My third trip to Cuba is my first to the town of Trinidad, a UNESCO World heritage Site since 1988. I am immediately captivated by this city that so many times has been described as “frozen in time.” While walking down its cobblestone streets around Plaza Mayor, the hub of the city, I notice a man assembling a group of tourists, Cubans visitors included, to go horseback riding in the nearby Javira reserve of the Escambray Mountains. Just what I am looking for.
We walk down a backstreet and only five blocks later we are at the countryside. Yes, Trinidad is small. There, a guide is waiting for us with the horses ready to be mounted. After checking the saddles and a few brief instructions, we are on our way.
The horses slowly followed the pathway as we pass very humble homes of local Trinidadians. We arrive at a very old tile factory that dates back to the 18th-century. Initially, it appears as just some interesting ruins, but I am pleasantly surprised when our guide tells us that the factory is still working, churning out bricks and tiles for the buildings in Trinidad’s historical center.
We stop at a small ranch to give the horses a rest and for some refreshment for ourselves. Before we know it, we are singing the Guantanamera along with a local farmer. For the first time, I get to taste guarapo, which is the juice of the sugarcane. Our guide gives us a practical demonstration on how the cane is peeled, squeezed and strained using handmade contraptions. The result is a pale yellow juice that contrary to one might think is not extremely sweet–it is just right.
We continue our ride though the valley along cane and mango plantations. Not too far away, we see the first mountains of the Escambray range. But we are not headed there. We are headed to what I considered the highlight of my entire Cuban excursion. At the end of the trail, we discover a towering waterfall with its pool of cold water where you can bathe and even swim below the surface and explore a cave beneath the falls. Some of my fellow excursionists climb the cliff and strip down to bathe under the waterfall.
Our next stop is for lunch. We are hosted at a ranchón with seats made of cut-off tree trunks and palm-thatched roof. The meal is simple but well-cooked fare in keeping with the environment–fresh guava as appetizer; a mixed salad of tomato, avocado, cabbage, green beans and cucumber; and a main course of congrí–rice cooked with black beans–and grilled fish. A hearty and healthy meal.
After lunch, we head back to Trinidad relaxed and well fed both literally and spiritually. For sure, there is nothing pretentious about these horseback riding excursions, but they are an experience that I highly recommend for a whole different side to Cuba travel and one you will never forget.