One place that we didn’t want to miss while in Cuba was Trinidad; the oldest city in the country and a World Heritage Site. Matt (sv/Serendipity) had this great idea to see the country via moped; wind in our hair we’d take our time and stop along the way to photograph the scenery. Brian and I thought this was a fabulous plan! We packed along snacks and clothes for an overnight trip to Trinidad, rented mopeds ($20/day), grabbed a road map, and set out on the open road.
We were really looking forward to this road excursion with our cruising buddies. We exited the moped rental shop parking lot and started out on a few side streets to get the feel of the mopeds. Matt was in the lead when we drove right past our left turn towards the main highway towards Trinidad. Brian slowed when our side street became a dirt road and some men on the corner waved us to a stop. “Trinidad!?” one of the men yelled, then proceeded to give us directions entirely in Spanish. We’d seen the road sign, though, and known we needed to turn around and make that left that we’d passed. We watched as Matt continued to drive ahead seeming unbothered by the dirt road and the frantic waving that he’d just zoomed past. We thanked the man for his directions, “Ok, gracias,” then turned and parked the moped alongside the road to wait for Matt to turn around. It shouldn’t take him long to notice that we were no longer behind him, naturally he’d turn around and we’d regroup. We waited, no Matt. Meanwhile the directions guru explained to us in a combination of Spanish and gestures that the two roads would meet at the main highway. We’re both going to Trinidad, we had to take the only road leading there, so we set out toward the main highway and stopped to wait at a nearby intersection. Geeez, had it even been ten minutes into our trip and we’d already been separated! We had no VHF to make sure we were both on the right course!
No sign of Matt and Jessica. Brian and I went back to the location where we’d been separated. We waited for 10 minutes. No sign of Matt and Jessica. Naturally, Brian and I disagreed about what Matt and Jessica might do; but we did agree that they wouldn’t head off to Trinidad without us. So we went back to the main highway and decided to out wait them. Wherever they were in town, when they tired of waiting for us they’ve have to pass us since this was the only road to Trinidad. We waited, and waited, and waited. We took in the scenery of a wheelbarrow of mangos for sale, passers-by on bicycle and walking, horse and buggies, outdated cars and trucks, two boys asked via gesture if we had a smoke…we waited for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Finally we’d determined that they must have gotten past us when we went back to town, so we continued onward. Of course we’d find them in Trinidad.
Our ride was beautiful, although we didn’t stop for photo shoots as planned because we were missing our buddies and thinking of how we’d find them. We passed by miles of mango tree orchards. The mangos were ripe and each was dangling from a long vine. They were huge, softball size at least. From the road there were foot trails leading this way and that into the orchards. There were intermittent groupings of houses; small, simple. Laundry was hung out to dry and sometimes we’d catch a glimpse of a men or women sitting on the porch or under the shade of a tree. We’d spotted some chickens, and one pig, and the scenery was starting to change as we drove farther inland.
Enter ranch land with real, live cowboys! The landscape was a bit drier, still passing by numerous foot trails winding away from the road into the wilderness and intermittent clusters of houses. Always we had a mountainous backdrop and our mopeds plodded uphill and zoomed down like an amusement park roller coaster. Now there were huge pastures where cows, goats, and even buffalos grazed. Many of the fences were natural, tightly lined rows of thin, young trees or cactus with a line of chicken wire strung across. Not all of the animals were inside the fences. Several were grazing along the roadside. Men on horseback wearing chaps and cowboy hats rode alongside the road. We zoomed past an ox-drawn carriage. In front of the clusters of houses men and women sat in the shade of trees with wheelbarrows and carts full of mangos and bananas. We stopped for a young woman holding a tray of mangos. She flagged us down and asked us if we could spare shoes or a t-shirt for her. We could not, but gave her mixed Pesos and CUCs in exchange for two mangos. This was likely more than she could probably acquire in a month’s time. It was a disheartening exchange and we felt spoiled to be zooming through the countryside on our rented mopeds wearing our practically new Mizuno and Brooks sneakers.
Another scenery change as we neared the coastline, the road became flat and a sea breeze gave us some relief from the heat. We must be getting closer, we hoped, since our gas gauge was down to two bars. Red crabs popped up ahead of us. The crabs showed us their claws as they scooted across the road just out of reach from our tires. Along the roadside, amid the countless foot trails, many red crabs who hadn’t made the crossing were squashed. I wondered just how many miles Cubans must walk or bike or ride their horses on these trails leading to where? We spotted a shrimp farm, and actually took a photo of it.
Two hours later when we finally coasted into Trinidad, our gas gauge not only had one bar but to add to the angst it was flashing. We had no idea how to navigate the streets of Trinidad; narrow streets, many of which were paved with brick. “Oh my,” I commented reassuringly, “we’re never going to find Matt and Jessica…” We stopped along a side street and asked someone where we could find a gas station. The gentleman we approached was very helpful, between his broken English and our broken Spanish we found our way. The man’s name was Daniel. When Brian shared his name Daniel smiled and turned, pointing to his back. He was not wearing a shirt and among the other tattoos we’d noticed on his arms he had between his shoulder blades prominently tattooed in script ‘BRYON’ which was the name of his son. Daniel not only directed us to the gas station, but he also told us that if we wanted a tour via horseback he could arrange this for a good price. We weren’t in the mindset for planning activities. “Ahora aqui en Trinidad,” I exlpained (now here in Trinidad) “no gasoline,” I pointed to the gauge, “and nosotros necessito un casa paticular (we need a private house).” A casa paticular is like a bed and breakfast, a guest house. Still trying to make the sale, Daniel told us not to go through our casa paticular to make horseback riding arrangements because he’d provide the best price. Finally he understood that we were focused on gas, not to mention our lost friends which I didn’t try to explain, and we’d all agreed that we’d find each other luego (later).
If there were anywhere we’d possibly reunite with Matt and Jessica, the gas station seemed a likely place. But no luck. We filled our four liter gas tank and decided to head toward the historical center of Trinidad. Surely, Matt and Jessica would pick a similar route. We followed street signs and found our way to the historical center. We spotted a map directly ahead of us and stopped the moped just alongside the street in order to walk over to the map. We were flagged down by a large man wearing sweatpants, a Steelers muscle shirt, and a name badge. He looked like he could have played for the Steelers! Carlos explained to us that we could not drive down the gated street into the historical center of town. Carlos managed the official parking, which was the curbside outside of his front door. There was a handwritten sign hung on the side of his house ‘Official Parking.’ We were still trying to determine whether this was legit. Really it seemed like some tourist gimmick, and we gave Carlos credit for his name badge.
Then, taking a closer look at the curb to which he was directing us, I spotted the other moped. “LOOK! That’s Serendipity’s moped, it’s exactly the same it has to be them!” I skipped over to the moped and directed Brian to follow with ours. To Carlos I said, “mis amigos (my friends) from Cienfuegos.” It took him a moment to comprehend. He confirmed that our moped was from Cienfuegos and gestured to the other moped telling us that its riders had sought out a restaurant. “Mis amigos,” I repeated, “vamos juntas (let’s go together) Cienfuegos then split…incorporated a hand gesture separating my parted hands…” Well that got the message across and Carlos smiled. “These your friends,” he said, “I’ll show you.” He lead us down the street to the casa paticular owned by his sister. Inside at the restaurant we found Matt and Jessica enjoying lunch. Hooray!! We all hugged each other, we all hugged Carlos!