(The third part of a series recapping my 2019 tour of Cuba which helped refine scenes in the new Sonata of Elsie Lenore, another piano novel-of-suspense featuring Cuban--and Kansas--pianos and musicians.)
From Cienfuegos we took a day trip cross-country to Trinidad, a historic colonial city, ca 1514. On the UNESCO world heritage list, downtown Trinidad offers a walking experience much as the residents in the 16th century would have found.
Very rough cobblestone streets paved with rounded fist-sized stones set into the hillside and multi-storied buildings with tile roofs were typical in Trinidad.
My favorite excursion was ascending the bell tower of an old monastery, no longer used as such.
The views across the surrounding terrain were extraordinary.
Adding to our complementary cocktail list, in Trinidad we twice enjoyed drinks that we were told were peculiar to that city—the canchanchara (Fizzy with lime, honey, and rum over ice. Served in a special goblet.)
On the return trip to Cienfuegos, I saw things I’d missed before.
Many fields and yards were fenced by prickly cactus—the kind my father had that grew fast with very sharp and prolific needles.
I suspect it was trimmed with machetes. Densely grown it would make an effective barrier to keep in livestock like piglets or chickens. It would also keep out unwanted intruders.
The following morning we packed up again for our last cross-country journey. We headed east from Cienfuegos along the Caribbean coast.
We stopped at the Playa Giron (“Bay of Pigs”) museum and learned about that effort from the Cuban perspective. The US planned invasion failed due to the fact that the plan was leaked and printed in the New York Times; the expected assistance from the locals did not materialize because life for the rural folks had already become much better than it was before the revolution; and the expected assistance from the US Air Force never came. The invasion failed and the Cuban revolution stood.
We drove along the coast of the bay to a cluster of cabins and businesses. During our lunch there, a park ranger told us about the Zapata Park Conservation efforts, and afterward we enjoyed a walk on the beach or a dip in the bay.
Twenty-three percent of Cuba is protected from development and Zapata National Park is the biggest and oldest of Cuba’s natural sanctuaries, founded in 1937. The ranger explained its mission: Conservation, Preservation, and Protection. There are over 5000 square km in this preserve, including swamp, coastline, bay area, and coral reefs. Cuban and American crocodiles interbreed here and have developed a new intermediary species. Five hundred green and red Cuban parrots were released to the wild. A thriving coral reef is preserved in the bay itself.
There are 52 animal species unique to Cuba, including three species of tree rats.
Zapata is the surname of the owner of the land with Spanish ancestry, from the 16th century. It does not refer to the shoe shape of the area, or the translation of the word, “shoe.”
From there we traveled on to Havana. Closer to the city, the cactus fences changed to stone fences.
The narrow road became a 6-lane highway, though traffic was still light. Solitary people walked at random places along the road, tended grazing livestock in the roadside ditches, or rested in the shade.
A modern and bustling city, Havana presented a marked contrast to the easy-going countryside we had experienced to this point.