Robaina's plantation

Monday 9 May 2016

Hacienda Iznaga (Valle de Los Ingenios) Trinidad....Cuba

                Hacienda Iznaga is about 15 kilometers east of Trinidad (about 30 minutes) and sits in the Valle de Los Ingenios that was at one time the main sugar-producing region of Cuba. This is one of only 13 estates that remain standing in the Valley having survived hurricanes and neglect. This is by far the most popular and best organized to handle tourists....and easy to find. During the 19th century the valley contained 60 sugar mills with an estimated 30,000 slave workers. At the height of the sugar boom, in the 1920's, 43 mills were in operation in the valley, most of which by this time were owned by American firms (but that's another story). For many years, more than a century, Cuba led in the production of sugar. However, the boom ended when the price of sugar bottomed out during the Great Depression of 1924 but not until after the construction of many mansions that are scattered across Cuba. A lot of those huge houses in Trinidad were built with monies earned from the sugar trade. Once UNESCO declared the Valle de los Ingenios a World Heritage Site in 1988, it began the restoration of this and other historical sites in the region....and it's still going on. 
             The property was founded in 1750 and bought by the infamous Pedro Iznaga who went on to become one of the wealthiest men in Cuba....there are a lot of juicy stories about this guy and they even went on to make a (Brazilian I think) period soap opera with the lead character loosely based on him that was on Cuban television at one time. He acquired a lot of his wealth from slave trafficking and was renowned for not being gentle with his human possessions. The hacienda itself was built between 1835-45 by Alejo María del Carmen y Iznaga. The tower is 143 feet (43 meters) tall was once the tallest on the island. It has seven levels with 136 steep steps and is topped with a bell....the original bell sits in front of the main house. The tower was used to watch the slaves and the bell for a variety of reasons one of which was to signal any escapes and another the beginning and end of the workday. You can climb the tower as I did (it will cost us tourists $1), however, take your time because it's a bit tricky but well worth the view and pictures you can take (see below). The hacienda, or main house, has been restored and today has been converted to a restaurant and souvenir shop. Behind the house a large patio has been built and a guarapería or trapiche (a mill or press used to extract the juice from some agricultural products like olives or in this case sugar cane) is set up under a thatched roof. I've read that visitors can have a shot at making their own sugar cane juice by pushing the wooden handle which turns the gears while someone who works there feeds the raw cane into the contraption. I saw none of that but we didn't come with a tour bus. This is how it was done decades ago and today you can find Guarapo stands all over Cuba with mini motorized versions of cane presses selling the sweet juice for a few cents per cup. The area is known for it's lacework, you see all kinds of it being sold in the city of Trinidad. As you walk along the cobblestone path leading to the hacienda and tower you will find numerous stalls set up. As well as the usual souvenirs you'll also find some people selling these lace products such as tablecloths, napkins....I couldn't resist and bought one years ago in Trinidad that adorns my table at Christmastime. The hacienda sits in the middle of the small village of Iznaga with the train station being by the entrance. An early 1900's steam engine train that comes from Trinidad makes a stop here. Providing it's running, the train leaves Trinidad every day at about 9:30am and leaves the Iznaga station for the return trip at about 1:30pm, round trip $11 for us tourists. The original tracks were laid in the 1880's for the purpose of transporting sugar from the valley to a port near Trinidad.
                   I've been to and stayed in the city of Trinidad several times over the years and there's only so much of it that you can see (it's not that big). Not taking away from it's beauty but walking on those cobblestone roads can be annoying after a couple of days, this makes for a great deviation....maybe explore as I did and find some of the other not so well known haciendas that are still standing. The beaches that are 9km away from the city are another way to kill a day or two. 

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