A Journey through Time: Cuban Diaries (Part 3)

Read Part 1 and Part 2 

Day 5 - Cienfuegos & Trinidad

 El Palacio del Valle

El Palacio del Valle

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We had an early morning on this day. Viñales was pretty much in the north of Cuba while Cienfuegos was more central/south. It was 6 hours to Cienfuegos and an extra hour to Trinidad. RJ and I both knew the voyage was going to be long and that if we took the bus they would stop every 2 hours…they do this all over Europe too…so we opted for a taxi colectivo instead with a couple from Nice. My favorite part about taxi colectivo’s? They pick you up from your front door! Our driver drove us all the way to the outskirts of Havana where we switched cars because his car couldn’t go any further. Our new driver was very chatty, and you know me, I love any excuse to speak in Spanish! He ended up stopping on the side of the road at a juice stand and buying everyone in the car some freshly made orange and pineapple juice for 2 CUP. THAT IS LESS THAN 8 CENTS! Crazyyy!

 8 cent juice!

8 cent juice!

 Sitting in the window of my palace

Sitting in the window of my palace

After a long car ride for interpreting for my new French friends so that our Cuban driver could understand their questions (thank goodness for all those months in Madrid), we finally got to Cienfuegos. We didn’t stay for more than 3 hours because it was a pretty small town. Nevertheless, it was beautiful! My favorite place was the Palacio del Valle as it was reminiscent of Spanish-Moorish art with influences of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Mudejar arts. I’ve become a junkie for architecture, thanks to living in Spain.

 Pretty much all of the doors in Trinidad were like this!

Pretty much all of the doors in Trinidad were like this!

Upon arriving in Trinidad we were greeted with beautiful cobblestone streets and a pretty much colonial town. It was so different from what I had seen in Havana, Viñales and Cienfuegos. I truly felt like I was transported back in time into a different world. What made it feel so different was the fact that cars were not allowed to drive in the city center area (where we were staying). What was allowed were horse drawn carriages—I’m a sucker for horses so you definitely say I was in wonderland.

We spent some time strolling through the beautiful cobblestone streets and found lots of 1 CUC Mojitos—ONE DOLLAR FOR A MOJITO?! Si por favor. We walked away from the city center to get a cheaper dinner and ended up at Restaurante El Dorado where we had the best (and cutest) server and a basically private dinner on the 3rd floor outdoor terrace.

 The cobblestone streets of Trinidad

The cobblestone streets of Trinidad

After dinner we walked around Plaza Mayor and relaxed in front of the Casa de la Musica before we headed back home for the night.

Side Note: WiFi was the hardest to come by in Trinidad. I had to wake up at 5-6 am in order to get decent connection to even load my emails.

Day 6 - Trinidad, Topes De Collantes, Playa Ancon  

When I woke up on this day I knew I had a packed day ahead of me—but what’s new honestly? It wouldn’t be a trip for me unless I packed my days up to the brim. What relaxing vacation?

 The horse I found in the middle of the street 

The horse I found in the middle of the street 

 The streets were lined with people like this playing live music

The streets were lined with people like this playing live music

 My friend Anita that I randomly met while standing in the middle of the street staring at a horse

My friend Anita that I randomly met while standing in the middle of the street staring at a horse

 The base of the hike up the waterfall

The base of the hike up the waterfall

I started my day off early with strolling around Trinidad. I really loved the ambiance of the town so I wanted to see more of it. During my walk, I met the nicest lady who walked me around the town and took me to a church that had the highest view point of Trinidad. Also the steepest stairstalk about leg day. After my stroll I went back to my casa and had some breakfast before our taxi picked us up to take us to Topes de Collantes National Park. (Topes de Collantes is a nature reserve park in the Escambray Mountain range in Cuba. It is filled with caves, rivers, waterfalls, grottos, canyons and natural pools). When we got there, we decided to hike the Caburni Falls trail which is the most popular hike that takes you through the coffee plantations, traditional farmers houses and cliffs that ultimately lead you to the Caburni river where a beautiful rock wall/waterfall lies. Getting to the falls was definitely a lot easier to than the hike back to the mainland. I swear the hills we had to climb on the way back had me feeling like I could call of leg day for the rest of 2018.

 At the start of our trail at Topes de Collantes

At the start of our trail at Topes de Collantes

After Topes, we made our way to Playa Ancon where we had lunch and a Cuba Libre (rum and coke) before relaxing on the beach with a nice helping of my favorite—Coco Loco! This was probably the most relaxing (2 hours—sorry RJ) of the trip because we just laid under the sun.

 Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre

 At Playa Ancon enjoying a Coco Loco

At Playa Ancon enjoying a Coco Loco

 The entrance to "Las Cuevas"

The entrance to "Las Cuevas"

When we got back to Trinidad, we both took a nap to prepare for our next order of business—Discoteca Ayala or better known to the local as “Las Cuevas”. Why “the Caves” might you ask? Well that is because the club is literally BUILT IN A CAVE! Well more like, the cave was already there and they just decided to place a club in it. Now I have been to my fair share of insanely cool clubs—thanks to you Madrid—but when in the world will you ever be able to say that you partied and danced the night away in cave?! Still not over it. As if that wasn’t already insanely cool, the club only played Reggaeton—my absolute favorite. I can’t stand club music in the U.S. haha, probably because I never know how to dance to it.

 The inside- they played reggaeton

The inside-they played reggaeton

Like true Madrileñas we partied till dawn and finally made our way back home at around 4:30 am since our bus back to Havana left at 7 am and we still needed to pack. Yikes, old habits die hard.

Day 7 -  Havana

We woke up early (more like woke up from a nap) and called a taxi to take us to the bus station. Our bus ticket from Trinidad to Havana was the only one we managed to buy ahead of time, so for this leg of our trip we did not take a taxi colectivo.  In true Spanish fashion, our bus was an hour and a half late so we spent some time waiting at the bus station.We arrived back to Havana at about 1:30 pm and decided we NEEDED to go La Guarida (Beyonce ate here!) to take fancy pictures in its infamous staircase. Thankfully after a couple minutes of convincing, our taxi driver agreed to take us to La Guarida, wait for us while we took our photos and then take us to our casa. I told him that I needed someone to take me to the airport the next morning, so he was more keen to helping me.  

 At  La Guarida

At La Guarida

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We stayed at the same casa (I mean who wouldn’t with that amazing balcony view of the Capitolio?!), so we were walking distance from everything. We decided to eat our last dinner in Plaza Vieja at a restaurant that had terrace seating that looked over the plaza. Before eating dinner we stopped for some gelato--because why not right? It didn’t take too long for us to find Don Eduardo’s Alegre, so we leisurely made our way over there. Oh, I should mention that I did a lot of prior researching before coming to Cuba (I do this for all my trips), so that is why I already knew where to go and what to do. I really recommended doing this for any trip because it saves you the hassle of having to look for where to go and what to do while on your trip.

After dinner we walked around Havana Vieja and found some last minute souvenirs before heading to Helad’oro where we had the best Mojito and Rum flavored ice cream! We wanted to stop at one more place before heading home and that was La Bodeguita del Medio--the birthplace of the Mojito. It was a bit expensive and overpriced though if you ask me--5 CUC for a glass (yes that seems cheap in American standards, but we had only been playing 2.50 CUC max for all our drinks). We stopped by Hotel Ambos Mundos--the hotel where Hemingway lived at during his time in Cuba-- to relax and get some WiFi before heading home. Oh! We also stopped for some street side churros on the way there. YUM.

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Day 8 - Havana & Miami

 Me and my first class seat for my bags 

Me and my first class seat for my bags 

My flight to Miami left at 9:45 am so I asked my taxi to pick me up at 6 am. They usually suggest that you get to the airport 3 hours early if you are leaving Cuba, in case any problems arise. Nothing out of the ordinary happened for me, thankfully. However, something funny did happen. An hour before my flight, the service agent at my boarding gate called me up and asked me in the most serious tone if I was related to Fidel (my last name is Castro). Earlier that week, the host at one of the casas I stayed in Vinales told me that the last name “Castro” was not very common outside of Santiago de Cuba where Fidel is from and was even shocked when she read that my last name was “Castro”. Knowing this, I laughingly joked around with her and asked her what she thought. She was definitely not having it with my jokes. Yikes, I guess comedy was never my forte. She then proceeded to ask me if I would be okay with being upgraded to first class or if I wanted a whole row to myself (she saw I had a backpack and some other stuff I was carrying). WHAT NOW?! Uhm, I have been upgraded to first class before, but I’ve never been given all these options. FREE OF CHARGE TOO?! I told her I was American and did not have an Uncle Fidel, but she already had made her mind up. So I guess, thank you Uncle Fidel?

Getting back into the U.S. was a breeze and I ended up spending the rest of my day exploring Miami. I went to Bulla Gastrobar in the Miracle Mile area and strolled down the area for a bit before heading to Pasion del Cielo coffee shop to spend the rest of my free time doing work since I had been offline for the whole week.

 Arroz Calderosa-- Bulla Gastrobar

Arroz Calderosa--Bulla Gastrobar

 Pasion del Cielo coffee options

Pasion del Cielo coffee options

Day 9 - Phoenix → Las Vegas

Living on the west coast, the only (budget) option I had when booking this trip was to have 2 layovers on my return. It was exhausting definitely, especially because my flight from Miami arrived at midnight and my return flight did not leave until 9 am, but nothing I haven’t done before right? The Phoenix airport wasn’t too bad. There were a couple other stragglers like me, so I just found a quiet place and did more work while I waited for my return flight to Vegas.

Whew. That was lengthy. I hope this gives you an idea of what my international trips are like! I have A LOT of information and content about Cuba coming up soon, so stay tuned!

Till Next Time,

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Paula Castro