The beginning … (first post)

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November 12, 2012 by vivalafiona

Really rubbish idea to start your big adventure with the flu. Doesn’t mix well with the tropics which can be debilitating enough due to heat and humidity. Have discovered that September in Cuba is just as hot as July and August but with the added threat of cyclones. Ojala ( I hope) that season has passed us by. Trinidad seems to be always blessed with a breeze from the sea and tropical storms at night courtesy of the mountain range behind. The sound and light shows are pretty impressive as those fairies turn on and off their lights and move the furniture around. I am staying in a casa particular (B&B) with a roof top terrace where I have almost a birds eye view of the towns terracotta rooftops and the mountains beyond and so can sit in a rocking chair and watch the lightening skitting across the skies. As spectacular as sitting on Manly beach watching storms out to sea in fact.
The October rains have arrived and I have been warned they could last through to November. Welcome to the tropics. Yesterday whilst trying to navigate my way home along streets with streams  of water pouring from the eaves of the roof of every second house I attempted to cross the road which bore strong resemblance to a fast flowing creek. Watched by a couple of local women who had sought shelter in the doorways I waded into the stream only to have one of my thongs washed away by the downhill current. The women encouraged me to run after it, but I thought it better to lose a thong than gain a broken ankle if I slipped. The streets of Trinidad are made of stone, placed here a few hundred years ago by African slaves at at time when the local aristocracy made a fortune out of sugar plantations.  They are well worn and slippery even in the dry weather. I giggled the rest of the way home, barefoot and now completely drenched.  The rain falls diagonally thanks to the sea breezes and the umbrella I had borrowed from a friend offered no protection.
Should have brought those purple gumboots with me after all.
The rain continued all night denying us even a glimpse of the full moon. All outdoor music venues were out of action and Trinidad was eerily quiet. It is usual to hear the sounds of salsa music, traditional son, afrocuban rhythms or raggaeton carrying across the rooftops from Trinidad’s Casa de Musica until the wee hours. A favourite haunt of tourists and Cuban’s who like traditional music and hanging out with tourists, there is at least one or two groups that play here each night. Sometimes dancers perform in front of the musicians on the cobble stone terrace that acts as stage and dance floor. The perfect place to catch the breeze day and night and see really great musicians at work, for the cost of a beer or mojito and a small tip.
I am trying to make a habit of walking up the hill (loma) to the television tower every morning. It offers a magnificent view of the town, the beaches, lagoon and islands on the coast, the Escambray Mt range and the very pretty Valle de Los Ingenios, Valley of the Windmills. There are no windmills now, and very little sugar cane but this was once a valley full of very lucrative sugar plantations worked by African slaves. I recall the first time I visited, ten years ago, riding on horseback through the sugar cane fields, thinking it was bliss to hear the wind whistle through the 2 metre high crop. Now there are very few if any campesino’s (farmers) wanting to cultivate sugar. Too much hard work. One of my friends suggested that a fundamental error of the revolution was to convert all the farmers into doctors and teachers. Now no one wants to work the land. Much easier to put a bunch of cows on it than plant crops.
Cuba suffers from many of the problems that Australia has experienced due to introduced species. There is a plant, similar to lantana, that has taken over the fallow plantation fields and uncultivated land. The cows eat the flowers and spread the seeds far and wild. Unlike Australia there are not too many if any wild pigs, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats or horses. All were eaten during the special period (after the collapse of the Soviet Union). When I told some friends about the huge problem Australia faced due to the numbers of feral animals destroying the native habitat they laughed. In their opinion a few boat loads of Cubans would sort that out for us. There would be plenty of volunteers happy to round up all the rabbits and goats etc and ship them back to sell in the streets. Perhaps I should let Julia know.
I am now the proud owner of a new mountain bike which will offer me the freedom to explore the valley and coastal areas more. Sadly the road up into the mountains is so steep even Tour de France die-hards would find it challenging I reckon. Contemplating the 4 hour cycle to Cienfuegos, an hour away by car, which follows the coast and winds through mango farms but will perhaps hold off until the weather cools a little or mango season begins. Averaging 30- 32 most days with some relief at night thanks to breeze and thunder storms and an overhead fan.

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