Once a thriving Port and sugar town, Trinidad in Cuba is now simply a city of remnants. In the 1800’s the French and Spanish shipped thousands of African slaves, to work in the sugarcane fields. Today it is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As you walk the streets of this eclectic town you can see glimpses of the colonial architecture that once stood as a symbol of prosperity. Some of these are slowly being restored to their former glory, particularly those around the Plaza Mayor and the region of the Municipal History Museum.
In the cool, soft light just after sunset you will need to dodge a soccer or basketball as the children gather in the streets. Barefoot on the cobblestones they play simple ball games with passion and skill. As I listened to their excited laughter and banter as to who scored that goal or whose turn it was next, I could not help but wonder. Would Australian children still play in the street if they didn’t have technology to distract them from this simple fun and exercise?
Be careful to avoid the horse and cart doubling up as a removal van complete with coffee table, twin tub washing machine (for those of us that remember what they are). Along with of course a human or two hitching a ride across town, because they can.
Neighbours catch up for a chat, with sometimes heated discussions about various topics. More than likely the subject of the day will be the national sport of Baseball, televised daily, along with not much else! As you pass by you can see into their homes through the doors and windows left open to let the smallest amount of breeze in. You can catch a glimpse of their lives, simple yet colourful, loud yet ordered and full of pride in their little piece of the world.
With rationing and limited goods it can take up to 3 hours a day to shop for a household’s daily requirements. So when a baker walks the street carrying trays of freshly baked chocolate covered biscuits and loudly announcing his goods for sale (in the midday sun I might add) it’s a blessing in disguise that the treat of the day is home delivered. Trays of eggs are also transported by hand from Casa to Casa dodging, cats, dogs, horses, children and of course the odd bemused tourists.
Concrete homes and shops brightly painted in at least two colours originating from the opposite sides of the colour wheel line the streets for as far as you can see. There is a distinct lack of signage meaning that the purpose of some of these structures is not immediately obvious (well, to us anyway). Sometimes the only way to discover a building’s purpose is to watch the locals. Are they exiting with mail? or consigned weekly food rations or perhaps money indicating that it is indeed a bank.
Flat roofs have multiple uses from laundries, somewhere to dry the washing, water storage tanks and often outdoor areas and a space to relax.
A watch and jewellery repairman sets up daily against a light pole on the edge of the street. He attracts the passersby, no overheads like rent, electricity etc. for this man, just trying to make ends meet.
The old cars are still as prevalent here, some restored like this red and white taxi we saw on more than one occasion, Many are held together with super glue, gaffa tape and a prayer that it will get them from A to B in one piece.
As previously mentioned Trinidad was once a thriving sugar plantation region with rich sugar barons employing African slaves for manual labour in the harvest and production process.
A visit to one of the restored mansions in the region of the Valle de los Ingenios provides you with a glimpse into the way these wealthy families once lived and gained their fortunes. Sometimes at considerable personal costs like the Baron Jose Mariano Borrell y Lemus, left to die tragically alone, without his wife or 13 children.
Despite these stories the cruelty inflicted on the slaves by these wealthy landowners cannot be ignored. Large bell topped towers can be seen, these were constructed to oversee the operations and maintain order amongst the slaves.
Confined in barrack style accommodation with only the bare essentials the slaves were forced to work from sunrise to sunset. It took the blood of many just to allow the wealthy the chance to sweeten their lives.
Trinidad wasn’t as “grand” as I thought it would be but I now consider myself educated in that grandeur in the Cuban culture doesn’t translate equally to our expectations in the 21st Century. Rather Cuban’s idea of Grand is rather understated yet utilitarian.