I set out with my guide at 8:30am stopping at two other Casas to pick up the other hikers, the heat was already well north of 30 degrees C, but the sun wasn’t directly overhead so we could walk close to buildings and find shade.
Only the tourists walk in the sun here, and after 1 1/2 weeks I’ve learned to walk with the locals i.e. dodging each other as we all seek whatever slivers of shade we can find.
We walked out of town towards gorgeous mountains, through fields of sugar cane, tobacco, beans, sunflowers, mangoes, citrus, and so many other unidentifiable (my ignorance) lush plants. Once in the fields there was no place to hide from the sun, and I kept trying to imagine what it’s like to work these fields in this heat.
Three street dogs joined our little posse, through town and down towards the fields, but two gave up once we hit those fields. Before coming I boosted my Hep A, and Tetanus, but decided against the suggested rabies shot. I figured I’d avoid petting any strays. Little did I know there’d be so, so, many street dogs and cats, both in Havana and Trinidad—sometimes with raw open sores, sometimes no longer alive.
Our guide started yelling at one near the beginning of the path. It turns out it was his own dog that’d gone missing 2 days prior. One of our group explained she’d seen him trying to make friends with the street dogs in the main square the prior day. They were hostile at first, barking at him to get off their territory. But eventually he finagled his way into the pack.
The guide was distraught and said how worried he was. I joked how he just wanted to go hang with “the guys”. He explained how people often randomly try to poison the street dogs. I wasn’t laughing anymore…
4 kilometres later we reached the forest. The shade of the trees was very welcome. “Going to the waterfall” is BIG business here in Trinidad. Our guide explained how the horse tours go on one path, and the hikers on another. He boasted that the waterfall for the hikers was much bigger, closer, and a lot less crowded; and that the only reason people took the horses was because it is cheaper. Not so sure I agreed with his assessment…
The horse tour is approximately 16 km, and it’s a highway of horses and people, but can cost as low as 10 CUC in total. We saw them getting many of the horses ready on the road out of Trinidad to the fields.
I’d read that they didn’t treat the horses all that well, and opted to do the tour on foot. However, I didn’t see any mistreatment (and we were walking in areas ‘behind the scenes’) and one of the students who took the horse tour said they were typical tourist horses—always looking for grass and basically on autopilot—generally happy and in good condition. Just the same I was happy not to be on a horse in that heat, and not trying to keep it moving just to take me to a waterfall.
For tourists, if you walk, it costs 10 CUC (a CUC is the Cuban Convertible Peso, roughly equivalent to a dollar) to enter the National Park, if you’re Cuban the cost is 0.40 CUC. My guide said the tourist price was 3, then 5, and recently moved to 10. Witnessing the rise in opportunism in a country still covered in socialist and revolutionary signs has been interesting.
Most tourists take a taxi from Trinidad to the entrance to the path in the forest that takes you to the waterfall. It costs 25-30CUC to get a taxi from town that will wait for you and return to town after your hike. My guide charged me 35 CUC via Airbnb experiences for the entire tour (car ride home included), had seven others also signed up at 35 CUC each. Four didn’t show but couldn’t get refunds…
Prior to becoming a tour guide in the morning, and a bartender in the evenings, my guide was a graduate with a Masters in Psychology, and was making 25 CUC per month, total, plus food rations as a professional psychogist (will discuss rations in a future post). He paid the cab maybe 15 CUC for all of us to return, most likely got a discount on park entrance fees (not verified, just guessing, as the “you scratch my back, I scratch yours economy is HUGE here…) And basically made the equivalent of 6- 7 months’ salary in 5 hours of hiking to a waterfall with 3 tourists, pointing out a few birds and plants along the way. Needless to say, he is no longer working as a psychologist, despite wishing he could still be using his degrees.
The heat increased, and the waterfall was bliss. The water was fresh, and clear, and I haven’t felt cleaner this entire trip. Yesterday was our hottest day yet, probably north of 36 degrees celsius (guessing over 100 degrees fahrenheit). I spent the afternoon in an air conditioned hotel lobby, organising my photos, as I felt I’d had more than my moment in the heat during our hike…still thinking of those slaves working those fields for hours upon hours upon hours….