Saturday, 13 August 2016

In Trinidad

My plan to slip out quietly before breakfast to take photos is almost scuppered by the front door lock so I have less time to explore than I had planned. than I had planned. The streets are almost deserted and seem frozen in time; my short cut gets me lost and I'm a little late for breakfast.

All 3 of us go out mid-morning and head for the Plaza Carillo, the town's second square. We notice crowds of Cubans queueing for slices of gaudily-iced birthday cakes. We remember that the Kiwi we met yesterday had told us today is Fidel's 90th birthday and it quickly becomes clear that this is something of a big deal. This is confirmed when a band strikes up with "Happy Birthday". There is quite a party atmosphere; people are keen to share the news and as we continue our walk we notice "Viva Fidel" chalked on the pavements in the squares.

We're scouting for somewhere to have lunch when we stumble across an unexpected slice of capitalism - a modest shopping centre complete with central seating area and piped music. There is a supermarket, sports shop and a place selling toiletries plus posters featuring archetypal happy families advertising the fact that this facility is provided by a company called Caracol. I later notice that they also run several other places in Trinidad, like the tobacconist and the "mini super" near our casa.

Alex is thirsty and we attempt to buy drinks in Canchanchara bar, famous for its honey rum, but give up waiting and go to a courtyard cafĂ© where a whole pig is being roasted on a spit turned by a man - surely the most boring job in the world. We could hear the music from the bar round the corner where the birthday celebrations continued. We plotted the rest of our route around Trinidad's attractions and realised that the cathedral closed in half an hour. We headed there when we finished our drinks and were amused by statues of Santa Ana and Santa Rita.

Our next stop was the Museo Historico Municipal, housed in the extravagant mansion built by a German who poisoned the slave-trader husband of the woman he coveted so he could marry her, only to have her die in suspicious circumstances, conveniently leaving him the fortune she inherited from her husband. We marvel at the uncharacteristic grandeur of the mansion and enjoy the relative coolness of its colonnaded courtyard but the boys have had enough sightseeing and escape to the Plaza Major while I visit the town's most iconic building, the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Banditos.

The content of the museum are somewhat random but the main attraction is the yellow bell-tower of the former convent of San Francisco de Asis, which I climb to enjoy the views across the terracotta rooftops. A sign on the staircase advises visitors not to ring the bells. It's a great vantage point for viewing the birthday celebrations taking place on the street below where another hog is being roasted.

As I descend the unthinkable happens - my camera battery runs out and as I arrive in the Plaza I find a teenage girl in a midnight blue ballgown being photographed, accompanied by a sizeable entourage. I find the boys and borrow Simon's phone as an emergency camera, then it's back to the casa for much-needed cold drinks.

The boys stay behind while I go out with a fresh camera battery for another look around. The light is different again, as a cloudy sky means fewer harsh shadows, and there is little traffic.

I spot some men playing Mah Jongg on the street and buy a t-shirt for Kyrie from a tiny shop (it's his birthday while we're away); it's more expensive than it would be at home and no doubt poorer quality but I hope I'm supporting the local economy. The mysterious photo shoot has moved on to a different location and the girl has changed her dress.

We've booked a table on the rooftop terrace of the Vista Gourmet restaurant. Our plan is to have a drink before dinner at the Beatles-themed Yesterday bar but around 6pm it begins to rain and before long it's a full-on thunderstorm. Normally the rain here is heavy but brief, however today it shows no sign of stopping and eventually we set off and pick our way through the flooded streets, sheltering beneath the overhanging tiles as we go.

We arrive at the restaurant where it becomes clear that the roof terrace is uncovered and there is no contingency plan. We're trying to work out our next move when Hugh Dennis arrives with his two children (older than Alex); he, too, had reserved a rooftop table but he has the advantage of a son who's fluent in Spanish. They negotiate while the house magician "steals" my watch and tries to sell us a trick box for $10. It seems that if we return later it should be possible to eat as either the roof terrace will be dry or those dining inside will have finished, and agree with the host that 8.30/9pm is a reasonable time.  Hugh and his family head uphill to a bar they found earlier; we go downhill and find ourselves in a bar called "Wakey Wakey Shakey Shakey". We choose a table by the window so we can keep an eye on the rain, which shows no sign of stopping.

It's still raining at 8.30 so we leave it until 9 to return to the restaurant where we find a queue has formed which has priority over our failed reservation. We decide to eat elsewhere and as we leave we meet the Dennis family arriving; we wonder whether they will manage to be served. Simon leads us to another couple of restaurants with decent reviews in the Lonely Planet but they have queues outside. It dawns on us that every tourist in town has been sheltering inside during the storm and are now all trying to eat dinner simultaneously. We spend the next 15 minutes trying to find any restaurant that can seat us but it's the same everywhere.

It's now getting on for 10pm and we're getting "hangrry". We're saved by the Iberostar in Plaza Carillo where we don't meet the dress code for its restaurant but there are bar meals available. It's dry, air-conditioned and as we take our seats the obligatory band begins to play Chan Chan ... again. Aside from the formulaic playlist, the band is pretty good and so are my two tapas dishes. Simon has a burger and Alex a hot dog, and we watch the Olympics on a tv above the bar while we eat. It's the swimming, which seems apt given the amount of water we've encountered today. The red wine is excellent and we stay for another before returning to our casa. Finally, it has stopped raining.

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