Cuba Part 5 – Cienfuegos The Magnificent

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Well not “magnificent” in totality, but it certainly had a few moments, and areas!

Cienfuegos is dubbed La Perla del Sur (Pearl of the South), but the name actually means “100 fires”.  Supposedly it has a French flavour to it, the two notable aspects in that regard are the mini Arch de Triumph in the city’s main square (along with a cluster of other neo-classical buildings around the square), and the extremely wide streets laid out in a perfect grid.

What I liked most about Cienfuegos was the section south of town called La Punta, because it is littered with huge mansions, some of which are very well preserved, and some of which are ramshackle falling apart, but none-the-less all good to great photography subjects.

One building in that area was the “Yacht Club” – a water sports center, restaurant etc.  I approached the gate to the property wanting to come in for a drink, scope out dinner, and perhaps take some photos, but was told I had to pay a cover charge.  I told the security guard where to shove it in no ambiguous terms.. screw you to pay a cover charge to spend money at your establishment, and quite frankly I have been thrown out of far better yacht clubs that this sorry establishment will ever be.

On the far side of the above “facility”, there was a recreational sailing program going on for kids, and clearly it was the start of a race as all the dinghies were advancing to the line, but trying not to be over early before the gun.  The “race committee” was being generous, as quite a few were over the line when the starting signal sounded, but it looked like a glorious day to be out on the water, and a very enlightened activity for the kids to be involved in (in the main part of town down one alley I wandered a day later, the contrast was huge as the kids were involved in throwing some green sticky kind of blob of material against a building wall – that was the entertainment for that street!)


However as I continued to explore La Punta, I had a goal, the restaurant near the very end was supposed to be quite decent, and it was in a mansion of sorts.  Indeed it was, and the place was quite remarkable in a number of ways, design, condition, and a great rooftop bar with a view of the surrounding water.  I posted this photo in one of the technical photography groups I belong to, and was contacted by the grandson of the man who built it for his wife.  It is a small world indeed, that he would happen to see that photo posted.

This other place was nearby, and was clearly in need of some repair and restoration, but in fact quite a lot of restoration work is currently being done in Cuba, in Havana especially, but also out in the provinces.  The value of these buildings is clearly starting to be recognized.

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I was back in the main square my last day, and it was Cervesa time.. while I was sipping a cold one, I head some drumming and music, and went to the middle of the park to investigate.  These performers were wandering around the square and then started making their way down the street, so I got in front and started shooting images.  It would have been preferable to have better light, but that was the situation, and this is the best shot of the bunch.  Certainly it gave a very Caribbean flavour.

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My Casa in Cienfuegos was also quite decent, and the people running it very nice and very helpful.  I had the “penthouse” which was a room added to the roof of the building, but I also had a nice terrace with a table that I could take breakfast at.  The view wasn’t spectacular, but I appreciated the el fresco nature of it.. and besides the breakfasts they provided me at this place were the best of all the places I had stayed. 

I grumbled a bit about the incessant barking of the neighbourhood dogs during the day, dubbing it  “Calle Perro Ladrido”, and there was a guard dog on the roof top just adjacent to me, in addition to what sounded like a dozen or more pals of his in the neighbourhood.  Truthfully though, they all shut up at night, and traffic sounds in other places I have stayed were much more problematic.

Seen as how the other bus stations I had used in Cuba had not taken reservations, or had plenty of available capacity, I left it until the day before I was to leave to check out the Viazul terminal, for times and what the process was.  That was not the wisest course of action. 

I found the terminal, went to the office, waited inline to talk to the “official”.  When it was my turn in I went into his office and asked about the bus for the next day back to Havana.  All sold out he said.  My head slumped.  Any other options I asked.. No.  He let me twist in the wind for a bit, and then asked if I wanted my name put on the waiting list for tomorrow.  I asked what were the odds, and he said pretty good actually, so that’s what I did.

Back at my Casa I talked to the owners, and they actually said it was MORE expensive to take the bus if you factored in the cost of cab fare to and from each terminal at each end.  They said I could hire a private cab, go door to door from each Casa, and it would only be 60 CUC.  (The bus was twenty, but cab fare was going to be another 20 to 30, so the difference was negligible, and I could leave at my own convenience.   Problem solved and more convenient.

I actually began to suspect that the official at the station might have some scam in the works, whereby he would “arrange” a private taxi for overflow customers and take his commission from the process.  I have no reason to think that, but there was just something about his manner that had me wondering a bit.

Not my cab to Havana, but a classic car down in La Punta

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The next morning the cab showed up early in fact and waited until I was ready and off we went.  Now the only downside to this was the “style” of driving shall we say.  My driver was constantly checking his mobile phone while driving, calling his buddies, and even keeping up a two way conversation with a buddy of his in a car side by side in the opposite lane.  Factor in the fact that Cuban highways are not the smoothest, in fact he would frequently stay in the opposing lane of traffic for long periods to avoid bumps and potholes on our side.   BTW – no seat-belts in the backseat where I was, I checked because I have actually have been in a head on crash at highway speed, and I was damn lucky to have survived – but it certainly used up one of my “nine lives” on that one crash, and I have no desire to repeat that experience.

Alas, I tell my friends that based on probability and exposure, there actually is a fairly good chance that if I get taken out from non-natural causes, it will most likely be in a vehicle driven by some idiot in a third world country.  Having had some close calls in Thailand, Peru, Lao, and India (back seat of the bus and my head hit the ceiling, or when the bus was taking a turn at highway speed and we were leaning over so far the wheels on only the right hand side were touching the ground).

Anyways, I made it to Havana in one piece.