The bus to Cienfuegos starts at 6:45 today, so we have to get up early. Getting up early. Twice in a row. On a holiday. Mehh… Having a look at the watch: Just shortly after 5 o’clock. We had already packed our stuff and paid for the room yesterday. As a matter of fact, we agreed with Aleida to leave the key on the windowledge as soon as we leave and are just about to quietly sneak out without waking everyone up, but this does not work with old ladies! Grandma is already awake for some time made us some food packages to go. “If you do not have time to have breakfast…” – so we kids grow up fit and strong . With a “Take care of yourselves and have fun” we get said goodbye – and also get a business card of a friend of hers in Cienfuegos, which welcomes guests. So far, staying in Casas Particular is extremely simple – I cannot believe that you can find an actually bad Casa here – the people are super friendly and extremely helpful, and prices are everywhere between 10 CUC (10.00 USD) – 20 CUC (20.00 USD) per night.
The streets look quite deserted at this time of the day – noone but us here. We may be the first ones at the bus stop but just a few more travelers seem to want to take the bus in the morning – most probably have a good nights sleep take the bus in the afternoon. The bus ride takes about 7 hours – time to catch some sleep ourselves. Somewhen between 11 and 12 Frank wakes me up – we have a break at a service area. We are a bit surprised that you can get a cooked meal here and not just some snacks, great . Before returning to the bus I visit the bathroom…. Hmm – how did the frog get in here?
Shortly after 14:00 we reach Cienfuegos. No jinteros to be seen. We can put our backpacks on in a leisurely pace and find our way with the small map on the back of the address card. The casa particular is a bit further than we imagined. The address seems to be right: “Eliza y Miguel Angel”. We are in front of a quite chic house. In general, all the houses here are in need of a little renovation if you have a look at the facades, but no comparison to those in Havana. Also, no buildings seem to have more than two storys. We ring the bell and Eliza opens the door – briefly telling her that we got her Casa recommended by Aleida and she gladly takes us to the upper floor to show us the rooms. We seem to be the only guests and can choose one of the four available rooms. Great.
We still have about 3 hours to sunset – which we should use. So we are heading back to the city center: The streets aren’t busy at all. The majority of the people are on foot. Particularly striking are the artfully forged and decorated window grilles here: Probably less to avoid burglaries at night, but to leave the windows and doors open during the day. Passing by we can look into the living rooms, kitchens… generally in whole apartments – but the inhabitants are also looking outside. We soon come to understand why those grilles exist: Naturally, they prevent uninvited people from entering into houses, but once a friend or acquaintance passes the house, a lively chat is kinda to be expected at the window or door. The city itself has quite a different sort of character than Havana, quiet, tidy… “more discreet in its appearance”… or something like that. Perhaps of all the candy-pastel colored houses. The French influence is quite noticeable in the colonial decorations of the buildings… and some of the street names.
Parque Jose Marti
We walk across the Prado to the city center… and as we get to the Parque Jose Marti it becomes even more obvious: Here you can see the only Arc de Triomphe you can find on Cuba which was built by the settlers then in the memory of their distant homeland. Two men sit and play guitar on a park bench – without any audience, without expectation of a tip, and unconsciously entertain two officials in front of the palatial villa Palacio de Valle.
We stroll across the square to the Palacio Ferrer. Here you could actually enjoy a great view over Cienfuegos, but the tower is closed for renovation works. Instead, we can enter a contemporary art exhibition there – the elderly gallery guard seems to be terribly sorry that we can not go up end enjoy the view and we really have to assure him multiple times that it’s alright. He seems to be a bit bored though – after all there is no one else but us in the exhibition. After we have looked around, have a short chat with him on the terrace. There is really little going on at the moment – maybe because of the weather. It is really extremely humid and it also looks rainy – people prefer to stay at home. But on the other hand, he tells us, this could be perhaps good for us: Less tourists around . We should visit the theater across the square, since there is a good opportunity to have the hall for ourselves.
The Teatro Tomás Terry is located diagonally opposite our location. Wow. Named after the sugar baron Tomás Terry, this building was built from his inheritance about the end of the 19th century. This neoclassical style you have seen in movies which play in the 19th century, is amazing. This place could be the place of an Agatha Christie book – “Murder in the theater” (if this book existed ). We are really completely by ourselves here. Some installed ventilators makes us believe that the theater is still being actively used and not just an attraction*.
La Punta Gorda
As we continue in the direction of the Malecon: We leave the park and turn into a pedestrian zone. There is a tour operator for various day trips in the vicinity of Cienfuegos. “Why not?”. We get in, look around and decide for a trip to the natural reserve around the lake “Laguna de Guanaroca” 15 CUC (15.00 USD). We walk along the boulevard to “La Punta Gorda”. Here in the south of the city the rich or beautiful* seem to enjoy their lifes – yacht clubs, elegant hotels, casinos… Hmm, so capitalism seems to exist here, huh ? Again, not much seems to be going on here. We walk to the Palacio de Valle, an exaggerated glamorous monstrosity of a villa for a sugar baron of that time. In the inside is a restaurant and on the roof a bar – after all, you have a nice view from here. As the throat seems to be quite dry after all that walking, we let us have a cocktail here before we move on.
As we stroll to the southern tip, the cityscape changes: Here the houses look a little more rustic, rather like the Caribbean wooden houses you see in Belize . Since we are starting to get hungry, we decide to eat in the restaurant Villa Lagarto – not bad. A nice atmosphere having also a nice view on the sunset. Satisfied and tired we take a bike taxi for 4 CUC (4.00 USD) back to our Casa.
*I am just writing these lines and remembering the visit: We were just let in by the lady at the counter, took our time in the theater and even took some photos. Now on the Internet I see: Actually, you have to pay admission and the photo permission for the interior costs extra and is not that cheap. Hmm. Seems a few things changed in the past few years?
**I chose to use “or” here intentionally .