After saying good-bye to our casa hosts in Viñales, we hit the road again and drove to Trinidad where we spent our final three nights in Cuba.
Hostal Alay & Yaimara
In Trinidad, we split into two groups and stayed at casas particulares again. I was in a house called ‘Hostal Alay & Yaimara’ – two of the couples in our photography group had rooms on the ground floor, while four of us singletons were upstairs in individual rooms around a courtyard.
There were two single beds in my room – I slept in the bed next to the window. I could’ve simply left my windows open to let the breeze in, but with the fresh air came mozzies, and so at night I kept the windows shut and used my fan or air-conditioning unit to keep cool.
Power adapters for Cuba
As long as you have plugs or adapters for BOTH American (Type B, for three-prong and two-prong plugs) and European (Type C, two-prong plugs) and you should be covered. In Havana and Viñales, the power outlets were American Type B; in Trinidad, they were European Type C. Power supply in Cuba is mostly 110 volts, but you’ll also find 220 volt outlets. For more info, check out Power Plugs and Sockets of the World.
I always travel with a power board as there’s never a guarantee there’ll be enough power points – even in a hotel room and even Australia, never mind Cuba! I’ve always got multiple devices to charge e.g. phone, iPad, and, after a big day of shooting, multiple camera batteries (I even bring two camera battery chargers). Bringing a power board is also advantageous because you only need to use one adapter, for the power board to the socket. Everything else will just plug into the power board.
We had breakfast in the upstairs courtyard each morning. Like our casa breakfast in Viñales, it was simple and pretty much the same every day. Fresh fruit (banana, pineapple, papaya), fresh fruit juice (usually papaya), coffee, and eggs cooked to your liking. I had fried eggs with perfectly soft yolks all three mornings. Throughout the trip, I hand-washed my undies and shirts myself, hanging them up to dry in my bathroom. I did the same in Trinidad but also paid $5CUC to my casa hosts for a bag of clothes to be washed – a few pairs of shorts and trousers. We were each given keys for our rooms and for the front door of the casa and were free to come and go as we pleased, but I never once managed to unlock the front door with my key – it fitted into the keyhole with no problems, but turned ineffectually. Like in Viñales, I got up early each morning and walked to the town square to use the wifi before breakfast; fortunately, one of our hosts was always around and didn’t mind letting me back into the house.
About toilets in Cuba
The most important aspect of Cuban toilet etiquette is knowing not to flush your used paper down the toilet; it is not a good idea to flush toilet paper as the plumbing will get blocked. Accordingly, next to every toilet is a bin for your used toilet paper. I didn’t want to take any chances and risk blocking my toilet, so I followed the ‘no flushing toilet paper’ rule religiously. This isn’t unique to Cuba, by the way – South American countries have similar issues with plumbing and toilet paper.
The toilets in our hotel in Havana and in the casas particulares in Viñales and Trinidad were the regular sit-down flushing kind. Toilets at roadhouses we stopped at during our bus trips and at restaurants varied in cleanliness and functionality; they were all the sit-down kind, but some had no toilet seat and some didn’t flush at all.
In general, you have to pay to use public toilets in Cuba. At the roadhouses for example, there would be someone sitting outside the toilets that you had to pay 25 cents before you could enter. Sometimes that 25 cents also got you (literally) two squares of toilet paper (other than those two squares from the toilet sentry, don’t expect to find toilet paper in public toilets in Cuba). Sometimes there was soap at the sink, most times there wasn’t any. And as a few of us discovered, don’t expect to get anything back if you don’t happen to have the right change – your generous payment will be accepted with a smile, and that’s it!
The things we take for granted back home like toilet paper and soap are in short supply in Cuba, and so even for paying guests in hotels and casas they’re sparingly supplied. Anticipating potential shortages, I brought a few rolls of toilet paper in my suitcase. Something I noticed right away was that Cuban toilet paper was not as soft as my toilet paper from home.
Each day, along with my camera gear, I’d pack a toilet kit in a zip-lock bag: enough toilet paper and change for a couple of public toilet visits, plus a little bottle of hand sanitiser. We didn’t have to pay to use the toilets at restaurants since we were dining there, but we definitely had to pay at public toilets. My daily toilet kit ensured I was prepared for anything. The hand sanitiser doesn’t require water – so I could ensure I had clean hands and practised reasonably good hygiene even without access to soap and water.
It was such a pleasure and relief to be able to flush toilet paper again once I was back in Miami. I must say however, that American toilets are much shallower and the flush pressure seems much weaker than Australian toilets – so I wasn’t completely back in my comfort zone until I was in Sydney. When using American toilets, I always feel nervous that my ‘deposit’ will remain in the bowl after flushing.
TMI? OK- I promise, that’s all the toilet talk for this post.
Restaurante Museo 1514
On our first evening in Trinidad, we enjoyed dinner, live music and dancing (well, I didn’t dance, but the others did) at Restaurante Museo 1514.
We had a photo session at an unused train station with some Cuban cowboys. I found it difficult to take pictures of the cowboys as there were simply too many of us all gathered around our cowboy models, and my fellow photographers kept photobombing my shots. When you’re in a group of photographers, it’s unrealistic to expect that no one will unintentionally wander into your frame and spoil your shot, but on this trip, photobombing was quite a problem and made a few people very cranky. In those situations, I would just walk away and do my own thing as best I could. These sorts of tensions have put me off booking another photography group tour… at least for a while.
Taberna La Botija
On another day, we had a fun pizza lunch at Taberna La Botija. It’s a very popular restaurant; there’s usually a queue waiting to get in, and there was a line waiting by the time we finished our meal.
There were plenty of interesting scenes to photograph in Trinidad. I went to bed each night with sore feet and tired legs from walking around the cobblestone streets. The roads were uneven and in poor repair, and I had to concentrate and tread carefully to avoid twisting an ankle. In the evening walking back from dinner, I used my headlamp as a torch. The older members of our group found the winding cobblestone streets physically challenging, and skipped a couple of activities that involved a lot of walking. I was quite surprised to observe many elderly tourists in Trinidad; it’s definitely not a place I’d recommend to anyone with mobility and/or fitness issues.
Our final meal in Cuba was at a restaurant by Cienfuegos bay called Villa Lagarto, on our drive to Santa Clara Airport where we caught our flight back to Miami.
My Cuba series
I went to Cuba in November 2016, on a photography group tour. This is the final post of the series. Hope you found it interesting.