Saturday, 27 April 2013

Cienfuegos – The Paris of Cuba ….. April 2013

Land Travel to Cienfuegos, Cuba:  14 - 18 April 2013

P4170004 Back to Boat Jobs

After our few days away in the tobacco growing region of Cuba it was back to Balvenie at Hemingway Marina, Havana to tick off a few boat jobs.  One of the joys of being tied up in a marina is the availability of non stop fresh water and the joys that come with it – endless long showers, laundry facilities and the opportunity to give Balvenie a much needed bubble bath to wash away the crusty layers of salt accumulated during our wet and bumpy ride along the northern coast of Cuba.

The time came for more goodbyes, a big part of the cruising life. Stu and Steph on Matador were heading south to Guatemala for the hurricane season, David and Brenda on Bandit heading north before us to the eastern coast of the USA.  Happy hour was planned on the dock and all manner of instruments appeared, an excellent evening of music and merriment was enjoyed by all – wonder where and when the reunion party will be?

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shopping at the local market by the marina – don’t have high expectations!

P4180014 Boat jobs completed we took the easy option again and booked tickets on the Transtur bus and got collected from the Marina Hotel for our next excursion.  This time we were the first passengers onboard so enjoyed an early morning city tour of Havana as we visited several hotels collecting the remaining passengers.  It was 3 hours down the relatively empty roads to Cienfuegos, a city of around 500,000 inhabitants located on southern coast on the shores of Cuba’s largest natural harbour.  Several cruisers that had sailed along the south coast had stopped here and enjoyed it so we decided to stop and see it for ourselves.  When the bus stopped we were the only passengers to alight, and there wasn’t even a Casa Particular owner in sight to tout for our business.  Either we had found a tourist free gem or it wasn’t worth the stop!P4180005 

French Architecture but Cuban Heart
First impressions were promising, an open town square was surrounded by classic buildings.  French settlers came here from Louisiana, Philadelphia and as far as Bordeaux in the early 1800’s, they survived hurricanes to transform this area into a mini French city.  Neglected over the decades it has now been added to UNESCO’s list and is slowly regaining its former glory.  We found a shady cafe overlooking the square, enjoyed live Cuban music and had cheese and tomato toasted sandwiches for lunch – the only item available on the menu!  P4180013

Bank or Brothel?
Our next piece of entertainment was one we weren’t expecting.  We needed to  change some money so walked to the local Cadeca (Money Exchange), the queue was a mile long so we decided to try the bank instead.  We found a building with a “Banco” sign on it, windows were all tinted , the door was locked and a couple of men were waiting outside. 

We asked if it was a bank and they confirmed it was and said we needed to wait.  Periodically women would come out in the shortest black miniskirts with 6 inch high stilettos and black fishnet tights and take one person in at a time, very few people were leaving.  P4180011Interesting!

Eventually it was our turn and yes it was a bank, all of the staff were women and there must have been a competition for the shortest black skirt and highest shoes – we couldn’t believe that was actually their uniform!  We felt it inappropriate to take photos to share the tale!

On to Trinidad

We had a lazy morning catching a Bici-Taxi out the 3 km flat road along the harbour to Punta Gorda, the marina and anchorage.  P4180008There were some fine old buildings along the seafront, some rather dilapidated, some just hanging on and others beautifully restored – much was the same throughout all the streets downtown too.  Our downtown Casa Particular had the highest ceilings we think we have ever seen in a “normal” home, way over 2 regular stories, you can tell it never gets cold there. 

We headed for the bus station early afternoon and joined a mass of independent travellers waiting for the Viazul Tourist Bus to nearby Trinidad.  It was an absolute state of chaos,  no one had been able to buy tickets, there was no indication if there were even seats available, or even if the bus was coming.  We all just stood around patiently waiting, the bus eventually showed up, cash was given to a man in the doorway, we walked across the bus station and bordered the scruffy dirty bus – the bus left full but we didn’t leave anyone behind.

 Just Luck or Organised Cuban Chaos?  

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