Thursday, May 19, 2016

Trinidad, Cuba… UNESCO Treasure or Tourist Trap? Day 3

I felt like I had seen all the museums, parks, markets and tourist attractions that I wanted to see in Trinidad. 

Honestly, I was getting tired of being approached on the streets by Jineteros (hustlers) encouraging me to buy things, eat things or take a tour. The Jineteros can be helpful if you are looking for accommodation, a restaurant, a tour, a souvenir or just about anything really. However, they can be overbearing at times. Some are polite. Some are very persistent. Some are pushy. And if a Jinetero introduces you to anyone, anyplace or anything there is a built in commission that increases the price for the consumer - you. I was finding it disheartening to engage in normal conversations with the locals because at some point in the conversation a "pitch" would eventually be put forward. 

Jinetero, "Are you enjoying your time in Cuba?"
Me, "Yes, so far I'm having a good time."
Jinetero, "Where are you visiting next?"
Me, "Honestly, I don't know."
Jinetero, "You should visit ___."
Me, "Thanks, I will consider it."
Jinetero, "I have a friend with a nice hotel, I will call them for you."
Me. "Ahhh"

Jinetero, "How do you like the Cuban food?"
Me, "I've only tried a few dishes so far."
Jinetero, "Have you tried lobster?"
Me, "I've eaten lobster, but I have not eaten it here yet."
Jinetero, "My aunt has a very good restaurant, I will take you there."
Me, "Hmmm"

Jinetero, "Tour?"
Jinetero, "Cigar?"
Jinetero, "Rum?"
Jinetero, "Water?"
Jinetero, "Shopping?"
Jinetero, "Lady?"
Me, "No, gracias."

The requests seem to go on and on.

The reality is that necessity is the mother of invention. Because the political system and economy can not produce many things, people have relied on relationships and a barter system to coexist and survive. This system has been transplanted into the tourism market. There is a legitimate scarcity of many things and those with knowledge of or access to goods and services often expect some form of compensation for their expertise.
On this day I decided that I'd take it easy and check out a lesser known site outside the town center called Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Popa (Chapel of Our Lady of Candelaria). I walked past the Cathedral, down an alley, up a hill, through a neighborhood. I got a little lost and had to ask for directions. Then I stumbled upon this structure.
The Chapel dates back to the colonial era and was constructed in 1716. It was modeled after a similar chapel in Cartegena, Colombia because the two cities conducted trade. 
In 1812 the chapel was hit by a hurricane and sustained some damage. In the late nineteenth century the hospital attached to the chapel was used as headquarters of the US occupation army, between 1898 and 1902. In 1984 there were efforts to restore the chapel, but the efforts were not sustained. To the side of the chapel there was some new construction. I asked a local what was being built and I was told that it was a new hotel. The view of the city was nice from this vantage point.
I returned to the city center, found a stoop to sit on and decided to do a little people watching.
Bringing home the catch of the day.
Drying the laundry on a rooftop patio.
Walking the dog.
A man and a horse going to work.
A horse drawn carriage.
A horsepower drawn carriage
Sporting the stars and stripes
Sporting colors
Playing with a stick in the street.
1950 vintage
1940 vintage
Black song bird in a cage against a white wall.
Black song bird in a cage against a yellow wall.
I walked into the Casa de Cultura (House of Culture) to see if there were any events occurring over the next few days. Inside the building in an open air patio there was a stage with a number of young people practicing a dance performance. I sat down and watched them for a while.
After some time passed the gentleman with the red shirt sitting in the chair got out of his chair and approached me. He introduced himself as the head instructor. 

Instructor, "Where are you from?"
Me, "Texas"
Instructor, "But you look Chinese or Japanese to me."
Me, "My ancestors are from China, but I was born in the US."
Instructor, "We see many Europeans and Canadian, but not many people from the US."
Me, "Yes, I'm traveling independently."
Instructor, "Are you enjoying Cuba?'
Me, "Yes, I've enjoyed most of the places that I've visited."
Instructor, "These are my students. That man over there is my assistant. They are practicing dance."
Me, "Looks interesting. Are they preparing for a performance?"
Instructor, "No."
Instructor, "Can I have a drink of your juice?"

I was carrying a bottle of juice that I had just purchased at the grocery store. I passed him the bottle. He drank about half the bottle and handed it back to me.

Instructor, "Do you have any Euros or Dollars?"
Me, "No, I only have Pesos and CUC."
Instructor, "Oh, I was hoping to get some Euros or Dollars."
Me, "Sorry, I only have Pesos and CUC. I had to exchange my currency when I entered the country."
Instructor, "Oh, I was hoping to get some Euros or Dollars."
Me, "Sorry, I don't have any."

Instructor, "Do you have any cigarettes?"
Me, "No, I don't smoke."
Instructor, "Can you give me a five CUC to purchase some cigarettes? It is for the students."
Me, (pause to process what he had told me) "Do the dance students smoke?"
Instructor, "They need cigarettes to keep up their energy."
Me, "Sorry, I can not help you."
Instructor, "How about 1 or 2 CUC?"
Me, "Sorry, No." (thinking that I had over stayed my welcome.)
Instructor, "OK, it was nice to meet you."
Me, "It was nice to meet you, too."

The Instructor walked up to his students and told them in Spanish, "No me dio nada, ni un centavo."

I walked out of the Casa de Cultura with a new lesson in culture.

Back on the streets, I decided that I was finished having conversations for the day. I resigned to be an observer. 
I caught this group of musicians playing trova music in a small park.
I walked by a school with the classroom door open. The students looked about as interested in their studies as students anywhere.
This establishment was a repair shop. Bring in a toaster, radio or any home appliance and one of these gentlemen would repair it for you while you wait.
A glance through the window of a Cuban house revealed some vintage 1950s furnishing still in pristine condition.
I passed by the open doorway of this house and had to double back for a second look. I had stumbled upon Regla de Ocho also known as the Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá… a temple of Santería.

Santería is a system of beliefs that merges Yoruba slave mythology with Christianity and Indigenous American traditions. Santería involves various religious customs, including a trance, animal sacrifice, sacred drumming and spiritual dance. The doll dressed in white is Yemayá - a goddess of the sea. Traditionally she wears a long flowing dress, cinched by a wide belt, with a full skirt made of blue and white ruffles, which represent the waves in the ocean. As a mother, she's wise and virtuous, but she likes to have a good time and she enjoys dancing. Although she's maternal and nurturing, she's also fierce. She's fair minded and forgiving when proper remorse is shown, but her punishments can be terrible when she's outraged.

I didn't want to upset Yemayá or disrupt my day so I continued on with my walk.
Of a gentler nature, while walking by the Plaza Mayor, I saw this young girl having her photo taken and dressed like a princess. I'm guessing that she was about to celebrate her quinceañera. A quinceañera, also called fiesta de quince años, is a celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday in parts of Latin America. This birthday is celebrated differently from any other as it marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood. 
Still more placid, a collection of straw hats hanging on a rack inside of a window.
An lastly, an old man in a rocking chair enjoying the world pass by his window.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Trinidad, Cuba… UNESCO Treasure or Tourist Trap? Day 2

After an interesting first day and evening in Trinidad, I slept well. I decided to forgo the breakfast offered in my casa particular. Instead I wanted to walk around the streets and see what I could find. There was the normal hustle and bustle of people going to work, kids going to school… and then I saw a line forming at this doorway. There are bad lines and good lines. This appeared to be a good line. There were about 10 people winding their way up this small staircase waiting for something being distributed through the doorway. It stuck me as a little strange, because the venue did not look like your typical Cuban ration store or dispensary - it looked like a house. I observed as person after person would patiently wait, pay some money, then walk away with a little morsel in their hand.
This is what the people were walking away with… a fish sandwich. Sometimes it is advisable to follow the wisdom of the crowd. So I patiently waited my turn. One of the locals behind me in line seemed a little perturbed that a tourist was invading his favorite breakfast spot. I just ignored him. I waited like everyone else, paid my money (10 Pesos), then after a minute or two was given this tasty treat. The bread was soft and tender. The fish was crisply deep fried. The proprietor sprinkled a little of her secret sauce on top. It was like a hot juicy tasty explosion going off in my mouth. After devouring my first fish sandwich, I returned for a second. Luckily by this time the line had subsided. 
There were a number of local taxis to shuttle one around the town, but I opted to walk.
While walking, I spotted this teacher leading a group of students orderly through the streets. 
When modern technology and antiquated technology mix. A father and son set off to work.
Trinidad had a number of museums located around the Plaza Mayor. I'm not sure if they were developed to document and preserve art and history or make a buck off of the tourists. Most of them charged a few CUCs or $s to enter. 
This museum was the Museum of Colonial Architecture. It contained a number of displays about some of the significant buildings that were built and preserved around the city.
Inside there were mostly photos, drawings and a few architectural models.

This museum was called the Romance Museum. I asked around what was inside. I let me imagination run wild and thought that perhaps the museum contained some artifacts from a mysterious wild romantic relationship. 
What I found out was that the house was once owned by a sugar baron named Nicholas Brunet. The items inside the house did not really belong to the baron's nor to his family, rather they were gathered from around the country and assembled into a collection. Thus, I was a little skeptical if this was truly a museum to preserve some history or make some money. There were a few rooms that displayed classical colonial style furniture and furnishings. Some were authentic and some were reproductions. Sometimes in Cuba it is hard to tell the difference between what is real and what has been reconstructed.
I thought the most striking thing about this museum was when these two tall thin elegant ladies, one dressed in bright colors and one dressed in all white, walked in front of the canary yellow colored building.
 
There were other museums like the Galeria de Arte Universal that took a different approach.
This museum displayed contemporary works by young and upcoming local artists.
One of the more interesting museums that I saw was the Palacio Cantero. It was one of the largest and most impressive of the houses surrounding the Plaza Mayor. The house is now used as the Municipal History Museum (Museo de Historia Municipal) which details the history of Trinidad.  
Grander than most buildings nearby, it featured a spacious entrance hall that opened on to a large galleried courtyard. 
Original frescoes survived on the plasterwork of the main hall. 
Originally built in 1828 by Don Jose Mariano Borrell y Padron, one of the richest men in Trinidad, it was inherited by his son Jose Mariano Borrell y Lemus, Marques de Guaimaro and then bought in 1841 by Maria Monserrate Fernandez de Lara y Borrell, a niece of the older Jose Mariano. 
In 1842 Justo German Cantero y Owar-Anderson, a local doctor, married Pedro Iznaga's widow, Maria Monserrate, and it was the home of the Cantero/Fernandez de Lara family until the late 19th century.
Accessible from the courtyard, there was a narrow staircase that led up a tower that provided good views over the Plaza Mayor.
One could almost see the entirety of Trinidad. 
From this vantage point, there was a clear view the Convento de San Francisco de Asis. Built in 1813 by Franciscan monks, the building became a parish church in 1848, and in 1895 was converted into a garrison for Spanish troops. The church fell into disrepair, and in 1920 much of it was demolished, leaving only the bell tower and a few nearby buildings.  
The rooftops of the neighboring houses formed a patchwork of colors and textures.
Above the plaza to the north-east stands the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad (Church of the Holy Trinity). Construction began on the current church in the late 19th century and it was completed in 1892. It was built on the site of a previous 17th-century church that was destroyed during the 19th century by a cyclone which damaged a great many buildings in Trinidad.
The church contains an 18th-century wooden statue of Christ, El Señor de la Vera Cruz (The Lord of the True Cross) which is an object of particular reverence in Trinidad. Originally destined for a church in Veracruz in Mexico, the ship carrying the statue was driven back to Trinidad three times by bad weather and was only able to make the journey after abandoning part of its cargo which included the statue of Christ. This was taken as divine intervention by the local population and the statue has been housed in the church ever since. 
I wandered a bit and found the Parque Central Cespedes. This park seemed to have more locals and fewer tourists. There were a number of benches surrounding the park and I found it a great area to people watch. It also happened to be the only place in the city with wifi internet. So I sat watching people walking by and trying to load posts for my blog. One blog post with text and images might take 15 minutes to post and cost me about $3-4 in internet time.  
Just off the Parque Central Cespedes I found a little restaurant that offered hearty meals and charged local prices. The meal included a slice of pork, seasoned rice, congri (cabbage), cucumbers and tomatoes for the whopping price of 40 Pesos ($1.50). I had a nice dinner then retired to my casa particular for the evening.