Cuba: Cienfuegos

After two nights in Trinidad we moved onto Cienfuegos. Not sure why we initially chose Cienfuegos but I'm very glad we did. We had the greatest taxi driver from Trinidad to Cienfuegos.

The story of the taxi driver is that I went to the beach after a pretty arduous horseback ride with my friends and while they napped I took a taxi to Ancon beach to meet two Dutch guys who I befriended the evening before. So I went to Ancon beach which wasn't as impressive probably as other beaches in Cuba, let alone Tulum but it was pretty nice. The taxi driver I had suggested that he be my driver when I return otherwise I'll pay more at the beach. I went to the beach and hung out with the Dutch guys and enjoyed the sunset over the horizon. About an hour and half later he picked me up and I inquired about how much it'd be to drive us to Cienfuegos the next morning.

Ancon beach

Ancon beach

The following morning a different driver showed up- his brother. My driver had a conflict and sent his brother. His brother spoke little English but was great. As we started to leave Trinidad he played Bachata and Reggateon music and this was truly were the bond began.

Leaving Trinidad for Cienfuegos

Leaving Trinidad for Cienfuegos

Lushly green countryside

Lushly green countryside

Since your phone doesn't work as it would in your home country you just trust that people will be where they say they'll be when they say they will. This concept is where I truly appreciated Cubans. If you made plans to meet them or if you asked to be picked up at a certain time, they would be there at exactly the time you agreed on. 

I already knew Reggaeton and Bachata were popular in Cuba because we'd gone to a club the night before in Trinidad and they played music videos and the crowd danced to them while having various cocktails. I was in the front seat enjoying the scenery and the warm breeze as we moved along in an a 1950s Ford. I found out that he lived in Cienfuegos which is when we decided to also hire him to drive us from Cienfuegos to Havana two days later. If I may insert a suggestion here: If you travel to Cuba, it's probably better to stick with one driver if you can or ask them if they have a friend where you're going so you're doing in through recommendations. I think this establishes trustworthiness and helps costs too.

Cienfuegos was nothing like Trinidad. This colonial town was originally settled by French immigrants it what was Spanish territory. Back in the 19th century it was only 25 square blocks. Wit its Neoclassical structures, squares and boulevards, it is much more a city than Trinidad. Cienfuegos translated to a hundred fires and is nicknamed La Perla del Sur or Pearl of the South. The structures in the main part of Cienfuegos are well-maintained and so pretty. Benny Moré is a notable figure from Cienfuegos. 

Our casa was located in a four story house on a main boulevard located near the main area of Cienfuegos including Jose Marti Square. Our hosts led us up to the top floor shortly have we arrived and settled in. The view was incredible! We could see all of Cienfuegos including the national baseball stadium and the sea and onto the mountains we'd pass on our drive from Trinidad. Our hosts were a multigenerational family living together in a beautiful home. The father had retired and the son was currently working in a factory as well as helping his parents with the casa arrangements. 

One of the best suggestions I have in terms of dining in Cuba is to make arrangements with your casa host(s). For 3 or 5 CUCS (Cuban Convertible Peso) depending on the meal, you can eat whatever your host decides to cook for that meal. It isn't as inexpensive as going out to eat and using Cuban Pesos but generally prices listed in CUCs are intended for tourists. It also happens to be easy to calculate for American visitors as CUCs are pegged equally to the dollar. So for $3-5 you can have a meal of deliciously cooked pork with garlic, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, rice, a sort of soup and of course coffee. This may be highly variable depending on what ingredients are available to your hosts and how good their cooking is but for dinner it's a must for at least one evening of your visit.

Breakfast on the other hand can be found rather cheaply like, as I would later learn, a sandwich at a nearby cafeteria. Then again, what do you need besides a cafe in Cuba?! I honestly had more coffee than water in my time in Cuba. It is truly a way of live there and why wouldn't it be. It is some of the best coffee I've had in my life. 

We relaxed the first evening there and got to know our hosts a bit. The next morning we attempted to get some breakfast and didn't succeed very well with the omelettes we found. We then walked around to see the shopping street and vendors on these cobblestone streets near the Jose Marti Square.  We were on the hunt for art. Trinidad was a uniquely artistic town with art galleries and jewelry designers but nothing had spoken to us. While one friend went to the opera house and museum, my other friend and I wandered around. Eventually I found a painting that really wowed me. Later after I'd purchased it I found out the friend that'd gone on her own had bought a painting from the same shop. I also discovered that my painting was of the artist's daughter. I was able to meet the artist which made my purchase that much more meaningful. 

Coffee view at Hotel La Unión

Coffee view at Hotel La Unión

After finding my painting my friend and I got piña coladas near the water closer to the direction of Punta Gorda. We met a couple from the Netherlands biking around Cuba and they were in their 70s!! Amazing right?! I thought so. Additionally we became friendly with two German students who were on their way to Havana. When my third friend joined us we all decided to take a bicycle taxi down Punta Gorda. Since we were three one of us had to ride alone. Our bicycle taxi driver was a young, excited man who knew about mechanics and cars (something that seemed almost true of every Cuban man) and worked at the factory some days. He played his music and we glided along the tree lined streets while the sun started to go down. At one point my friend decided to be the driver and everyone seemed to find it amusing. We passed construction workers, fishermen and the like as our driver blasted American pop songs. He was particularly fond of Bruno Mars which pleased me since Bruno Mars is also from Hawaii. 

We made it to our casa just as the last light of the day was fading. Our driver told us he was going out later and invited us to meet him and his friend (who was the driver of the other bicycle) and we were up for it. Nothing like going out with locals. We got drinks on the top of Hotel La Unión and then we went back to the casa for dinner. After we got ready and met him right where we'd had cocktails earlier in the day where there was a live artist and music. My friend and I didn't drink there but we met the men to walk down Punta Gorda were the club was located. Our third friend had made plans to see a Bolero singer and thus met us later. 

We arrived in the open air venue after a check in with the super muscular security guards who checked out IDs. Women were dressed to the nines. High heels and tight dresses, not only were my friend and I the only foreigners, we weren't dressed anything like the Cuban ladies. We bought bottle of rum and shared it as a group. A band performed several songs, many of which were covers including an Ace of Base song. After the band performed, they played music so that everyone could dance salsa. Our third friend had joined as this point and boy does that Cuban rum make you happy and brave. My friend from Texas was dancing with most of those that asked her to dance and I danced with a couple people. We moved onto beers after the rum was finished which was a good change since we hadn't drank much water and though I rarely drink rum, it tends to make a bit more silly.

I had a lovely conversation with one of the band members who was heading to a second gig but it was private and therefore we couldn't attend. Sadly we were going to Havana in the morning too so we couldn't meet them again to see them play. Communicating with my limited Spanish, which is heavily influenced by Mexican slang, with someone who's English is limited was a challenge but somehow we accomplished a conversation. We bid farewells to the locals and headed back to our casa. We had to get a good amount of rest because the drive to Havana would be fairly long for us. 

 

Have you visited Cienfuegos, Cuba? Would you like to? If you're considering a visit to Cuba definitely include this city in your itinerary.