Vinales to Cienfuegos to Trinidad
At 8:30 this morning we were all packed and ready, waiting for our bus. As we waved goodbye to Vinales the long journey to Cienfuegos stretched before us. As soon as the bus reached the highway where the road was no longer winging and undulations, Abel put on a film about Fidel Castro. I was expecting something jingoistic and propaganda like but this seemed to be a very fair and straightforward biography. Fidel was certainly an impressive man and he did thumb his nose at the US. It is quite amazing that a country such as the USA bore a grudge against Cuba when virtually every other country in the world had normalised relations. After about two hours we reached a service centre on the highway for a brief stop. The place was still being built and there was not much available to purchase. At least the toilets were clean although you need to BYO toilet paper.
During the next two hours we saw a second video, this one concerned with the 15,000 children who were sent to America by their parents because they feared that Castro would take their children away from them. These kids, in an operation called Peter Pan, were fostered out to American families and only forty years later did they return to their families and homeland. It was quite an emotional homecoming for most of them, many were very afraid of what they would find only to be treated with great kindness and compassion.
Our lunch stop was at a restaurant which had a buffet, the first that we had seen in Cuba, at least it was easier to ration how much food one took. Strangely the restaurant was near to a disused sugar refinery called, believe it or not, Australia. Apparently, at some stage, Castro had renamed many of the large refineries with the names of sugar producing nations. Another hour and a half brought us to Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs where some of the fiercest fighting of that sorry episode took place. Because tomorrow is the anniversary of the victory by the Cuban forces the locals were setting up a stage, seating and sound system. We were given a guided tour through the museum that commemorates the actions of 17, 18 and 19 April when Cuban émigrés from America tried to invade and take back their privileged positions. There is now a hotel at the site of the landings with a breakwater to protect the beach and make it safe for swimming. Maree and I waded around in the warm water but chose not to have a swim.
A final hour or so brought us to the industrial city of Cienfuegos. This city is set out, as most in Cuba, on a rectangular pattern with many streets, as always, simply numbered. Unlike Havana however, the streets are wide and the buildings are in better condition. We were allocated to a very nice couple, Wilber and Merlen, who were delighted to find that we were Australian. Wilber proudly showed off an Australian flag in his carport and some Australia fridge magnets. They have two rooms to let on the ground floor and they live above on the first. In addition, both of their mothers live in another house on the block. After a bit of a walk around we headed for one of the recommended restaurants and luckily arrived just before the rush. Soon after we had sat down there was a queue of people wanting to get in. After a very tasty and unbelievably inexpensive meal we left to see even more people queued up.
Next morning we woke to find a kangaroo holding an Aussie flag and a koala waiting at the breakfast table. Wilber was delighted with our reaction. The breakfast was filling and tasty as always - I don't think that we have eaten so much fruit for brekky for a long time. With Abel we set off on a city tour which we had not had time to do the day before. The main point of interest was the central square where all of the buildings have been spruced up by the government with help from UNESCO. The Tomas Terry theatre was of particular interest due to the way in which their 'boxes' were set out with louvred walls to allow air flow through during a performance. The theatre has been partly restored but it still needs something m love and care.
At eleven we headed for Trinidad a UNESCO world heritage listed city. It is built on a bit of a hill and the streets are very cobbled which makes for very slow driving. As the streets are narrow this is probably a good thing. The cobbles are worse than anything I saw in Belgium but not quite as bad as the worst bits of Paris-Roubaix. Our accommodation for the next two nights is probably the worst that we have had so far. There are bare wires sticking out of the wall and mildew there as well. We will just have to make the best of it and it is only for two nights. Just as we arrived the a heavy rain shower started and the roads were quickly running with water from the roofs of houses with no gutters. Our hostess, Odalis, had opened up the doors and windows to our rooms so the floors were all wet. Fortunately the beds were just far enough inside to miss being drenched. After wandering about town for a couple of hours we headed for one of the recommended restaurants, arriving at 6:30 as suggested by the guide, but there was already a queue. This restaurant was technologically advanced by having numbered buzzers that they handed out to let you know when your table was ready. We waited with Tony and Kaylene for about 40 minutes before we had a seat, others waited much longer. Actually, the food was nothing special and there were plenty of other eating places with heaps of room so we should probably have just gone elsewhere. This establishment is clearly recommended by both the tour guides and TripAdvisor but it was kind of sad seeing other eating places with no one in them while this one had enough for about 4 or more sittings. After dinner Maree and I wandered about for some time listening to music before retiring to our rooms for the night.
After breakfast Maree, Jodi and I caught a taxi to the Parque El Cubano where a walking track to the Javira Waterfall begins. In retrospect we could have walked from the town to the start of the track but you don't know these things in advance. When we arrived there were already us loads of tourists with their guides setting out and it took us quite a while to overtake some slow moving groups. A couple of women from the bus group clearly didn't get the message about appropriate footwear and were stumbling along on high wedge heels. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the falls where we found dozens of people swimming and also jumping from high vantage points into the water. It was fun to watch and Maree rested her weary feet in the cool water.
After about half an hour we set off on the return journey. The tour group with the inappropriately shod females was just arriving. At least we weren't going to be held up on the return trip. We stopped at some of the viewpoints on our return including one cliff face which was covered in hanging hives of wild bees. There were hundreds of these attached to the underside of rocks presumably each each with its own queen. A sign requested us not to disturb the bees.
A quick ride back returned us to town at about 12:30 so Maree and I took in some of the streets we had missed out on yesterday and found ourselves in the 'outer suburbs' of the town. There was a street market selling hardware items another with plumbing and many shops selling stuff priced in CUP, the local currency, rather than CUC, the tourist currency. The streets were shared between pedestrians, bicyclists, tricycle taxis, horse and cart, cars, scooters, buses and trucks. Somehow, in all the narrow streets, everyone behaved courteously and the traffic flowed, albeit slowly. Just after 2pm when we finished a small lunch the sky darkened and the rain started. The rain didn't last very long but certainly raised the humidity level to 'very uncomfortable'. We retired to our room to wait till 4:30 when we are to meet again with the group for a trip to the beach which will be followed by dinner by the seaside.