We arrive in Trinidad after three stops, two for directions and one to change a tire. Jorge asked for US$90 to drive us from Caibarien to Trinidad. We called him crazy and asked Señor Osmany to find us another car. He found an acquaintance who wanted to make an extra US$40. We were joined by his wife and their son who squeezed into the front seat. The son ducked whenever we drove past military officers.
We were scheduled to stay with Havana's Señora Aleida's sister-in-law while in Trinidad but as usual, her room was booked when we arrived. Señor Armando picked us up five minutes later and he walked us to his place to meet his wife, Señora Clara and their young son, Armandito. We were taken aback as he opened a modest wooden front door to reveal a marbled staircase. We find our guest room that has high ceilings and another set of doors that open up to our own private balcony.
Trinidad is beautiful. Cobblestone streets are preserved and there is hardly any trace of the new in the buildings' architecture. There is always music in the background pouring out of the restaurants and the stores. Almost everyone is touring the town on foot. We first stopped at the Piro Guinart Cigar Factory on Maceo esquina Colon, but it looked like it was closed.
We asked the older men sitting on the stoop across the street if they were familiar with the factory's tour hours. One of the older men stood up and signaled for us to follow him. He took us inside the building right next to the factory and told us that he has been making cigars ever since he was a teenager. He led us in his apartment where he rolls his own cigars. He rolled a few for us to take home as we watched him effortlessly practice his craft. He even covered the boy's cigarette with tobacco leaf to smoke immediately.
It was only on our way out when we saw the caged finches that we realized that he might have been Señor Santander written up in our guidebook. The Trinidad chapter mentioned that the cigar factory was owned by the Santander family until it was taken over by the government after the Revolution. Señor Santander still lives right next to the factory and devotes himself to breeding more than 400 finches. Santander or not, it was a great opportunity to watch an expert roll cigars. We bought a dozen cigars for US$15 (the going market rate for Cohibas in the box with a seal starts at $US20 for a half dozen).
We continued to walk to Las Begonias, the first and only Internet cafe we'll see in all of our trips in the country. We just finally wanted to let our families know that we're okay. While there, we drank mojitos and ate our first Cuban sandwich -- no roast pork, just ham. We kept going, stopping only to watch a group of young Cubans rapping in front of Islazul, a small bar, while a younger crowd gathered to dance, bop their heads, and drink their afternoon beers.
It was almost sunset and the Plaza Mayor reminded us of Oaxaca in Mexico with its wrought iron gates and exposed bricks.
We also passed by the post office where the female clerks flirted with the boy and teased him about buying stamps as souvenirs. He bought more than he really wanted.
After our first dinner in Señor Armando's house, he told us to go back to the Plaza Mayor to hear son, traditional Cuban music played by a live band and dance the night away. We did and with more Cuba libres than I could handle, we watched the Cubans get down to live salsa music.