Friday, January 13, 2017

Cienfuegos and Trinidad

We considered several options to see more of the "real" Cuba, but eventually opted for a town on the opposite coast called Cienfuegos, not least because our hostess said she could find us similar accommodations among friends there.  Luckily we were also able to arrange for an expensive New Year’s day ride in a private taxi (the most economical type of transportation for a party of four) costing 140 CUC for a 2 plus hour drive.  After also getting our hostess to say she could find us a room for our last night back in Varadero before our early morning flight the next week, we loaded up and headed out.

The car was certainly sketchy by U.S. standards but not terribly uncomfortable, and we enjoyed the ride and our view of the countryside.  Arriving at the provided address however, proved disappointing, as instead of an apartment type situation, or even two rooms in one house, we found we were to be housed in two separate houses a block apart.  Once again the hosts were lovely.  Still, we found ourselves again looking for accommodation as the two different houses weren't as advertised and didn’t suit us for multiple nights. 

Yes that's $4.00 for one of our better meals

And how 'bout that presentation

So after a really tasty low cost dinner, a relatively comfortable night in our separate casas, and a tasty breakfast (standard cost of 5 CUC per person including fruit, juice, eggs, bread and really good coffee) we set out again to find a place to stay.  This time we walked (me too) for a couple of hours and talked to many places with no room.  When we had given up,  a young man we had met at a hotel, stopped us to introduce us to another young man.  He showed us pictures of two rooms in a beautiful restored old house for 60 CUC per night.  We then went back with Pedro to meet his mother Rosemary, and quickly booked 2 nights in their lovingly restored estate.

This accommodation was without doubt the most fortuitous of our trip, as we got to know this family the best.  I could really go on and on, but perhaps it suffice it to say that after the first day Rosemary said I reminded her of her sister, and by the time we left we were calling each other sisters.  She and I both teared up when we had to say goodbye.  If you should go to Cienfuegos you absolutely have to stay here!  Email me and I will get you contact info.

Pablo, it turned out, is a artist.  He showed us how he creates engravings on linoleum that he then makes prints from.  I chose to buy one of his prints to bring home as a souvenir.

Another of our best nights in Cuba was when Rosemary and family made us a home cooked Cuban meal.  It was a real family affair, with Pedro's girlfriend's dad BarBQing and her mom and brother joining us for chatting in the wrought iron rockers as the sun set.  Afterward we played cards with Peyton translating.

We had heard that tourists in the very popular Unesco town of Trinidad were resorting to sleeping in the park, due to lack of rooms, so we settled for a day trip.  It was indeed a step back in time and lovely, but the town was completely overrun with tourists, and that made it difficult to really enjoy.  These are among the few shots I got without hoards of them.


Like father like daughter

Other things we did in Cienfuegos included watching the sunset at a once grand hotel on the rooftop at sunset, and chatting up a local nurse on a local ferry on the way to view a 200 year old fort.  This is perhaps a good time to say that we spoke to a lot of people regarding their opinions about the politics of Cuba and the United States.  Suffice it to say that those opinions varied greatly.  The best summary I could make is that the Cubans we spoke to living in Cuba (not to be confused with Cubans who live in the U.S. and see things very differently) love Castro because they believe he rescued them from a dictator, but now they are also impatient for more freedoms and economic opportunity.  Everyone told us that changes in the last few years have been occurring in the form of more access to internet and the ability to act as entrepreneurs, including the opportunity to buy and sell cars and apartments.  Even though taxes are crazy high on income from foreign sources (one acquaintance told us he worked for a cruise line for many years when the Cuban government collected 80% of the income he earned) access to hard currency from tourists represents real and rare opportunity for Cubans that they are keen to capitalize on.  Still I think it is important to also say that multiple Cubans we talked to are happy with their lives, wanting more freedoms yes, but appreciating the simple lifestyles they have without any of the resentment we wanted to feel for them.

An example of the often completely empty shelves we found in stores.

This is before all the people got on.

We really enjoyed our time in Cienfuegos, but we were also anxious to get to Havana, and that city didn't disappoint!  Read about that and our final and most desperate accommodation hunt in my next and last post on Cuba.

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