That next morning, I woke up early and headed out to explore the town with my Dad. We really couldn’t sleep too well anyway. It’s amazing how clearly you can hear horse clopping from the street below through a 3rd floor window.
Anyway, the idea was partly to see the city but mostly to find a place to by a Wi-Fi card so I could finally access the Internet and get a message to my wife that all was fine and we were still alive. All of my research had suggested Wi-Fi access was pretty easy to come by but I had not experienced this and once I finally could connect, I was told I needed to purchase an Internet card, which basically gives you an hour online.
The town was nice. It was a Monday morning so the locals were out and about heading to work…or whatever they do in Communist Cuba. We passed by a little outdoor performance area with Beatles art on the walls referencing Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road. Pretty cool thing to find and definitely unexpected.
Eventually we found the Etesca store (local Internet provider) and I was excited to get an internet card until I realized it wouldn’t actually open before we had to leave that morning for our next stop. So, we walked back and gathered our things before sitting down to an amazing breakfast prepared by our host.
After our meal, we said goodbye and went downstairs to meet our new driver. The cab was much larger and we were all happy about the extra space. The driver appeared to have a handler who requested half the money for our trip up front. We were ok with that and climbed in ready for a “short” right to Trinidad.
Everything was fine. This car had space to spare and the shocks were relatively good, but then our driver started to speak. This guy had a voice like Marlon Brando after gargling pieces of gravel. His Spanish was tough to understand and his demeanor came off nice in general, but probably not toward people who mess with the family.
We were all kind of thrown off but did our best to just go with the flow (especially since we were just happy to be in a full-size car). I was even quietly joking with my father-in-law about the mafia-esque character we had for a chauffer when our driver received a phone call at that very moment.
Oh, yeah…and his ring tone was the GODFATHER soundtrack!!!
You know the one.
I was somewhat tempted to see if there was a severed horse head or guy wearing “cement shoes” in a special compartment of his trunk but really didn’t want to go there. Ignorance is bliss and I was just happy to have a ride.
So, we arrived in Trinidad and spent some time touring the city. It was a beautiful. Very European looking with cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. Definitely geared toward tourists as several of the side streets were completely lined with little tables selling all sorts of cheap souvenirs from clothing and purses to tiny wooden cars and cigars.
We browsed for a few hours and eventually reconnected to grab some lunch before heading to our final stop before heading home the next day. Word of advice for Americans traveling to Cuba: don’t purchase the hamburger. Typically, I like to experience the local cuisine but this one place was nearby and cheap, so we ordered our burgers. There is just something not right about a hamburger actually made from pork with the texture and consistency of an uncooked Jimmy Dean sausage.
After eating, we met up with our driver and took off looking for a bathroom (not because of the burger). This part of the city was a lot like New York. If you aren’t buying, you aren’t peeing…or, whatever else you might need to do.
So, we went to a few places until a shop owner finally led us through a store into this back courtyard and a woman sitting by two restrooms with a little bucket for collecting the 1 CUC for using it.
I was happy to pay it but even happier to have stumbled upon a group of older men playing dominos. In my mind and based on some of the documentaries I have seen, this is a very stereotypical Cuban scene and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to witness it and capture a few images.
Once we returned and started to head out of the city, I began to wonder if we were going to make it without running into something. I mean, our driver, sketchy as he was, was completely distracted by anything female.
Seriously. Girl walking down the street, he follows her with his eyes and head as we continue driving toward a building. Old lady on a bike. He is staring. Female cat sitting by a window…he does a double take.
I was starting to wonder if this guy was raised in one of those “all boy” boarding schools or something and really hoped he was able to get past it and drive without killing us or someone else, but all I could really do was pray and try not to focus on it.
After a few more hours, we arrived at our final stop near Cienfuegos. Of course, it still took our driver asking several random people where this house was and finally using his phone to get the location from the host, but we were able to connect and settle in at our beautiful spot right by the bay.
We weren’t there long before we had another taxi pick us up and take us into the city to explore some more and grab some dinner. We had a great meal at a pirate ship themed restaurant that looked like something straight out of South Padre Island and were enjoying our final night when we realized time was getting away from us.
For some reason, we could not get our waiter to bring us a check and it was getting late quickly. We just kept sitting there and trying to flag down anyone with zero success. That’s when someone in the group had the idea to just get up and start walking out to see if it would spur some attention.
Short answer…YEP. We had our bill totaled up and paid within about 45 seconds.
We had arranged to meet with our driver at a nearby hotel at 8:30pm to take us back to the house where we still needed to check in and register with our host. Having already briefly experienced the horse and carriage ride to the restaurant, my Dad decided it would be fun to take it back instead of walking the 1.5 miles.
There were no objections and we flagged down the same kid who had taken us before. After a few Seinfeld jokes (anyone remember Kramer dealing with Rusty’s gas?) and comments on the food, we realized this guy was taking us down all these back roads. His explanation being that he was not able to take the carriage down the main street at night. I was a little worried we were not going to make it back in time and told him we needed to hurry. He tried to spur the horse along and eventually came to a stop about 3 blocks from our hotel and said it was as far as he could take us.
At this point, it is about 8:35 and I am just praying our taxi has not given up on these “less-than-punctual” Americans. So, we hop out, semi-annoyed already that he did not even take us the entire way and also that we are late and we realize the HUGE mistake we made from the beginning.
We forgot to ask him how much it would be for a ride back.
Since a taxi – with an engine, cushy seats, AC and complete lack of horse odor – would have probably only totaled 5 CUC to take us back, we were pretty much prepared for a similar price. Our annoyance turned to anger when the guy told us it would cost 30 CUC. At that point we all started arguing with him but he knew he had us. The cash was already in hand (mistake #1), we were running late and he knew it and the last thing an American wants in Cuba is trouble with the law should it go there.
So, we grudgingly paid the guy and I handed my Dad my camera bag and started sprinting the 3 blocks to the hotel. (It was during this run that I realized I need to increase my cardio workouts.) Unfortunately, our taxi did not wait and we were stuck having to try and find another ride back to the house. Thankfully, there was another cab nearby and we were able to get back to the house with only a few issues regarding directions.
We spent the next hour connecting with our host, Abdel, and enjoying the cool breeze of the evening before pulling out the dominos and playing some games to enjoy the little time left we had that last night.
Other than getting ripped off by a horse and carriage operator who looked like a Cuban Bob Marley, it was a pretty peaceful culmination of our final day and we slept peacefully with the assurance our next cab driver would meet us early the next morning to take us back to Havana for our flight home.
But Cuba still had one more lesson to teach us that next day and it would come in the form of goat cheese.