WE LEAVE PARADISE FOR ANOTHER WATERFRONT VENUE.
17.05.2017 - 20.05.2017
DAY 101 WEDNESDAY 17TH MAY
PLAYA LARGA TO CIENFUEGOS
Breakfast – will be missed, the food, the view, and the lovely host Osmara. We all had breakfast together enjoying our last morning in Playa Larga. Our transfer car arrived just before 9am – a bright yellow station wagon of some descript, with an extra row of seating in the back, back. Enough room for us and all our luggage to travel to Cienfuegos in comfort.
It was a short highway drive, passing a lot of sugar cane fields. As always, the highway was deserted and we made the trip in just on one & a half hours. Our casa is in Punta Gorda, which is a thin spit peninsular just 3 km out of Cienfuegos town centre. There was a little mix up at our arrival at Hostal Sunset as they only expected 4 of us, so we had to wait for another bed to be put in the triple room. The hosts here are wonderful too, serving us the most delicious coffee and fresh mango juice on the back patio as we waited for the rooms to be ready. Rooms here are 35cuc per night.
We are on the thin part of the peninsular, with the water lapping the back patio and water in the front on the other side of the road. Double water frontage – very nice. It was very hot so we all decided to have a bit of a time out and go for a walk with it cooled off a bit.
At about 4 L, D & I headed out to have a bit of a look around our local neighbourhood. There are a lot of Grand old mansions here that are now converted to hotels and casas, lots of French influence here in the buildings. Some also look rather art deco – retro. The buildings here really do match the old American cars that are parked in front of them.
In our travels, we found a water side bar that was selling beer for 1.50cuc, good price for us so stopped to have a cold one. Dolly was feeling a little off, she has somehow thrown her back so she headed back to the room for a rest. Lyn & I continued and ran into the Lemons who had found a supermarket for home beer supplies. We grabbed a six pack and some cola to mix with our rum and walked home the long way, arriving back at the casa just a little before our 7pm dinner was ready.
This was another very good meal. Borchetta for starter, then vegie soup, mains, fruit and ice cream. Toni & I had the lobster, which was the best I had eaten so far, Lyn had turkey (which she thinks was chicken), Shawn & Dolly had chicken (although Dolly had ordered beef). Meals are just 12cuc here so very good value. We ate outside on the back patio and managed to dodge the rain even though the sky was fairly dark. There was a nice breeze there also.
Tomorrow we shall explore some more.
DAY 102 THURSDAY 18TH MAY
L, D & I had breakfast at the casa on the back patio. There was a little bit of a breeze but the day looked like it would be another good one. Breakfast was the same as we got at the other casas: fruit (to die for), coffee and they had black tea, toast and eggs. Fresh fruit juice, today was mango, yum and a little sweet crepe to finish off. Again, a great deal for just 5cuc each. So nice not having to go looking for our meal first up.
We need to go into town to change money, so we decided today we would do that and have a look around the centre, maybe do a little shopping then catch the ferry to Castillo de Jagua, which is a small village across the lake with a fort/castle. We walked a couple of blocks to the main road and waited for the local bus to take us into the centre. Taxi and bici taxi drivers stopped to hassle us to take a ride but we were determined to take the local bus, which was going to cost us just 5 cents each, and we still pay more than double what the locals do. We did not have to wait too long for a bus to collect us and 30 minutes later when we reached the centre, which was just 4 km away, we were glad we were at the beginning of the line and had a seat as the bus was full to overflowing by the time we wanted to get off. Today is all about getting up close and personal with the Cuban people.
We found the pedestrian shopping street and discovered this had the most shops we had seen anywhere in Cuba to date. There were still a few scantily stocked supermarkets, but other shops seemed to have a good amount of stock. We saw souvenir shops, lots of shoe shops, clothing stores and electrical goods outlets. We browsed a few of the shops dodging a light shower of rain which did not really amount to much. Heading in the general direction of the ferry, another pedestrian street had market kiosks lined down it where we managed to make a couple of purchases.
At the local ferry, we thought we were getting in early having arrived 25 minutes before the departure time of 1pm, but the locals knew better already occupying all the seats on the ferry long before we arrived. Toni & Dolly managed to wangle a pozzie on the steps, but the rest of us had to stand with the crowd for the 20 minutes before departure and the 1 hour boat ride to Castillo de Jagua. This really was up close and personal with the locals. There were a couple of other stops on the way which helped with a thinning out of the crowd.
At 2pm we arrived at our destination and was met by a restaurant tout who tried to coax us into her establishment for a refreshment. First, we look at the castle then we come for a drink we advised her. The castle/fort was just a 3-minute walk up hill from where we got off the ferry and it took all of 3 minutes to have a look around it. There was a 5cuc entrance fee for the museum which we decided not to take up, instead heading back down the hill in search of a cool drink. Our tout was waving us in the right direction and we took up seats in a nice place overlooking the water where we were able to watch a cruise ship navigate its way out of the bay.
The beer was cold and only 1.50cuc – it was Mexican SOL. After eyeing the food that was being served and eaten at the table next to us we ordered food as well. Dolly ordered a banana sandwich much to the waitress’s disbelief and the rest of us shared a seafood paella, which was divine. With another beer, we managed to gobble down the food just in time to walk down to the ferry dock to wait for the soon due 3pm ferry back to town.
A small boat was picking up the family that was sitting next to us in the restaurant and due to a little misunderstanding about our destination we found ourselves aboard and being taken just 100m across the water. When it was worked out where we actually wanted to go the boat owner said it was not possible so they took us back to the next village where the ferry was due to stop. It was a funny little trip, where in the 12 minutes we were all in the little boat we managed to do a round of swigging out of a rum bottle. Like I said, up close and personal with the locals.
The ferry ride back to town seemed to go much quicker, perhaps due to the fact we all had seats this time as there was only a small number of passengers on the return journey.
Back on dry land we walked the few blocks to Jose Marti square and while Toni & Shawn returned to the market for some more money spending, L, D & I headed for the nearest café to have a cold beer. We had to hang around for a few moments for a table to vacate and pounced as soon as one became available. Halfway through our first beer 2 ladies stood looking just as we had for a spare table and I invited them to join us as there were a few spare chairs. Funnily enough they were Australians! We enjoyed an hour or so chatting and comparing travel experiences.
Time to head back to the casa as we had ordered dinner for 7pm and it was now after 6. We stood at the bus stop for ages and the bus did not come. Our new friends, who were staying just a few doors down from us decided to take a taxi which was only 2cuc, they took Dolly in the car with them. The rest of us started to walk in the direction of home and then of course the bus came, so Toni just about threw herself in front of it to make it stop at a non-bus stop spot. I paid the drive 25c for the 4 of us!
Dinner on the back patio, it was not as windy as yesterday, so most enjoyable. I had the chicken, Dolly had a very well done & thin steak, Lyn & the Lemons going for the lobster. Nice meal finished off with fruit and ice cream.
Showered and just about ready for bed, our new friends from us the road came down and we had a beer with them out the front of the casa.
Another great day in Cuba!
DAY 103 FRIDAY 19TH MAY
L, D & I had breakfast again on the outside patio. It was very overcast this morning, not much sun around at all. We had planned on a trip to the beach but after Eduardo, our host, confirming it was going to rain today we decided to have a rest day instead.
By early mid-morning / early afternoon it was starting to clear and a bit of sun was starting to show through so it was then there was a change of plans and a taxi was organized to take us to the fauna reserve to go see the flamingos. An old yellow car showed up to take us but it had bucket seats in the front so was not able to take 5 passengers. There was a mistake made when ordering it, but not to worry, just one phone call and 5 minutes later we had a blue car big enough for all of us. The agreed price was 20 cuc to take 5 of us there and back, so 4 cuc each.
The reserve was only about a 15-minute drive away and we arrived around midday. There was 10 cuc entry fee, which seemed a bit steep in the scheme of things, but that what they asked for. A short 5-minute walk with a guide who pointed out a tree that grew maracas (or at least the fruit used to make them) and we saw a mocking bird flitter around too quick to photograph. Lots of termite nests all over the trees which she told us are a pest and kill a lot of the trees but because they are in the nature reserve they are not allowed to get rid of the termites, so they just keep replanting trees where the ravenous ants have killed them. Seemed a little silly to me, but she said everything is protected in the park including the termites. We were told about the land crabs and sea crabs that are apparently here in abundance and both species grow to a good eating size and can be eaten, unlike the last lot of crabs we saw at Playa Larga which were toxic. Interesting to note we only saw very small crabs here today, I guess even in a protected area the large ones magically disappear into someone’s crab dinner. The guide assured us they were very tasty so I have no doubt she protects the big crabs around here, protects them all the way to the dinner plate. Lol.
The short nature walk brought us to the lagoon where we were then transferred into little fibreglass dinghy’s. L, D & I in one, the Lemons in another and a French couple in a third. Each of us had a poor sucker who had to paddle us the 1 km across the lake to see the flock of pink flamingos. The lagoon was not very deep, with the oar sometimes churning up the dirty bottom it was that shallow.
The lovely flamingos where a sight to behold, probably a flock of about 30ish. We could not get too close as they would just fly away, but close enough to take zoomed in photos. And I did get a good video of them taking off and flying past us when our boat rower, Walter, moved a little closer. Money’s worth right there!
One the way back to the dock, Walter went in close to the mangroves and got out to find us a couple of oysters which were growing in/on the mangroves. He had told us earlier that he earned 10 cuc per month doing this job of rowing tourists out on the lake. 10 cuc per month is equivalent to US$10 per month!! Guess he lives off tips and this was a great way to remind punters to tip. Whether it was a hint or not, we were happy to give him a 5 cuc tip when he returned us safely to the shore. Any poor bastard who had to row us 3 lard arses around for an hour deserves to get have a month’s wage in tips we reckon.
The short walk back to the taxi was hindered by a downpour of rain. We all donned our IKEA rain capes, Lyn and I a similar colour to the flamingos we had just seen and the Lemons a boring shade of black. Dolly had decided against bringing a rain coat as I think she likes to be reminded of London every now and then and get caught in a rain shower. Ah yes, and Toni was limping back as she’d had a thong blowout!
We waited a few minutes under the shelter for the worst of the rain to fall and then piled back in the taxi. The beach we planned on visiting was only just a couple of km’s up the road so we asked the driver to take us there for a quick look. Even with the crappy weather the beach did not look so fantastic. The sea was a little rough due to the wind, but there was no inviting white sand like in the pictures so we were glad we did not miss out on much due to the bad weather. The taxi dropped us back at our casa where we had a little rest before heading out again about 4pm.
The Lemons were AWOL having headed back into town for more shopping? We were going to just go for a beer at a local bar, but ended up getting on the bus into town because the bus was there. The closer we got to the centre the heavier the rain got, so by the time our stop came up it was pissing down. To shelter from the rain, we headed into the nearest restaurant thinking we may as well eat and get out of the rain. The beer was cold but the food was rough. Dolly ordered chicken and was served a dinosaur sized drumstick and thigh which had been deep fried to within an inch of existence. Lyn and I ordered pork and I’m not sure what the hell we were given but I was tempted to check the waiter’s shoes for missing soles. This meat did not resemble anything, I broke a fork trying to cut it and a serrated knife did nothing after 8 minutes of sawing! I called the waiter and sent my back and he brought me another piece of cremated chicken with was at least possible to eat. Somehow Lyn managed to cut her ‘meat’ but I think she may still be trying to chew it into something that she can swallow. Like I said the beer was cold!
After we had eaten at least the rain had eased so we walked a couple of blocks down to the ice cream shop. This was another overpriced disappointment and the guy at the door looked at me with astonishment when I said it was not good on my way out. If we all survive todays meal without any repercussions we will be lucky.
It was after 6pm by now and although the sky was dark it was still daylight so we decided to walk the 3km home to try and get our bodies to start to digest the ‘food?’ we had just eaten.
Back in the comfort of our room at the casa we decided to have dinner in tomorrow night to avoid any duplication of this evenings little error.
We spend a little while playing UNO, the Lemons made an appearance, meaning they were found, and the sun set in a very overcast sky. Not sure what the weather forecast for tomorrow is but it is not looking too good.
DAY 104 SATURDAY 20TH MAY
Another nice breakfast, mango juice is divine. We tried for soft boiled eggs but they came out hard but never mind.
We had a fairly lazy day today. The Lemons headed out early but we lingered around and we were heading out into the heat when they came walking back to escape the heat. All the rain from yesterday was rained out and the sky today was blue with a couple of non-threatening fluffy white clouds overhead. And the temp was up somewhat.
We walked the couple of blocks to the bus stop just as the bus was arriving, so that was good timing. Paid our 5c each and stayed on the bus to the end of the line, just to see where it would go. It ended at a suburban estate the other side of town, where there were streets and streets of high rise government housing. The bus driver looked a little confused that we had stayed on the bus, however with sign language we managed to convey that we just wanted to have a look, he smiled and made a gesture that we need to pay again if we wanted to ride the bus back into town. I think we managed to scrape together another 15c and we stayed seated and enjoyed the 10 minutes back into the centre.
The walking street was deserted, due to the midday temperature I think. We shop hopped, browsing anything that had aircon. Stopped for a cold beer 2 cuc and a ham & cheese roll 2 cuc in a little arcade for lunch. It really was too hot to be out and about and we had just about seen everything in town anyway. Dolly purchased a new nighty in a sparsely stocked haberdashery store for a cool 5 cuc. We walked down the street with the market stalls and even the kiosk owners seemed to be happier to stay sitting in the shade rather than hassle us to buy anything. I did manage to find a Cuba hat for my flatmate at a price I was happy to pay. Have been looking since Havana, guess the shop owner here just couldn’t be bothered.
Down near the water at the end of the market street there was a bar where we had another cold beer 2cuc, must keep hydrated in this heat, then we decided to return to our casa where we could have a swim in the bay to cool off a little. Unlike yesterday, it was too hot to walk the 3km home so we started negotiations with any form of taxi that was on offer. The bici taxis can only carry 2 persons so that was out as there was 3 of us and to pay 2 is too much. The horse and cart guys wanted 2 cuc each, ha, not bloody likely sunshine. Some old guy in a beat up old red American car put his hand up and when I offered 2 cuc for the 3 of us he was keen. So, we climbed into his heap (big red Buick, I think it was) and he drove us to our casa. Happy to do so for 2cuc.
Within minutes of returning we had changed into our togs and were in the bay at the back of the casa. The water was lovely and warm, yet still refreshing. The Lemons joined us in the water as they had not yet cooled off from their earlier walk.
We all had dinner together at the casa tonight, our last night in Cienfuegos. It has been another great couple of days in another great place in Cuba. Tomorrow we move on to Trinidad, just 80km away.
After dinner, we all enjoyed a beer (me a Cuba Libre aka rum & coke) out the front enjoying the somewhat cloudy but colourful sunset.