The journey out of Vinales feels like we are either in a National Lampoon Vacation movie or perhaps a Mafia movie. A long line of 9 seater 50’s classic cars packed with foreign travellers, roof racks loaded up (maybe not Mafia) chugs up the 5km climb trapped behind trucks and slower vehicles. We suck in the fumes and feel fairly confident in our drivers ability.
About 2 hours in, we pull over to a scene of highly organised chaos. This is the changeover spot and there are dozens of vehicles just like ours who have arrived from Vinales and many other places. People and packs are disgorged to be reallocated to another vehicle for the final destination. We are heading to Cienfuegos so we get loaded into the last 2 seats in a big Chevy.
The klaxon, definitely not a horn, is activated by a taut string suspended from the top of the door down to the dash. A tapetty tap tap of fingers or a nifty forearm jab achieves the desired effect on passing vehicles, pedestrians or whatever takes the drivers fancy.
A waggle of a meaty arm out the window acknowledges passing friends, or a thanks to a headlight warning flash from an oncoming vehicle. We are entertained by music videos. As the car absolutely flogs down the open road I realise we are dead if a tyre was to blow. Best just to relax and let the wind rip through your hair from the permanently open window.
After a couple of hours we stop at the turnoff to Australia for a snack and the bano. We will be back in this area in our last week, for a beach break in the Bay of Pigs.
Sunlight really does sparkle like diamonds on Cienfuegos bay. The water is shimmering in the light and not a ripple breaks the spectacular effect on this hot morning. Boys throw fishing lines in off the decaying cement jetty. We can see the water is teeming with tiny fish.
A pedestrian boulevard lined with shops leads to the beautiful Jose Marti Square with its strong French influence in the town planning and design. Unlike Havana, the majority of the major buildings are in pretty good condition. We pay CUC$2 to go into a building that is in bad disrepair internally and looks a bit like a construction site. It feels like the construction will be continuing for many decades.
Bicycle taxis ply up and down the Malecon offering their services. Many of the locals use these and others pile into carts pulled by horses to get around town. For longer distance travel, people often cram into large covered trucks and are transported standing up.
At the other end of the Malecon is La Punta. A great place to stroll and catch the fabulous sunset over the bay. The sugar barons had their homes in this neck of the woods. Some spectacular places remain. On this quite small strip of land, the grand homes have a double water frontage on their east west aspect. Many are now Casas renting out rooms.
Our Casa is nicely located close to the Malecon and about a 10 minute walk to the centre. We have our own entrance in the spacious home that is a bit of a menagerie. They have dogs, caged birds in several locations, chickens wandering freely outside and a pond arrangement in the large open dining area that houses amongst the fish and a turtle, a small crocodile.
I asked Santiago, the Grandfather what would happen when the crocodile grew. He made a cutting motion across his neck which seemed a bit of a violent end for an occupant of the premises. Still, I suppose it happens to the chooks.
The grandmother of the house prepared a lovely breakfast every morning. She reminded me of Dorothy from the Golden Girls with her stature and voice.
Tropi Sur is tempting for a night of Cienfuegos entertainment. Only CUC$3 (less than A$5) for a show but the doors don’t open till 9.30 with showtime at 10.30. We are pretty tired after walking 27kms today, according to the smartphone pedometer, so retire for the night. We saw a little bit of rehearsal and while nothing like Tropicana in Havana for about about 25 times the price, would have been fun.
We enjoy the feel of Cienfuegos, getting a little more laid back and quite beautiful in parts. After a long hike towards the bus terminal, we meet Carlos who turns out to be the go between to organise our next taxi collectivo ride on to Remedios.
No need to panic about getting from A to B in Cuba, there is always a solution. There is a system, not always visible, but it’s friendly, reliable and trustworthy.