigars from plain white plastic bags and repacking them in
the appropriate wooden boxes. They will sell you a supposed
premium box valued at maybe $300.00 for around $30.00. There
are enough gullable tourists around to make the scam worthwhile.
man wanted us to celebrate New Years with him in his
home. Of course we would have to buy a meal and drinks.
time we met them on the street it was "Hola Amigo,"
and handshakes and high fives all around. They never made
a cent off of us but we all enjoyed knowing that they knew
that we knew what they were up to and laughing about it with
were a multitude of one-horse carts going about town hauling
people and produce. You could hear them coming up the street
shouting their wares. Mostly fruit and vegetables. On New
Years Eve, however, there was a cart with a whole dismembered
pig for sale downtown. We walked past it several times during
the day and watched it slowly disappear down to head at one
end and a tail at the other, with a long greasy spot in between.
also came by on bikes and bicycle carts selling bread and
produce as well.
to feed ourselves lunch so we started looking in the shops
(Tiendas). We found a shop that had big rolls of processed
ham for sale so we bought 2.00 CUC's worth. We had enough
ham for around three days. Cold beer was 1.00 CUC a bottle.
make a quick note about money here. There are two currencies,
the CUC or convertable peso and the national peso. A CUC is
worth around $1.00 Canadian and there are 25 national pesos
in a CUC. This makes a national peso worth roughly 4 cents
Canadian. Its a good idea to learn the difference between
a CUC and a national peso. For one thing you won't have a
lot of use for national pesos, and more importantly you can
find yourself getting seriously short-changed if you can't
tell the difference. Some people on the street will try and
trade you straight across national pesos for CUCs. Or offer
to exchange money and give you national pesos instead of CUCs.
Back to lunch.
we had 4.00 CUC invested in lunch. Next we went looking for
vegetables and found 6 vine ripe tomatoes and a bunch of onions
for 30 national pesos. Farther down the street we found a
bakery and bought a fresh loaf of bread for 3 national pesos.
There you have it, we had more ham then we knew what to do
with, cold beer and good sandwiches for 5.32 CUC.
a lifestyle to enjoy. We'd breakfast and then walk around
town enjoying the sights and making our small purchases. Then
we'd retire to our casa for lunch and a siesta during the
heat of the day. After the evening meal we'd wander about
town some more. Possibly head up to the Plaza Major to listen
to live music and enjoy the dancing. If we found the pace
too hectic and a change was needed we'd head to the beach
and relax between swims under the shade of cabanas or mango
casa particulars so I should take a little time to explain
what they are. There are two ways to enjoy Cuba... the all
inclusive package... where you are sequestered from the general
Cuban population. The only interaction you will have with
the people will be with hotel staff. Tours and day trips are
for sale as well.
on the other hand, are private homes that purchase a licence
from the government and are entitled to rent out up to two
bedrooms. They are a sort of bed and breakfast. High season
rates range between $20.00 and $35.00 per night for the room.
They may charge more if there are more than two people in
the room. Breakfast may be included in the price but you are
more likely to pay around 4.00 CUC for a very substantial
morning meal. If the food is good, and it is where you are
staying, you will get a very good dinner for between 8.00
and 12.00 CUC. Any of the popular tourist areas will have
casas in abundance. We booked ours through Travelerspoint
on the internet but their listing is by no means comprehensive.
experience is great if you want to travel around the country
or if you want to stay put for more than a week. It's very
affordable and gives you a chance to settle into a neighborhood
and watch life around you.
and here in Trinidad, Cuba it's 30 degrees Celsius. I'm
sitting on a patio in the shade of a mango tree listening
to the bread and produce sellers shout their wares as they
go by on the street. Cuban music is coming from the street
in front of me and a radio behind me is broadcasting a baseball
game. The pig next door lets out an occasional grunt during
his siesta and the roosters find it too hot to crow.
here, palm trees, atmosphere, architecture hundreds of years
old, but make no mistake, it is a third world country. The
streets can be gritty, garbage is hauled away by tractors
pulling trailers. People keep pigs and chickens at the back
of their casas. Horse carts may be ecologically friendly but
they do leave a certain residue behind, no pun intended. Lots
of small dogs wander around the streets. There are odors and
there are flies. After a while you don't even notice.
about Cuba is how dark the streets are after dark. There are
virtually no street lights. Street signs are on the sides
of buildings and you often need a flashlight to read them.
It's strange, but we've never been uncomfortable walking down
these streets at night. There are some parts of town we wouldn't
go to but there doesnt seem to be a problem on the tourist
routes. In North America I wouldn't walk a street that dark
even if I had a police escort and a shotgun.
is a hit or miss affair here. The shops sell what they can
get but there are a lot of bare shelves. Bea looked all over
town for a box of potato chips. Items we take for granted
may or may not be available so you try and plan ahead and
buy anything that's available if you think youre going
to need it.
no shortage of tourist stuff to buy here in Trinidad, however.
Small shops and street vendors display art, ceramics, and
textiles. Bartering is expected and a part of the shopping
experience enjoyed by both parties. This is how the people
eat, so I never try to drive too hard a bargain.
famous for its vintage North American automobiles. Lots of
Fords and Chevys from the 1950's. Some are privately owned,
a lot are taxis. All are buffed and polished, and maintained
as best they can with what parts are available.
been converted to diesel engines, with mixed and matched drive
trains and such. People cobble them together however they
can just to keep them rolling. I've yet to ride in one that
has a working speedometer. Or any other functioning dash gauge
for that matter.
you need a speedometer. Youre too busy trying to hold
it on the road to waste time checking how fast youre
around Cuba isn't difficult. The bigger towns have regional
airports and airfares are not bad.
travel by bus however. The national tourist bus line, Viazul
runs clean, air conditioned buses, and fares are cheap. The
300 km from Varadero to Trinidad will cost you 20.00 CUC.
dare you could try traveling the way the Cubans do. Intercity
transport might be a beat up old chicken bus or even a flat
bed truck with standing room only. Traveling this way you
would probably make the same trip for around 3.00 CUC. But
I wouldn't recommend it. Your trip would be hot, dusty and
slow. A bathroom break at a local would probably be a traumatic
experience for the first timer and an event not for the faint
of heart even for the experienced.
never leave home without toilet paper. Never. Just don't do
it. I mean it.
hang out at bus stations offering rides to wherever youre
going. The driver will always quote high so don't be afraid
to bargain. And be prepared for a ride that can range from
comfortable to terrifying.
CUBA AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT
in a little city called Matanzas overnight and had to get
to Varadero to catch a Viazul bus to Trinidad. A taxi driver
offered us a good fare so we took him up on it. It was either
that or hang around the Matanzas bus station for two hours.
The Matanzas bus station looks like a bombed wreck, but without
the charm or ambiance.
in Varadero alive. Esteban, our driver, tipped me three national
pesos, (I have no idea why) and handed us over to another
taxi driver outside the bus station. This fellow made his
pitch and it turned out that for 10.00 CUC a head more than
bus fare we could enjoy a private car ride across the island
and leave immediately.
him up on it. Esteban transferred our bags, shook my hand
and wished me, "Good Luck."
have told me something. It didn't. Too late.
turned out to be a 4-door Volkswagen hybrid something or other
of unknown age. It had not been new for a very long time and
had survived a series of modifications and retrofits. The
seatbelts had been removed to save weight. So had all the
tread on the tires. Also the inside door handles. I think
these had been removed so you would stay seated all the way
to the site of the crash and not distract the driver by trying
to jump out.
view mirrors were gone because this is Cuba and what's behind
you doesn't matter any more. You've already passed it.
As I understand
it, here's a few of the traffic laws in this country... If
it's moving away from you, pass it. If it's coming toward
you bully it out of the way. If it's just standing around,
(like cows and goats tend to do) make some attempt to miss
it. We came to Trinidad sometimes on the right side of the
road, sometimes on the left side of the road, and sometimes
we just blundered along until we found the road again.
law seems to be... Put your trust in the Virgin Mary on your
dash board and not in the brakes, because nobody seems to
out that our driver was an ex-starfighter pilot from the future.
If we could only go fast enough he could get back. Who knew.
Anyway, he took us up to velocities you wouldn't believe possible
in a wreck of an old volkswagen with bald tires, no steering,
no shocks and no brakes.
worked. He'd push a button and the car would make a pathetic
little quack, like a debutante pooting thru silk. I remember
a bicycle following a horse cart going our way and a 57 Chev
coming at us. Our car let out its sorry little blat and pulled
for the hole in the middle. The bike went rocketing thru the
ditch on one side. The Chevy took the ditch on the other side.
We went thru the hole breaking wind and screaming like little
girls. My foot was a blur pumping the imaginary brake petal.
The horse was oblivious.
how we came to Trinidad. The driver did not tip me three pesos
but later that day a dog bit me.
PIG IS DEAD - HAPPY NEW YEAR
is a small colonial town of about 17,000 people. Old town
streets curve and wander about. Many of them are cobblestone.
narrow and when the sun is shining most of the pedestrian
traffic moves on the shady side of the street. The rest is
taken up by taxis, buses, horse carts, bicycle cabs motor
cycles and dogs.
hang out offering you cheap cigars, places to stay, places
to eat or drink. There's usually a fair bit going on.
are long and narrow. They face the street with stone and iron
grillwork, shutters and tall wooden doors. They stand shoulder
to shoulder, there are no lawns or back alleys. Or back doors
for that matter. You share a wall or stone fence with your
neighbors on three sides.
are built around open courtyards. There will be rooms front
and back of the courtyard and if it is a big casa, on the
sides as well.
Out the back people often raise chickens and a pig or two.
If your neighbour raises pigs he will very generously share
his flies with you. You can also listen to his rooster crow
before New Years Eve we checked into our casa and went
looking for something to eat. There are places where tourists
eat and places where locals eat. We're from Canada so how
were we to know. Anyway, there was a sign that said, "Ham
Sandwiches," in Spanish. These folks were not used to
tourist types and were thrilled to have us. They made us sit
down and then rushed around finding room on the bed and enough
chairs for everyone in the family to sit down and watch us
no English and I had enough Spanish to say, "Good,"
and "Beer." So that got us beer to go with the sandwiches.
we got around to understanding that they were getting ready
for New Years. In Cuba this is a quiet celebration shared
with family and friends. Quiet after the pig dies anyway.
You can't celebrate New Years here without pork, and
getting the pork off the hoof and onto the plate is a hands-on
of the casa/restaurant wanted to show me his pride and joy
so I followed him out the back. Nice pig, squinty eyed, fat,
curly tailed, and completely clueless. My new friend drew
his finger across his throat in that age old gesture that
means its all going to end badly for somebody. Then he winked.
The pig grunted in surprise. Apparently this was breaking
news. His wife nodded her head and said, "Good."
The dog took it all the wrong way and bit a chunk out of my
ankle. Time to go.
them 10.00 CUC for the beer, sandwiches, and experience. We
said our goodbyes. The wife beat us out the door in her hurry
to spend it. I like to think we made their New Year's celebration
a little cheerier. The dog certainly looked satisfied.
that night we were having a drink in our courtyard after dinner.
A pig started shrieking next door. It went on and on and on.
Our host refilled my glass, smiled, and said, "Delicioso,
I cook for you tomorrow. I toasted the pig's passing... Happy
Ancon is a stretch of beach about 12 km out of Trinidad, Cuba.
You can get there for around 2 pesos on the hop-on hop-off
bus or 8 pesos in a taxi. There are three hotels and a marina
on it. The sand is not as fine as Varadero's, but it's plenty
nice enough. There are cabanas and mango trees for shade.
Vendors walk up and down the beach selling snacks. You can
wander over to an outdoor restaurant and get a cold beer for
a peso and a good sandwich for a couple of pesos.
topless beach. For some reason older European women like to
promenade around in nothing but sun block and a bikini bottom.
Ladies... it's just not going to work. They're not plants,
they're not going to perk up no matter how much sunlight and
water you give them. Ever. In automobile terms the dimmer
switch is bust and your stuck on low beam. In some cases just
fog lights. That's all I have to say about that. Other than
their husbands run around sporting speedos under big pot bellies.
weekends the locals come out and party on a stretch of sand
between the hotels. The place livens right up. Ma, Pa, Uncle,
Aunt, Cousin, and all the kids crank up the music, break out
the rum and food, and the party is on. These folks know how
to have fun. They found out a long time ago that there's more
to the beach than laying in the sun trying to contract a carcinoma
ones break for the water and half the time get dragged back
to the family homestead kicking and screaming. Then they break
for the water again. The older ones promenade up and down
the beach to see and be seen, like everybody that age has
else is eating, drinking, and visiting around. A good Spanish
conversation sounds to my ear like a fistfight is about to
break out. Especially when you have to talk over that good
Cuban son. The rhythms are infectious and after the rum kicks
in there will be dancing.
and Europeans don't know diddley about beach partying. Bea
and I tried Cuban style beach partying but had to quit early
and nap. In my case, right from, "WHOO HOO PARTY! I LOVE
EVERYBODY!!!" to face down in the sand. Disgraceful.
It's the rum.
meet a group of Australians later that week who could give
the locals a good run for their money in the partying department.
I booked a romantic sunset cruise at the marina. They put
you on a big catamaran and take you out on the ocean to watch
the sun sink into the sea.
romantic, beautiful? Nope. We got grouped with about a dozen
people the youngest one was probably around 75. They
helped each other off the bus, wobbled up the gangplank, and
we were off.
I were on the other side of the boat watching them sit, talking
quietly amongst themselves. It was a heartwarming scene. You
would never have guessed they were plotting a mutiny. We rounded
the point, hit the open ocean and they made their move.
moving like a ninja, kicked open a locker and broke out the
rum. Another one elbowed the captain's mate out of the way
and got control of the stereo. The party was on. Dancing,
downright lewd dancing, drinking, bum patting. It looked like
a mosh pit.
Bea and I huddled behind a barricade of life jackets. One
determined old gent kept wanting Bea to dance. She fought
him off with a discarded walker. It was a good fight.
a while the sun went down, we turned around, and when we rounded
the point someone turned down the stereo. Someone else kicked
all the empty rum bottles into a corner and everyone found
a seat. Decorum ruled, but not on the high seas.
gotten this far you've reached the end of my little Cuba story.
I hope it encourages you to dust off your passport and go
and explore this wonderful country for yourself. If traveling
around by yourself seems a little too intimidating you might
try booking a package tour or even an all inclusive package
just to get your feet wet, so-to-speak. Once you've gone,
youre probably going to want to go back. I do.
when the time comes just pour me in a bottle and toss me in
the water. I'll find my way from there. See you on the beach.
Goodman lives in Ile A LA Crosse, Saskatchewan.
He likes to travel and can be reached at
from December 2012:
The Red Hatters
were at it again! This time in their Pajamas!
Can you imagine
going out to Brunch in your PJ'S?
that is exactly what fifty Red Hatters did on December 8,
2012 when they gathered at the Parkway Retirement Community
for Queen Annabella's fifth annual Red Hat Brunch With Santa.
The food was fantastic, the Ladies had a lot of FUN (there's
that "F" word again!) visiting and catching up on
each other's news - and as always, the Teddy Bear Beauty Pageant
was a big hit with trophies for 1st place in 4 different categories.
high light of the party was when the original Red hatter himself
arrived accompanied by his two little elves (not so little
now as they were 5 years ago when they came for the first
Brunch.) The Elves handed out candy canes to all the Ladies
and everyone got to sit on Santa's lap and tell him if they
were naughty or nice. This was followed by everyone getting
a small gift from under the Christmas Tree. Needless to say,
everyone had a good time!
great way to finish off our Red Hat Year! And we are already
planning for next year. Merry Christmas To All and all the
Best in the New Year!
2013 Manitoba 55 Plus Games
OF MORRIS TO HOST 55 PLUS GAMES - JUNE 11-13, 2013: RONDEAU
Living, Seniors and Consumer Affairs Minister Jim Rondeau
promises to wear these flashy running shoes if 1000
athletes sign up for the 2013 Manitoba 55 Plus Games.
Lets make it happen!
has been named host for the 2013 Manitoba 55 Plus Games, to
be held from June 11 to 13, Healthy Living, Seniors and Consumer
Affairs Minister Jim Rondeau announced October 16th in Morris.
of Oct. 16, 2012 served a dual purpose: 1) to hold an Open
House for the community to meet those behind the services
such as Protective Services, and Housing and Economic Development
(left), and; 2) to announce the Games.
55 Plus Games brings older adults together from across the
province to enjoy three days of healthy competition with an
emphasis on friendship and good sportsmanship," said
Rondeau. "This is a very inspiring event and we are proud
to support older Manitobans in staying fit, healthy and active
in their senior years."
Plus Games feature a variety of events for all experience
levels from those who are keen on challenging their own abilities
to those who are attracted more by the social interaction
the games provide. Last year's event in Arborg attracted nearly
900 participants, competing in events such as bowling, carpet
bowling, contract bridge, cribbage, darts, floor curling,
floor shuffleboard, golf, horseshoes, Scrabble, snooker, slo-pitch
baseball, swimming, whist, track events including predicted
time walks, and various arts and crafts. New events have been
added including Pickleball, Nordic pole walking and cycling.
goal is to host the most memorable games ever and we have
a dedicated group of volunteers committed to making that happen,"
said Cheryl Waldner, senior services resource co-ordinator
for the Morris area. "We welcome all competitors and
we invite all Manitobans to join us for the games and to cheer
on our participants."
Active Living Coalition for Older Adults in Manitoba (ALCOA-MB)
is thrilled to continue as the lead provincial organization
for the Manitoba 55Plus Games," said Fred Bieber, chair
of ALCOA-MB. "We hope everyone involved has an opportunity
to create lasting memories and make friends for life. The
55Plus Games present a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate
healthy active aging for all ages and stages."
of Morris is a community of 1,700 people located in the centre
of the Red River Valley, 30 minutes south of Winnipeg.
information on the 55 Plus Games, visit www.alcoamb.org
or contact the ALCOA-MB official 55 Plus Games office at 204-261-9257
in Winnipeg, 1-855-261-9257 (toll-free) or by email
Karyn Heidrick if youd like to participate in The Games:
Toll Free: 1-855-261-9257 or 204-261-9257 or
Contact Angela Reid, Recreation Director of the Morris Recreation
Commission, if youd like to volunteer during The Games:
204-746-6622 or email: email@example.com.