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Gazing at Trinidad from above I’m reminded of a tropical Tuscany. It’s as impossibly picturesque as so many Italian towns and there are the cobbled streets, and the terracotta tiled roofs against a backdrop of rolling green hills. But we’re in Cuba so there are Caribbean flavours: the blue sea in the distance, the palm trees lining the streets, and the one storey houses in bright and pastel shades—saffron yellow, sky blue, pale green, apricot orange and soft pink.
Trinidad is often described as an outdoor museum. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site with carefully restored Spanish colonial architecture. At first glance the pristine historic centre seems touristy, perhaps inauthentic, but it only takes a few minutes walk to discover the vibrant street scenes of Cuban life: peso pizza stands, old guys in cowboy hats playing dominoes with serious expressions, the “jitomate” cries of a roving tomato seller, the squeals of a pig kept in a courtyard. As elsewhere in Cuba shops here look like something from the Wild West—in the dim interior sparse wares are lined up in single rows behind a wooden counter, so unlike the overstocked, sanitised, fluorescent-lit supermarkets we’re used to.
Although not quite as soporific as Viñales, the pace is slow and street noise comes from vociferous conversations and enthusiastic vendors rather than traffic. Bicycles, cycle rickshaws and horse carts are more common in the centre than the occasional 1950s car.
Trinidad comes to life early in the morning. We woke to the clip-clopping of horses, and the sales pitches of roaming food vendors hawking baskets of bread, vegetables in wheelbarrows or boxes on the back of bicycles, buckets of biscuits, or simply strings of onion and garlic draped around a neck. By the evening our neighbourhood went quiet except one night when we heard the frenzied drumming and singing of a santería ceremony next door.
In multisensory Trinidad it’s the sounds and the colours that I remember the most.