Valle de los Ingenios

A steam train adventure in Trinidad, Cuba!

One of the most delightful excursions on our tour to Trinidad is the day we take the train to Manaca Iznaga and old sugar plantation!

We all gather at the tiny rural station of Trinidad which looks as though it has been out of use for half a decade. We are  awaiting the arrival of this amazing old steam train which announces itself loud and clear as it approaches! Steam billowing out of the smokestack and smoke from the furnace.  Everyone is eager with anticipation not believing that this puffing monster is going to take us to our destination and back again!

All aboard!

We get onto the old fashioned carriages and take or seats for the trip. After a short delay we chug out of Trinidad under steam, and with several blasts of the whistle, children, bicycles, grazing horses and dogs flee from the train’s path.

The speed is leisurely and we have a superb view of the rural landscape, passing through rough grazing land and small holdings.  A good pair of binoculars at the ready and bird watches will not be disappointed!

The train comes to a stop in the middle of a small bridge and a wide hose is fed into the  stream below to fill us up with water. This takes a little time as the hose looks as old as the train and several holes make it somewhat leaky!!!  Time to chat and look out the windows.

We are off again and continue uninterrupted until we arrive at Manaca Iznaga station.

The colonial house is now a visitor’s centre and the tower is a vivid landmark and reminder of the unhappy people enslaved to work this land, once producing the best sugar in the world. The bell that rang out the hours of work is no longer in the tower but stands on the ground at the entrance to the house. For a peso or two you can climb the tower on its rickety step ladder and the views from the top are awe inspiring.

Down below there are local ladies selling their beautiful pulled thread and embroidered white table clothes and napkins traditional to this region, plus many other knick knacks from further afield. If you are in need of refreshment or toilets these are available in the house, where you may also find an opportunity to sample freshly squeeze sugar cane juice, in the back courtyard.

Once more we return to the train and continue to another colonial house where lunch or other light snacks can be purchased. A typical musical group plays recognisable tunes by well loved Cuban composers and horses are available for a short ride if you are not hungry. Chickens wander around ever hopeful for crumbs and everyone relaxes in the shaded verandas  out of the blazing sun. What a fabulous way to spend the day and see the countryside.

Our return journey is direct to Trinidad with the no scheduled stops ….

Trains and railways have been a crucial part of Cuba’s history and key to the success of the revolution in 1959. If you are a train enthusiast then the train museum in Havana will be on your list of visits and you might fit in the Hershey train from Casa Blanca to Matanzas if you have a free day! It’s a sad reality that the train system in Cuba has been more or less abandoned due to lack of government interest, but thanks to tourism some of these old machines have been revived and continue to earn their keep!

Why not book a tour with encompass tours and se Cuba for yourself?

“Cuban SnapShot”  tour available in October 2012

“Mi Cubita” tour available in December 2012

The sweetest sugar in the world!

Guarapo Frio!

Celia Cruz was not the only Cuban to cry “Azucar” with delight and eager anticipation, but she put the island on the map for many people!

“Azucar” or sugar, is and has been the life blood of the island and an essential ingredient without which Cubans could not survive!

Life is sweet in Cuba and coffee comes automatically sweet…”Sin azucar???” (without sugar) you must be crazy!

The plantations of sugar cane are now much reduced from their peak following the revolution of 1959 when vast areas of land were cut and burnt to boost crops and foreign income. Sugar prices were high as was demand, but markets fluctuate and during the last three decades Cuban sugar industry has all but disappeared! Many of the the “centrales” or sugar refineries, have been closed down or even pulled down, and in some cases only the elegant tall chimneys remain. Workers have had to move on to other industries, and communities have shrunk or moved away. The trains too that were so important for the transportation to the ports are mainly to be found in the museums or abandoned and rusting at the end of the line!

Home consumption of sugar will always be  high as Cubans have a very sweet tooth, and one way of getting your sugar hit for the day is a delicious cup of “Gurapo Frio” cold sugar juice!

Kiosks selling Guarapo are popular all over Cuba and the juice couldn’t be fresher!  A stack of recently cut cane is piled ready and you can watch the machine as it crushes and squeezes the sweet sticky liquids from the stalks. It’s comes trickling out a light brownish colour and is collected in a bucket as it runs from the rollers.

Next a block of ice is pulverised in your mug and the liquid poured over!  Its quite frothy, very sweet and will give you a huge energy rush! Cubans love it!! On a boiling hot summer day what could be better mid morning!!

Holidays to Cuba available now!

“Mi Cubita” 14 days tour

“Cuban Snapshot” 7 days tour

For the sounds of Celia singing “Azucar Negra” you tube link below!


The truly unique taste of Cuba today

Capitoilio Havana Cuba

Starting in La Habana the old Spanish capital that has seen better days but has a romance of its own despite the revolution! The tour takes you next to the colonial town of Trinidad and a trip into its sugar plantation past. A relaxing day on an island beach follows, where you can sip a rum Collins or enjoy the under sea world  while getting your sun tan established! We move on to the traditional countryside town of Vinales in Pinar del Rio where the campasinos offer you a taste of tobacco and rum and a night of great dance music. Follow that with a day relaxing on an uninhabited island surrounded by seas of turquoise and blue. This could be paradise! All good things come to an end and we must head back to Havana and say our goodbyes .Why not have one last Mojito in the old city before jumping into a taxi to the airport?

If you have limited holiday time but you want to learn more about this extraordinary island and meet some local people this is the Cuban experience for you.

Warning! Once you have been to Cuba you will want to return!

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