Sunday, 12 November 2017


1st - 3rd Nov 2017
The famous revolutionary and philosopher José Martí
Cienfuegos is situated on the south coast 30 miles to the east of the infamous Bay of Pigs (the scene of another magnificent US/CIA military cock-up in 1961). It was a 6 hour bus journey, including a 40 minute pit-stop for lunch at a surprisingly good restaurant (plus musicians of course) along remarkably empty and decent roads after having to back track to southern Havana. 

The city was founded by a French emigré in 1819 and still maintains a slightly French ambience. It was the home town of that well known and revered 19th century revolutionary and philosopher José Martí whose statue of him flicking a 'V' sign at passing counter-revolutionaries, and with the mandatory pigeon sitting on his head, stands in the Parque José Martí in the town centre. Another world famous resident was the singer Benny Moré whose memorable song 'Cienfuegos' captured the hearts of all Cubans and is probably still sung in all the best bars, and baths.

Although surrounded by quite a lot of ugly industry, the town centre is pleasantly clean and prosperous looking. UNESCO funds? Left: The main Avenue 54. The Cubans seem to have been changing a lot of their old  charismatic street names (in good revolutionary style) and all Avenues (east - west) and Calles (north - south) in the grid layout are now just numbers.

The bus from Viñales was operated byTranstur, not Viazul this time, and was rather smarter and delivered us to the town centre just outside the best hotel, Hotel La Union. I think Transtur is a bit more up-market, if a little more expensive but no taxi drive needed from an outside depot.

Right: The bar and swimming pool in the Hotel La Union. No public WiFi here even though they promised it worked in the bar on the top 4th floor open air roof area (nada!), but it does some reasonable bar food. The only WiFi available to us tourists is in and around the Parque José Martí. I had to use a rather grotty park-side café to log-on, sporadically.

The mini Arc de Triomphe at the western end of Parque José Martí. It adds a bit of French flavour.
....and quite a smart colonnade on the north side.

Left: On the end of this is the Tomas Terry theatre. Don't they mean Terry Thomas? I've heard of him.

I went inside the theatre (right). Somewhat faded grandeur, but lots of famous singers and thespians have performed here, apparently, such as Enrico Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt and the legendary Alqimedes Pous. That's what the old posters on the walls said; but no mention of Terry Thomas. 'What a ghastly omission', as he would have said.

The place was, according to a notice, 'under renovation' and no performances were scheduled for the immediate future. There was a net suspended by string under the centre of the elaborately decorated ceiling (left). It was to catch bits of falling plasterwork and I suspect that any 'renovation' was just being done by Señor Gravity & Co. Reminds me of an old Irish country house; when you sat down for dinner in a large dining room chunks of plaster fell onto the table and into your soup, and nobody mentioned it. The butler just went round sweeping it up.

Right: An alternative form of public tour bus parked outside the theatre. Operated by Transtur, the bus company, I noted.

As in Viñales, horse-drawn carts and carriages are a common form of transport.

The horses were remarkably well behaved and trotted around town oblivious of other motorised traffic. When the driver got off they just stood patiently, I suppose sensibly, to avoid unnecessary effort. Can't imagine British horses doing that; they would be stampeding all over the place mowing down pedestrians with frantic drivers trying to catch them. 

Left: In the grotty café where I sometimes managed to connect to the internet was a nearby table occupied by this strange trio. Maybe they were waiting to perform at the Terry Thomas theatre.

Incidentally, for some reason, I have been carrying around an old newspaper which I was reading on the flight over. It has come in very useful. Most of the café/bar tables have been very wobbly and I use the folded newspaper to prop up a table leg to ensure some stability.  The British Press does serve a useful purpose after all.
I arrived in Cienfuegos with no particular Casa booked, but called in (courtesy of the Lonely Planet) at the house, Amistad, owned by a lady called Leanora. Unfortunately she was booked up but proved most interesting and helpful. She is a retired physics lecturer and spoke excellent English. We had a good chat in her rather opulent sitting room, after which she quickly found me alternative accommodation nearby owned by an old lady (78) called Esther.

Right: Esther in her sitting room. She was most hospitable, but rather blind and spoke no English, at all. When booking into a Casa the owner has to fill in a form with your passport details amongst other things and then submit this to the immigration authorities. Esther proudly used a large, treasured and somewhat opaque 19th century magnifying glass to do this. It took rather a long time.

Left: The restaurant Paladar Aché was recommended as a good place to eat. It is one of only two surviving 'private' restaurants in the town. It is a 30 min walk from the centre and did indeed have a pleasant ambience with a little beer garden and smart looking waiters.
The service was exemplary, but unfortunately the food was rather typical; varieties of chicken, pig, rice and beans, plus fish and prawns. I chose what sounded (from the smart menu) like a nice 'pork and onion sauce' offering. It came as two quite large but rather dry pork chops with a few rings of raw onion on the top plus a bowl of black rice. Not great...but a pleasant enough venue if nothing else. Maybe I should have tried the fish.
Secreted in the garden surrounding it were several gnomes (right). Surprised they haven't been nicked by now. I remember a phase in UK when 'liberating' gnomes from gardens was a common occurrence. I even remember someone who specialised in it. If you are reading this Antonio, there are rich pickings to be had at Av 38 between Calles 41 & 43, Cienfuegos.

The town in split into two parts., Running down the south eastern side is the peninsular of Punta Gorda. It was a pleasant two mile walk down the 'Malecón' seaside to the Punta itself. On the way I passed this rather impressive looking villa, so I walked in. It is the Club Cienfuegos El Marinero, an old and once prestigious yacht club (There were some fine and now defunct trophies on display) which was obviously very smart before La Revolutión, and still has some decent facilities. 

.......i.e.. a swimming pool (right) with large catamarans and yachts tied up at the jetty. It costs CUC 1 for entry and a further CUC 10 to use the swimming pool.  I think the restaurant has fallen into disrepair. I bought an ice-cream. It was not a good one.

On reaching the 'punta' itself at the south end there was quite a smart looking hotel with outside bar and bandstand which, of course, featured a small band playing jolly tunes. They managed to persuade this Australian chap (left)  to shake their maracas which he did, manfully. We went for a drink at the bar and he told me he is a keen 'Marlin hunter'. He and his mother were returning to Oz from an international Marlin fishing competition in Mexico. Big cash prizes to be won I was told, amongst much else about Marlin fishing. 

Right: Also down this end was an extraordinary building of 'Moorish' style architecture called the Palacio de Valle, built in 1917 by a wealthy Spaniard. It is now a restaurant. I didn't try it.

Left: Parked nearby was another example of one of the myriad old US cars. They are so common, but I still can't help taking photos of them. This one was beautifully battered and missing the odd window but apparently in working condition.

On walking back into town I passed this outdoor boxing school (right). There were about a dozen enthusiastic young lads, including some young children, being coached by a sturdy instructor who wielded a whip, but otherwise seemed very good natured. Cuba, as you may be aware, excels at boxing and several other what we consider 'minor' sports. They won a boxing gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Baseball is a major sport for them. I was told their football team is not that great, but would probably beat the English one (well, if Iceland can......!).

So that was two days in Cienfuegos. Not a bad place at all although rather lacking in good bars and restaurants for evening entertainment.

On next to the town of Trinidad, about 50 miles east.

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