We have now spent a week in Cienfuegos and have to admit that this city, the third largest in Cuba, has really got under our skin and we feel pretty at home here. It’s a little tourist hardened but when we go about our everyday stocking up and admin, which does take significantly longer than most other countries, we have come across some wonderful people who can’t do enough to try and help us and make sure we have a great time.
|Entrance to the harbour at Cienfuegos|
|View from our anchorage|
|Palacio de Valle|
Cienfuegos was founded by the French and its glory day would have been quite something. The streets are wide and laid out in a perfect grid system. The architecture is palatial with impressive columns everywhere. It sits on the middle of the south coast, about two and a half hours by car from Havana. There’s a feeling of wealth in the town, which comes from tourism but also being an industrial and farming centre, plus UNESCO has invested in the city reforming the central historical area around the Parque Josi Marti.
We are anchored off the marina in the Punta Gorda area, just opposite the stunning Palacio Azul and the Cienfuegos Club building – which is actually more like a cafeteria inside during the day, as it’s government run. However, at night it hosts fabulous concerts and events plus there’s a fairly nice restaurant with a mahogany bar upstairs. This area of Cienfuegos is where the rich sugar merchants lived and built lavish mansions. Just along the road there’s a kind of soviet looking hotel, built by President Batista’s brother and is actually really fancy inside but most importantly has wifi. Next to this is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in Cuba –described as ‘baroque meets Moorish’, the Palacio de Valle perched on the bay side attracting bus loads of tourists everyday. We get to walk along the Malecon every day by other beautifully restored buildings into the city, just 30 minutes away.
|Benny More Statue|
|Paseo del Prado|
|Another lovely building on the Malecon|
|Photo time - girls being made up all over town|
Our first day exploring the city was great, we found a fantastic coffee shop just on the edge of the centre where we enjoyed a perfect ‘cortadito’ in the dark wood panelled casa behind a locked door with a hipster waiter wearing a bow tie. It is almost pitch black inside with no windows- ring the bell to get in and only six tables. Then as tourists we went around all the main sites and had some fun in the Casa de la Cultura climbing the rooftop cupola and taking in the view. Lunch turned out to be a real treat, back on the Paseo del Prado (which becomes Calle 37 which becomes the Malecon- clear as mud?) we found the small doorway leading upstairs to the family run restaurant Dona Nora where we had the most fantastic meal of slow cooked lamb in a rich sauce. Randy, the owner’s son in law served us and he invited us to finish our drinks and have a chat on their roof terrace. These guys are real Cuban entrepreneurs with really trying to learn how to make the best offering for visitors - we then returned to the restaurant for the most incredible lemon meringue pie. Fabulous!
|On top of the world!|
|Lovely colours in the courtyard|
|Parque Jose Marti|
|Statue of Snr Cienfuegos|
|Restaurant Dona Nora - fabulous|
|Paseo del Prado from Restaurant Dona Nora|
|Lemon Meringue Pie!|
On Saturday night we decided to brave going ‘out out’. We got dressed up and took a classic Chevrolet taxi for 3CUC into the Plaza Jose Marti. We had a drink at the lovely historic El Palatino, which has the original floor and bar dating back to the 1800s in one of the city’s oldest buildings. Usually we would stay away from a bar right on the square however this is affordable and frequented by locals and tourists alike, a beer just CUC1.50. Our waiter told us to come back for music later, then we went off for dinner inspired by our first meal in Cienfuegos however we got let down a little at the next place with a cheesy music band. However, we did take in lovely classical performance just off the main street and went back to Palatino to watch a great band with 9 performers. After they finished we headed over to Teatro Café Terry where the music was fantastic; four music venues in one evening – welcome to Cuban nightlife.
The marina staff are really helpful and have managed to arrange a refill of our cooking gas and get eggs plus given us detailed instructions to get our passport visa’s renewed; which we did today. Cooking gas is provided as part of the regular rations to Cubans hence its not for general sale. To get it involves finding someone to decant their ration into your gas bottle for cash – in Cuba most things are different to home but also most things are possible if you know how.
|Old Chevvy on the Malecon|
|Columns in all colours|
|$4 of veggies from a street seller|
Our entry visas are soon to expire as they last for thirty days. The process requires going to a particular bank to buy stamps at 25 CUC each – not that quick but easy enough, although we did have to wait a while as the cash was being brought in loaded in massive plastic bags through the front door, heavily guarded. After we got the stamps we took a taxi to the back of town to a large processing office where we had to get into line Cuban style – you walk into the waiting room and shout ‘Ultimo?’ – a man nods, that means I go after him and now I am the ultimo – the last person, and I take on that job until the next person arrives – brilliant! As soon as the man ahead was clear of the desk we jumped right in, we had heard this process could take all day but we got lucky and only waited about 20 minutes. I was prepared with all the paperwork required and we managed to get another 30 days in Cuba.
|Our taxi driver loved his Koala gift|
|Hilman Taxi - 57 years old|
|Office of Paperwork|
Yesterday we took a trip to Trindad de Cuba – pictures to follow, of course it was a brilliant memorable day made special by our taxi driver and new friend Ricardo…..