Town and country around Cienfuegos.

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There are a number of ways to travel around Cuba.

We initially chose to use taxis and our first trip out of Havana was to Cienfuegos.

Taxis sound expensive but they’re extremely cheap, especially considering the flexibility and the fact that we are solo travellers and therefore don’t want to be reliant on airline or bus schedules.

Also our agent in Cuba, Yosvany, said he could arrange everything at very reasonable prices.

Oscar was our taxi driver to Cienfuegos which is about 238km from Havana.

It was motorway most of the way, starting out with four wide lanes then reducing to three as we got into the country.

Two thirds of the way to Cienfuegos is a small town, of about 6,000 people, called Australia. This was said to have been Fidel Castro’s base of operations during the Bay of Pigs operation in 1961.

Oscar felt the roads were bad. I thought they were fine, especially compared to many we had been on.

Cuba must go down as a country with the hardest seats in the world. Most of the restaurant seats are metal or timber and none have cushions. It’s really hard to have a long, leisurly meal in most places.

In Cuba cars are divided into three distinct eras.

There’s the pre 1962 ‘Classico Americano’, the post 1962 Russian models that are mainly Ladas and the modern era with a predominance of Korean and Chinese makes and some Europeans.

We drove in all of them.

Cienfuegos has a decidedly Francophile feeling. The original immigrants were French, coming from New Orleans and Philadelphia in the US and Bordeaux in France in 1819.

Once we had settled into our Casa Particular, Hostel Damilsy, we went out to discover the area.

The city centres around Parque Jose Martí. This is a UNESCO Heritage site with a celebrated collection of colonial architecture.

We then went for a long walk along Paseo el Prado down to the Punta Gorda, a small recreational area at the end of the peninsula.

This is where the rich families of Cienfuegos built their mansions.

One rather grandiose, but crumbling, edifice was the Palacio de Valle, with it’s very Spanish come Moorish influences.

The following day, at the insistence of our host, we drove to El Nicho National Park. This was with Rafael, in his 33 year old Moskvitch. It had a Lada engine and gear box and one handle to wind the windows up and down – this was the air conditioning control.

The Moskvitch was Rafael’s pride and joy.

The horn was more of a whistle that had a variety of different tonal expressions. The most commonly used was the ‘cat call’, which was sounded whenever a pretty girl caught Rafael’s eye.

Which happened a lot.

The radio was permanently playing Salsa but was drowned out by the roar of the Lada motor as we struggled up some of the steeper gradients.

The road is notoriously full of twists and turns with mango, orange, pineapple, bananas and coffee growing on either side.

And of course there’s hundreds of acres of sugar cane as well.

We walked to the waterfall with Rafael constantly pointing out the local bird life. Either we were too slow or they were too fast, because I couldn’t get a snap of any of them.

Rafael sent us off to explore the top of the waterfall and the lookout that’s just near by.

There we were befriended by one of the local guides who took us off on a ‘secret path’ to the caves further up the mountain. He also pointed out the local flora and fauna and even found a small snake which he insisted that we all hold.

I took photos.

This was all at a cost of course, but it was worth it.

We then had our most traditional food so far, when we lunched at Rafael’s favourite local Casa Particular.

The place was a menagerie of dogs, cats, birds and one unidentifiable rodent in a cage.

It was then back around the bends and down the mountain to Cienfuegos.

We had dinner at the Cafe Cantante Benny Moré, which was very fitting, as he is one of Cienfuegos favourite sons.

In the 1950s he became known as the Prince of Mambo and with his 40 piece orchestra toured the Americas and even played at an Oscars ceremony in 1957.

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