Before I tell you about Cienfuegos, I should probably fill you in on how we got here. It’s the latest chapter of “Kelsey and Maggie’s Cuban Transportation Saga”. For many reasons, we didn’t buy our bus ticket from Trinidad to Cienfuegos in advanced. So once again, we find ourselves at the bus station the morning of our departure, without any way of getting where we want to go. Seriously, how have we not learned our lesson by now?
Originally we thought if we couldn’t get on the bus, we’d just take a taxi. It’s only an hour away so shouldn’t be too expensive. But as our luck would have it, there are none available. Because of course there aren’t. As with all the bus stations in Cuba, there are several guys hanging around outside offering to help you get where you want to go. We talk to one of them who says he will arrange our transportation for $10. So we sit and wait. And wait. And wait. At one point, Maggie gets frustrated and decides to see if she can find her own taxi away from the station. But even this proves a fruitless endeavor.
After two hours of waiting, our guy finally tells us he found transportation. We follow him back to the bus station, and in a flurry of activity, find ourselves on the local bus. Which of course, we’re grateful to be on, but locals pay around $1 for this bus. We paid $10. Ten times the real price. And we are in no position to negotiate or argue. For a communist country, these Cubans sure take advantage of supply and demand. At least we’re finally on our way.
The bus trip is uneventful, aside from a few strange looks we get from the locals. Our casa is located at the southern end of the Paseo del Prado, a stately street filled with neoclassical buildings and pastel-painted columns.
Right next door is a former mansion-turned-hotel, Palacio Azul. Apparently it’s also where Hugo Chavez stayed during his first visit to Cuba. I’m not sure if that makes it more or less appealing.
One more lot over is the Yacht Club of Cienfuegos, now called Club Cienfuegos. How swanky. Since we’re starving and don’t want to search high and low for food, we decide to stop here for lunch. It’s also one of the few restaurants located on this strip, with everything else being closer to city center. The food is served buffet style and is on par with the rest of the food in Cuba. At least it’s plentiful?
See our casa? It’s the red trimmed building two lots over. Not too shabby, eh? Aside from our place in Havana, this is the most expensive place we stay. But at $30/night split between the two of us, it’s still very affordable.
After lunch we head towards the city center via the Promenade of Cienfuegos. It’s a long walk, but Lonely Planet recommends it to get a feel for the town, though they also mention hiring a taxi to drive you the length of it. I wish I could help you feel the heat and humidity through these photos, but you’ll just have to take my word for it. We go slow and stop for shade breaks often.
By the time we arrive at the main shopping and pedestrian drag, we’re drenched with sweat. You’d think after 10 days in this country, I’d be accustomed to the temperatures. But I’m not. I’m such a wuss.
We wander in and out of the shops, nearly all of which are tourist-focused. Cuban cigar boxes, Panama hats, and figures carved out of wood seem to be the most common items for sale. There’s also a tourist information center here where we stop to schedule our activities for the following morning. We also stop in a blessedly air conditioned coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up. Unlike the food, the coffee in Cuba is very good.
The pedestrian boulevard leads to Marti Park (where there is internet) and the City Hall building. Cienfuegos has several well preserved colonial style buildings in this area and it’s fun to admire them all (from the shade).
As the shadows grow longer, we make our way back towards the water through one of the many markets that line the streets. The souvenirs they sell are the same as every other market in every other town in Cuba, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to slowly absorb their ambiance.
It’s still way too hot out, so instead of making the long walk back to our casa, we decide to go by horse and carriage. In any other country, this would seem like such a touristy gimmick, but here in Cuba, it fits right in with their culture and way of life.
Now seems like a good time to interrupt this narrative to point out Maggie’s pants. They are covered in cats flying through space. While I wish I could say she is alone in her fashion choices, I am wearing the exact same pants. That’s right folks. Maggie and I are wearing matching cat pants. In public. All day. I guess we have no shame.
Our driver is excited to meet American tourists (well, one American and one Bulgarian who is American when it suits her) and eagerly asks us all sorts of questions. Our Spanish is limited, but we manage. I wasn’t expecting to be hated as an American in Cuba, but I’m still surprised by how excited most Cubans are to meet us. It reaffirms my belief that most people in the world are good, and rarely do they judge you by your government.
Back at our casa, we have a delicious (yay!) meal prepared for us by our hosts of chicken, rice, beans and fried plantains which are Amazing. Capital A required. Unfortunately, bananas give me the worst sort of stomach ache, despite how much I enjoy them, so I only take a small taste. Enough to know exactly what I’m missing. Seriously though, if you’re in Cuba, eating with your casa host is almost always a better option than eating at the restaurants.
Then we head up to the roof to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen. I’ve only lightly edited these photos; this is really what the sky looked like. I can’t get over the changing colors! Now I understand how Cienfuegos got it’s name.
While we only spend a half day in Cienfuegos, it’s enough to see most of what the city has to offer. There’s also a fortress on an island that we would have had time to explore, but by this point in our trip, both Maggie and I are feeling a bit worn out. Our German friends we met in Vinales mentioned that they didn’t find it very interesting. So instead of trying to cram in one more thing, we decide to relax and just enjoy each other’s company. Tomorrow is our last full day in Cuba, and we have one more fun activity left, which I’ll share more on soon!