Sunday, January 8, 2017

Welcoming the New Year in Trinidad

December 28 – January 2 2017

To see photos of Trinidad, click the following link

Who is this big dude, dressed in a ball cap and dark glasses, ready to go the beach? Oh, it is our dinner! I guess Piggy missed those big knives beside him.

It was New Years Eve and our Casa Particular hosts, Belkys and Juan Rafael, had invited Ray and I and two Latvian men, who were the other guests of the Casa, to a special dinner. New Years is a family time in Cuba and Belkys mother and their son was home from college in Sancti Spiritus. Belkys had set up a large buffet of salads and rice and Juan made sure we each had a beer to mark the occasion. The pig was carved and we helped ourselves to the juicy roast meat. That wasn’t all. Belkys had ordered a special cake for the occasion, decorated with “Felix Dia 2017”. We had to caution Belkys not to give us giant helpings of cake, but it was moist and delicious. It was a great start to our evening.

Ray and I headed out to see what was happening at the Plaza Mayor, just up the cobble stoned road from our house. As usual, tourists were clustered at the bottom of the broad, sweep of staircase leading up to the terrace where Salsa bands play every evening. The tourists were not ready for salsa dancing yet. They were taking advantage of the WiFi available from three bars across the street. Everybody had their smart phones in hand, busily reading emails and browse internet sites. There was another crowd of people sitting on the upper terrace already and a lineup waiting to pay the 1 CUC entrance to get close to the band.

We were headed for the Casa de la Trova, a few doors away. This is where the local bands come to play and locals come to dance to the music. There was one table left for us in the already packed room. One group, which included a saxophonist, was finishing their 9:00 PM set, and another group was ready to take their turn. It was obvious that all the locals know each other. This was a big night and the crème de la crème in Trinidad music circles was there. There were hugs and kisses for all the notables and drinks poured from their personal bottles of Rum or Vodka, sometimes watered down with soft drinks. The 10 PM group had the best dancers crowd the small dance area, applauding after each number. The locals certainly know how to dance and enjoy themselves.

We stayed for most of the 11 PM group before leaving to explore other bars. The lineup of people waiting to go up the broad stairway was growing longer. We heard music coming from around the corner. A band on the second floor balcony of La Nueva Era restaurant was encouraging a crowd watching from across the street to echo the chorus and dance along. Everyone was having a good time. We walked on until we reached a third bar, Ruinas Segarte, where we heard decidedly different music. We went in and shared a bench and table with a local family.  An accomplished violinist was performing a jazzed up number. He was good. Accompanied by other musicians with a keyboard and drums, he even managed a Celtic melody that rivaled Nathalie McMaster, not your usual salsa or son sound. We stayed to hear a vocalist sing Felix Navidad, the only Spanish number that includes a toast to New Years as well. At the stroke of midnight everyone got up to wish friends and strangers, including Ray and me, the best for the New Year. It was a friendly group.

The New Year had begun and it was time for us to go back to our house. We passed through the biggest crowd we had ever seen in Mexico. The stairs and the area at the base of the stairs were packed with people. Amazingly, the mood was definitely happy and friendly with not even a hint of drunken behaviour. Everyone was just glad to share in the holiday spirit.

What did we do the rest of our time in Trinidad? After getting frustrated with the speed of WiFi connections, that is when we even got a connection, we finally decided we could wait until we got to Mexico to do more than send a text or two. Instead, we took walks to some parts of town we had not discovered in previous visits. There was an advertisement for a concert in Santa Ana Plaza that included several members of the famous Buena Vista Social Club. The concert was held every Saturday evening at 10 PM, the next being New Years Eve. It sounded interesting, especially as the Buena Vista Social Club has officially retired. The Plaza, across the street from the ruins of Santa Ana Church, was in the northeastern part of Trinidad in a former 19th C Spanish prison. I was informed that reservations could not be made, so we eventually abandoned the idea of attending but instead walked up the hill from the church to Motel Las Cuevas. Our Lonely Planet did not speak highly of the Government run hotel or its food, but the view from its hilltop local was worth the visit.

Lonely Planet also suggested a late day visit to Barrio de Los Tres Cruces, an area heading downhill from the Plaza Mayor. The cobbled streets of Trinidad are being eroded everywhere by the increase in car, truck and bus traffic and the Barrio was in somewhat worse shape. The saving grace were the colourful small houses lining the streets and seeing the horses return for the evening after ferrying tourists and produce around for the day.

If you want to see where the local residents live in any Cuban town, you go to the produce market, which in Trinidad is south of Parque Cespedes. The homes are not as well renovated and grand as perhaps other parts of town but the people are friendly and there is always a pickup soccer game to watch and people sitting on their doorsteps gossiping with their neighbours.

Even if we were trying to avoid the large portions served in many restaurants in Cuba, we couldn’t pass up returning to favourite privately run restaurants in Trinidad and finding new favourites. Ananda Sol was a perfect choice for our 51th Anniversary dinner on December 30. The setting in a beautifully restored and furnished Colonial house more than matches the well prepared food. There is even a good trio to entertain diners. No wonder there are lineups to get in each night.

We found the perfect lunch spot, La Redacción restaurant, in the former home of a 19th C newspaper, “El Liberal”. We had  a bowl of soup two days and shared good appetizers another day. The restaurant featured the paintings and sculptures of a Sancti Spiritus artist, Madrigal. The fantasy themes fascinated us, enough to almost consider taking one back to Canada. 

After discovering that a past favourite, Paladar Estela, where we dined in the garden, no longer served meals, we discovered El Dorado. The well priced, tasty meals were served in another restored colonial house. We ate well in Trinidad.  

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