15 – 16 February 2013
I was up 6.30 having a quick breakfast while packing the last few things. At the bus office at 7.15 where I got my ticket and I seemed like we would leave on time 7.30... but then two guys claimed the ticket selling guy never gave them tickets and consequently all papers, tickets, luggage and passengers had to be counted numerous times by several different people before the company admitted their mistake, issued new tickets and we could leave 25 minutes late! The usual restaurant/toilet stop every 2 hours and a short break in Havana to change passengers. The trip to Cienfuegos could have taken 3½ hours from Havana but for some unknown reason we took a one hour/100k detour to Bay of Pigs – no stop and no change of passengers. Maybe it's the normal route but as all tickets are bought in advance they knew nobody was getting on/off....!? Anyway, besides the crazy driving on the narrow roads I can now say I have now been to Bay of Pigs and had it not been for the bad weather it might have been a nice drive along the coast. Disregarding the lacking views it was a good travelling day since it rained most of the way – and with little to see I napped and did some reading. I'm still puzzled by the many stops along the way where the driver had 5-10 minutes long conversations with a bus company person standing in the roadside in the middle of nowhere – nothing seems to come out of the conversations but unfortunately my Spanish is not good enough to understand what it was about.
We finally got to Cienfuegos at 4pm where we met the usual tout chaos. Prices were too high so I wasn't really interested – only one guy had a decent price but after walking 100 metres from the bus terminal he told me his place was full and wanted me to go with another guy. However, it started raining and the place was 20 blocks away so I decided to ask around in the neighbourhood close by (every block usually has 2-4 casas). Two interesting observations came out of my one hour search: 1) there seem to be no connection between content/quality and price; some casas look expensive but are fairly cheap and vice versa; sometimes the room has private bath/sometimes shared, etc - the only way to find out is asking around... 2) Many people requesting CUC 15-30 per night prefer an empty room to my CUC 10 per night.... It's still quite lot of money in Cuba and there are almost no cost related to the room (only a bit of water and electricity). Anyway, I finally found a nice place with a friendly family – with a/c and a private bathroom. Early to bed after a long travelling day.
I only had one full day in Cienfuegos so I got up at 8am to start sightseeing at 9. Cienfuegos was established in 1819 by French emigrants and is one of Cubas newest settlements – sugar plantations and the arrival of the railroad in the 1850s made the town prosper which can still be seen from the many beautiful buildings. It's not a very big town but it's scattered around a long bay, so there is some distance to walk. I started at the main square (Jose Marti) with the many beautiful old churches, buildings and even a small arch of triumph! I then continued to Cemetario La Reina in the outskirts of town where all graves are above ground due to the high ground water. Here I was instantly addressed by a very pushy woman wanting to tell me about the cemetary. I made it clear I didn't have money for a guide but she explained it was her job and therefore free. I then told her, I preferred walking around by myself but she insisted on tagging along telling me trivia about Christianity...... Since the weather had cleared I walked back to the main square to take some new pictures with better light – already much busier with tour busses and many tourists.... Afterwards I walked along the bay to Punta Gorda south of the center admiring more buildings, a marina, a lagoon with small fishing boats, etc. At the southern tip I spent some hours relaxing and enjoying the weather in a small park before heading back to town mid afternoon doing some practicalities amongst other making a reservation for the next day's bus to Trinidad. Cienfuegos turned out to be a pleasant experience for a day.