I’m sitting in a fairly modern Chinese-built bus at the terminal in Trinidad, waiting to leave for Vinales. Vinales is a small town in Cuba’s western Pinar del Rio province in tobacco country. It’s known for its scenery with tall limestone hills called mogotes, which have been compared to the hills around Guilin, China.

As I sit on the bus and watch passengers checking in their baggage at a little room nearby, it all seems fairly orderly. There is a big difference from bus terminals anywhere else in the Third World – no hawkers selling snacks and refreshments. State control lives on, despite obvious cracks appearing in the socialist system.

Like, when I arrived I had to leave the bus yard crossing a long chain that marked the boundary line beyond which dozens of jineteros weren’t allowed to pass. Once I crossed the chain, I had to run the gauntlet of dozens of people aggressively offering rooms in private homes were trying to get me to take a taxi.

The house of Julio and Rosa Munoz was only a couple blocks away on the edge of the old town, so I knew I could easily walk it. Their house has been compared to a museum and was pictured in the September or October 1999 National Geographic. Built in colonial style, it has tall ceilings, about 4 m or 12 feet high, and is decorated with antique furniture.

Julio is an electronics engineer by profession, but he doesn’t work in the field. Nonetheless his education gave him a very good command of English. Now he runs a bed and breakfast and rehabilitates abused horses. He told me that with government restrictions loosening, he plans to open an equestrian centre. He also does freelance photography, but says it’s impossible to make a living with photography in Cuba. Despite all the family speaking good English, we mostly spoke Spanish as I said I wanted to practice.

Unfortunately, Julio and Rosa went away to Havana during much of the time I was there, so I never got to see his work with horses which I had been hoping to see. Nor did I have much chance to discuss with him photography in Cuba.

I did enjoy of few excellent meals, which included more shrimp and rice and vegetables than I could eat the night I arrived, and excellent breakfast of eggs fruit and real coffee with real milk from separate pots.

Trinidad itself is a colonial city with cobbled streets built with sugar fortunes in the 17th and 18th centuries. As a UNESCO heritage site, much effort has been put into preserving and restoring it. It’s not unlike Antigua in Guatemala and other colonial cities dominated by one-storey buildings with ceramic roofing. The restored part is a relatively small area. This unfortunately means there’s a high concentration of tourists and jineteros in a small area of streets radiating from the central plaza.

I found some of the streets outside the main area, with their crumbling colonial buildings, to be more genuine, and I had more genuine encounters with local people when I walked out in these areas.

I tried to do much of my walking around in the early morning and late afternoon when the light on the pastel buildings was a phenomenal and temperatures cooler. I often found an interesting scene to photograph and then waited to see who (and what) would pass through it.

On Monday, I had hoped to take a trip by an old 1919 steam train to Valle de los Ingenios, the historic area of sugar cultivation and processing. But for the past couple of months the train has been out of service, so I ended up taking a bus tour.

While it afforded an opportunity to see areas that I might not otherwise see, it’s the nature of these tours that they spend much time in places where they can get tourists to spend money (like a ceramics factory) and not enough time at places of interest. The lunch break (included) was long, but it gave me a chance to talk with a Korean high school history teacher and a Dutch couple with whom I shared a table. While waiting for lunch, an old man took us down to show very us tropical fruits growing on his farm including mangoes and avocados, which are out of season, and guavas, which we tasted fresh from the tree. Of course there were also bananas growing, and goats and chickens running around.

I felt a little strange eating chicken for lunch while several chickens pecked around at my feet oblivious to what I was eating.

Street in Trinidad.

Street soccer in a church square.


Street in Trinidad.

Dog’s eye view.

Pork for supper.

Street in Trinidad.

Street in Trinidad.

Boys hanging out.

Street in Trinidad.

Street game.

Ruined church at sunset.

Buildings on Trinidad’s main square.


Two men in Trinidad watching the world go by.


Sugar plantation in Valle do los Ingenios. The gate was put there by some French making a film and is hollow plywood.

Shy boy, Valle do los Ingenios

Street in Trinidad.

Street band, Trinidad.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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