After a buffet breakfast we were bound for Trinidad. Before leaving town we headed to the local Mercado. It was a fairly typical Mercado and yet fun to explore.
Our first stop out of town was a Batey. Batey is a Cuban word for a small community that centers around a sugar plantation and factory.
The site, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was founded in 1847 by the Saria family. In 1884 Elisha Atkins, grandfather of US assemblyman Chester Atkins bought the plantation and factory. At that time there were 800 slaves and the property was 4500 acres. The sugar factory remained in the family until 1959, the last owner being one of Elisha Atkins daughters.
In 1959, when Castro took over Cuba the sugar factories were nationalized. At this time the name was changed to “March of the Revolution”.
Due to the economic crisis of the 90s Castro had closed over 50% of the sugar factories down by 2004.
The “March of the Revolution” was one of the first sugar plantation/factories to be closed due to its location. The terrain is rather hilly making it difficult to move large machinery around.
In 2002 when it was sidelined 2000 workers were left without jobs. These workers were given full pay for the next 3 years with the understanding that they get an education.
Our guide, Nancy Robaina Monzon became a history teacher, and now teaches down the road while taking great pride in helping to archive the history of the plantation.
Another gentleman Pedro Gonzalez Jauragui, was the railroad engineer for the factory. Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes had over 80 km of railroad lines. When the factory was closed he retired, but enjoys meeting and greeting tourists today.
Regarding the slaves. Sugar and slavery go hand in hand. Since the aboriginal population was completely decimated by the Conquistadors the Spaniards brought Africans to do the work. Slavery was officially outlawed in Cuba in 1886. At that time the Cuban sugar entities began importing Chinese to do the work. There is a Chinese cemetery on the property, and a very small and aging Chinatown in Havana.
Notice the Chinese names in the right hand column
These books are the payroll records; according to Nancy there are 1000s of them.
The Atkins lived in the house only 3 months of the year when harvest and sugar production was occurring.
We next meandered along the bottom of the Los Helechos Mountains ( translation: the ferns) to get to Trinidad. The center of Trinidad was declared a World Heritage site in 1988, and the city itself one of the better preserved colonial towns of Cuba.
The Parochial Church of the Holy Trinity
Built in 1892, this classic facade is composed of four naves.
The altar of the church
One of two wrought iron stairs in the church
The House of the Sánchez Iznaga family, which houses the Museum of Colonial Architecture. This building was originally two houses in the 18th century, both owned by the Iznaga sugar barons. The two houses, joined in the 19th century show the typical grilled and shuttered windows, and feature an elegant portico with slim columns and a delicate wrought iron balustrade,
Built between 1800 and 1809, this house originally belonged to the Mayor Rafael Ortiz de Zuniga.
It is now the Benito Ortiz Borrell University Gallery
Diego Valazquez de Cuellar, a conquistador that originally arrived in Cuba in 1511, established Trinidad in January 1514.
However, by mid 1500 Trinidad was depopulated of the Spanish because Cortez regularly came to recruit the Spanish conquistadors for his conquista of Mexico.
Trinidad was a rich and prosperous city in the 1700s with sugar. Sugar came to Trinidad via Haiti. Haiti was a big sugar producer, but during the slave rebellion many left for Cuba bringing the sugar trade with them.
Due to this wealth from sugar Trinidad was made an Administrative Center. The 1800s however saw the beginning of Trinidad’s decline.
Some factors included; the depletion of wood, the main fuel for the sugar factories., the Industrial revolution, occurring amongst other parts of the world, and the War of Independence from Spain in 1860.
This economic decline resulted in the loss of Trinidad’s status as Administrative Center and Trinidad became a highly isolated place. This explains the preservation of the architecture within the city.
Built in 1812 for the Borrell Family, this classic colonial Trinidad residence now houses the Romantic Museum
Upside down cannons dot most every corner of Trinidad
These gents will happily pose for photos for $1CUC. The fabulous smile belongs to Paula Armentrout
Thanks to the railroad in the 1920s and the roads that were built to the city in the 1950s the population of Trinidad is approximately 100,000 people today.
The architecture of Trinidad has a few distinct features. Wide doors, pastel colors and beautiful iron work. The streets are paved with cobblestones that served as ballast when ships came from America.
Lunch at David Marti, Trinidad, Cuba
For lunch we had the utter pleasure to dine at Davi Mart. Davi Mart is a paladar. Before I rave about the food at lunch let me give a bit of history around the word paladar.
During the Cuban economic crisis of the 1990s Castro recognized that something must be done or his people were going to starve. He allowed the development of some private businesses. These were, and are today primarily restaurants and hotels.
At the same time as the crisis, the entertainment for the downhearted was an Argentinian soap opera. The soap opera centered on a woman, nicknamed Paladar, a word used to denote a person of good taste. Somehow those two things came together to give these new ventures their name.
Chef Davi Marti
Chef Davi Mart is surrounded by his family in this venture. We were greeted with a drink called Canchanchara. It consists of honey, lemon and rum served in a little terracotta cup.
We began with a “Sleeping Bean” salad. A tomato with a helping of black beans topped with grated cabbage. The entire thing was locally and organically grown.
The main course consisted of our choice of lamb, lobster (langostino) shrimp or red snapper. Since you were allowed to combine things the majority of us consumed the grouping of three fish, they were wonderful, but I understand from Carolyn Maize, a grower of her own lamb, that it was equally delicious.
We topped the lunch off with birthday cake for Leslie Lauble, a beautiful chocolate mousse cake for a beautiful lady.
After lunch we headed to ChiChi Santanders pottery factory. That was a major disappointment. The factory was not “art” pottery but was in the business of producing items to sell quickly and cheaply. This group of sophisticated, well-educated travelers headed in and headed out and we were on our way.
As the dark clouds began to roll in we made our way up to the hotel deep into the mountains. It was a slow and careful drive with badly engineered, cheaply paved roads and rain, but the fauna along the way was gorgeous.
Our hotel, Los Helechos, was sparse and utilitarian, and the dining fare bleak.
Breakfast at the hotel
Visit the street market to interact with local vendors
Transfer by coach to ruins of a sugar estate, speak with local crafters and villagers
Depart for the city center of Trinidad
Walking tour of Trinidad to meet and talk with local shop owners
Lunch in a local pleader
Visit Casa Santander
Continue to ur hotel for check in
Dinner tonight is at our hotel
Overnight Los Helechos