Day 21: Valle De Los Ingenios

Mon. 3rd September 2012

Manaca-Iznaga station - straight from a cowboy filmAs we have found our feet in Cuba, we have become comfortable with independent travelling. We know which of the tour agencies (Cubanacan) to go to to book the ‘Connectando’ buses to travel between towns (these aren’t mentioned in the guide books but are more convenient and yet the same price as the scheduled Viazul buses). We know to get our casa host in one town to recommend a casa in the next – and would even be OK about just arriving in town without having accommodation book.

What we haven’t done, however, are independent day trips – haggling with a taxi driver or asking our host about guides for local attractions and sorting out a deal. Perhaps we are missing out, but there are plenty of (state owned) tour agencies in every town and every hotel wanting to sell you tours and so there are many options and the prices are reasonable – and English is the lingua franca of tourism.

The closest we got to the steam train!This morning, we signed up with Cubatur (as opposed to Cubanacan or Havanatur or …) for a morning coach tour around Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Factories). We had wanted to take the old steam train to Manaca-Iznaga  which was recommended in the guidebooks both for the sense of adventure and for the views of the valley that you get as it chugs through. However,  it was roto and hadn’t been running for a couple of months, so there was nothing else for it but the bus based guided tour – which the sales rep assured us was better than the train as it visited more places.

How the 0.1% lived in colonial CubaOur first stop a lookout point on a hill overlooking the valley on one side and the Caribbean on the other – it is just very spectacular and our photos really don’t do the view justice. Then we went on to a couple of old plantations that had been preserved / restored (the area is a UNESCO World Heritage site – a cynical part of me is coming to the view that the whole planet is becoming a heritage site. Our 300 priorities are…)

Yee hah! Real cowboy in action.It was interesting seeing some of the old colonial houses in various states of restoration and also seeing and old (slave powered) sugar cane press – and tasting the sugar cane juice fresh off the press. There is also a real community living out in Manaca-Iznaga. Whilst we were just tourist fodder for some people who just wanted to sell us their stuff (some looked well made and other didn’t), we also saw schools and farms and in one case a real cowboy herding horses around.

Tower on the Museo de HistoriaIn the afternoon, after sorting out our transfer back to Havana (for one final time), we checked out the final museum we wanted to see in Triniadad, the Historical Museum. This was the town house of one of the sugar barons but is now a museum and the tower is supposed to have great views over Plaza Mayor and the rest of Trinidad.

History in Cuba is somewhat creationist – History starts with the revolution in 1956 and ends with the repulsion of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Other stuff, whether it is Batista era, or Colonial or even Amerindian is just there part of the heritage but not necessarily part of Cuban culture. The museum reflected this thinking with all of the artefacts relating to the revolution. However, the real interest lay in climbing the tower and this proved to be another Cuban adventure. When we got to the first floor and that start of the stairs up the tower, there was a rope hanging across them and a sign saying ‘no pase’. We had just decided that we were feeling a bit short changed for our 1CUC entrance fee, when the bored looking attendant removed the rope and gestured us up the stairs. She shepherded us up the stairs one flight at a time, removing the chairs that had been placed as barriers across them as she went. We weren’t allowed all of the way up but were able to see the bells and the view across town.

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