TRINIDAD, CUBA, Nov 09
By Nicolas Lakoff
© Copyright 2009-2017
In November of 2009 I took an important decision that would have important repercussions on my life and my well being. After 6 years of owning and operating my massage therapy company, I decided to walk away due to personal reasons. After a few weeks digesting my decision, my mother offered to pay for me to get away for a week.
I could never express adequately how much I love my mother, who is a most exceptional human being. She is the kindest, sweetest, most generous person I know and hasn’t had it easy in life. She is truly my hero and once again she came to my rescue.
I decided to go to Cuba and do a little scuba therapy to soothe my soul. For this trip I selected the city of Trinidad in the province of Sancti Spíritus. The city of Trinidad (pop. 75,000) along with the Valle de Los Ingenios was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. This 500 year old city is a spectacular example of Spanish Colonial architecture. The historic quarter is complete with cobble stone streets, intricate wrought-iron grill gates, pastel coloured building and red tapered barrel clay roof tiles. The city is located at the foot of the Escambray mountains and 8 km from Ancon peninsula facing the Caribbean Sea. To get to Trinidad I had to fly into Abel Santamaría International Airport in Santa Clara in the province of Villa Clara. The transfer to Trinidad took about 3 hours since the direct route through the mountains is too steep for the tour buses. I was told however that in the winter months, once direct flights to Cienfuegos were re-established, the transfer from the airport in Cienfuegos to Trinidad takes half the time.
I booked a stay at the Club Amigo Playa Ancón which is the oldest resort in Trinidad. Built right after the revolution its main building smacks of Russian box style, utilitarian and spartan mass production construction. Fortunately there is a newer section next to the original main 5 story building that offers superior rooms at a reasonable rate. Since it was still low season I got the room I wanted on the second floor facing the ocean at no extra charge. The Ancón is a 2 to 2.5 star resort although some might find the food not up to their 5 star standards, it is abundant and there is a reasonable variety. The Ancón beach is superb and run along most of the peninsula. There is a large pool that is clean and well maintained in which I did my laps every morning around 6 am, nothing quite like having the pool all to yourself!
I had decided that I would set aside one day during my time here to go and tour Trinidad. On my third day here the weather was a little overcast so I decided this would be the day. The nice thing about Ancón peninsula is that it is a short distance from the historic center of Trinidad. A taxi ride to the city center shouldn’t cost you more than 8 CUC ($8USD) and perhaps a little more at night but not necessarily so. As you walk along the cobblestone in the old quarter, it strikes you that if there were no cars or electric wires, this could very well be a scene you might see a few hundred years ago. There are many Spanish colonial buildings, public squares, museums, galleries and an artisans market where you are sure to find some unique souvenirs that you can’t find anywhere else in Cuba.
I had come with a group of people from the hotel and as we wandered along a street a woman asked us if we were hungry. It was well past noon and we were all famished, we all answered yes. She suggested we come to eat at her mothers Casa Particular for a complete lunch for 20 CUC ($20USD). The price was a little higher than what you can find elsewhere in Cuba but Trinidad is also a more popular tourist destination. It was still a great deal when you consider that price included fresh panned fish, shrimps, lobster tail, rice and vegetables, salad, dessert and our choice of beverages (coke, sprite or beer). The plaque in front of the home said Villa Vittoria (pronounced Bittoria) named after the owner of the home. We were welcomed in and were seated in a pretty inner courtyard common in most Cuban homes. Once having refuelled we paid our bills, said our goodbyes and were on our way again.
The dive center here is attached to Club Amigo Playa Ancón. They playfully call themselves the “Asesino Del Mar” (the Sea’s Assassins). It’s a small affair but has everything needed to make your dive trip memorable and successful. This quirky group is lead by ACUC Instructor Leonid Ferrer aka Harley for his love of everything Harley Davidson. Gracing pretty much everything Leo owns you can find a Harley Davidson Logo; on a large gold chain around his neck, on his diving bandana, on a D-ring on his BCD and t-shirts and belt buckles. He is certifiably Harley crazy due in large part to his classic 1948 Harley Davidson (pictured left). It is the only one of its kind still running in Cuba at the moment he proudly says. He also takes care of a 1947 Knucklehead 700cc for one of his Canadian friends (pictured right), who comes to Trinidad regularly.
Apart from Leonid there is Ovi (pronounced Obi) who is as dark as a native from the Samoan Islands of the pacific with matching long curly locks. It’s hard to believe that he is from Cuba to tell you the truth. Another instructor named Igor made a brief appearance before a dive once but that was it pretty much for diving staff. The rates for diving are pretty much the same as you find elsewhere in Cuba so no big surprises here.
I had been told by other Cuban instructors that the diving in Trinidad was really nice and I have to agree with them save for one unfortunate fact coinciding with my stay. It had been an unusually hot summer with water temperatures reaching the high 20’s centigrade (high 80’s farenheit). This caused widespread bleaching of the corals around the entire southern Cuban coastal reef. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon that happens when the algae that inhabit the corals die off because ocean water temperatures get too high. Corals have a symbiotic relationship with the algae as it provide energy and nutrients that the coral polyps cannot obtain from the tropical waters while the polyp provides form and structure for the algae to live on as well as removes waste products. One of the ways algae provides energy is by synthesizing sugars using photosynthesis. This is why most of the world’s coral reefs systems are in less then 30 meters (100 feet) of water. The yellow-brown algae known as Zooxanthellae has a Goldilocks range of water temperature tolerance. Too cold and the algae cannot grow and too hot and the algae die off. As a result of high temperatures, the coral polyps starve and die off and leave behind the hardened bleached out Calcium Carbonate skeleton. As I started diving in Trinidad the devastation was clearly evident. For the first time I was confronted face to face with what I had been reading about for years; global warming is contributing to dying of coral reefs worldwide.
From what I could see on my dives there were some coral types (mostly sheet corals) that were more affected than others but overall I would say a third to half of all the corals around were affected. After my first dive I read about coral bleaching in “Reef Coral Identification” by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach which describes widespread bleaching that occurred in Bonaire in 1998. This gave me a little hope since it does mention that the reefs usually fully recover after some weeks if not months of cooler weather.
One exiting encounter for me was with a Honeycomb Cowfish of which I got off some descent shots with my camera. The Cubans call this fish “Bachita” usually with a gesture rubbing their tummies and licking their lips. As a diver believing these fish are too beautiful to eat, I generally ignore these comments but the reality is, you can eat most every fish from the sea and Cubans, eking out a meagre subsistence, often do. This fish has the triangular shape of a trunk fish but with two “horns” protruding forward from above its eyes and its entire body is camouflaged with an exquisitely intricate design that changes colors at will to blend in with its environment. They are very shy and therefore very hard to take pictures of. I have seen them before but they were either too deep or too skittish to take a good picture of.
The visibility on most of the dives was incredible and the water temperature was generally around 84 degrees farenheit (28 degrees centigrade) so a rash suit or shorty was ample protection for certain. There are a few small wreck you can dive here and some small caves and tunnels that are interesting as well.
One evening Leo invited me to his house in a village called Casilda next to the hotel to have supper with him, his wife Clarissa, his cousin and his girlfriend. They put out a great spread for me and I was particularly fond of the Yucca that Clari made with butter and garlic sauce. Once we rested a bit it was off to Trinidad to see the nightlife. We stopped at Casa de la Musica which is a very large outdoor bar and nightclub located on steps adjacent to the Santisima Trinidad church. There are live bands and lots of seating, a coffee bar and areas where you can dance to the music. After this we went to the famous Casa de la Trova where Leo’s brother Lenin is the manager. He cleared us a table up front to watch the band and we sat there enjoying the show and drinking Canchanchara’s, Trinidad’s take on Mojito’s which uses lemon instead of mint.
I did spend some time while I was here doing a little introspection and wondering what new direction I was going to go in however, while it lasted it was a salutary distraction and I can’t wait to come back to Trinidad as one week is certainly not enough to discover all it’s treasures.