19th April 2023
Havana, Cuba – Cienfuegos, Cuba via Trinidad & Topes Del Colantes, Cuba
Economies ebb and flow with global trends and global standards. Those trends and standards can lead to boom years where people and lands are exploited resulting in untold riches and then standards change and those same people and lands are left to wither and have to find ways to reinvent themselves. This is the story we found in Cuba’s sugar valley
Our bus from Havana drove through the night and in complete darkness deposited us in Trinidad where there was no wealth of history to be seen. In fact nothing could be seen as the place was devoid of street-lights, every soul was tucked up in bed and we’d not had the foresight to pack a torch. The uneven cobbled streets with their high curbs and invisible drops presented a challenge and thankfully that challenge was negated by a window where a single torch light shone and a smiling face was waiting. With a call of Fiona’s name we’d found our air B & B and felt rich beyond belief.
Walking the streets of Trinidad in the morning its old age wealth oozed from every pore. We could picture in days gone by the rich and wealthy parading around the town square and down the smooth pavements that we’d managed to miss the night before. Trinidad was suffering in the same way as Havana but without the hussle and without the thirst for the tourist dollar.
Venturing out of town and into the sugar valley the source of Trinidad’s old wealth was clear. It had been built on a global trend of cruelty and inhuman standards where 1000’s of enslaved people toiled in the fields, sweated in cook houses and died in pain and squalor, just to fuel the westerners taste for sugar. The signs of this painful history were all around from the towers that kept a watchful eye, to the plants that helped in tracking escapees or the landscape that made escape unthinkable. Only as global standards changed did the society set these people free, only to have to try and reinvent themselves in the most difficult of environments.
If the enslaved people did escape it was into the inhospitable interior, where thick jungle made travel near impossible and cold high mountains presented natural barriers; it was here we were heading next after the heat of the lowlands.
Climbing higher and higher we once again lacked foresight as all our warm or waterproof clothes sat on Ruffian. With every foot of elevation we shivered a little more and looked at the clouds that pushed moisture through every pore. We just hoped that come morning those clouds would give way to blue skies and amazing hiking.
The morning sun rose over a landscape that was lush and green and rose and fell in every direction and we congratulated ourselves in leaving those warm waterproof clothes behind. Rivers ran down these steep valleys and we set out to seek where they flew over granite precipices and their energy had carved rocks into natural fresh water pools.
Finding our first waterfall the sun was still low and the trails were still devoid of hikers. Thinking we were smart our swimming gear was left in our rucksacks and we dived into refreshing freshwater pools completely alone with nothing but our ‘birthday suits’ for company. After days of towny grime and countless hours sweating our pores oozed dirt and the fresh torrents of water washed it all away.
We’d read with indignation, and been told by rangers, that the trails that join a myriad of waterfalls together was impassable; but, not wanting to retrace his step,s Iain had a cunning plan. Venturing off the well trodden path he explained to Fiona that he’d found online someone’s track from a mere 10 years ago and all we had to do was blindly follow the track on his phone phone along a route of unknown providence and into areas of unknown danger.
Picking our way though the undergrowth the path could still be seen and after fording a river, climbing over boulders the sound of the second waterfall beckoned us on. The clear emerald pool invited us in and refreshed us to new heights and we felt a new high knowing that we’d bucked the trend and joined the two falls together.
The waterfalls just kept coming, each more beautiful than the last and each falling from even higher highs. As we descended back to the valley, we once again found signs of civilisation as eco-lodges clung to the hill sides, houses sold the fruits of the forest and the aroma of freshly roasted coffee filled the air. The people whose ancestors had been victims of global trends and global standards were now able to exploit the new trend for eco-tourism and find sustainability in selling the beauty of their surroundings.
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