Saturday, we left Habana and headed for Cienfuegos, situated on a peninsula. We had the same bus driver the whole trip. His name was Candido. Candy for short. He was full of good humor, very friendly and, as we found out later, loved to dance.Candy
He and some of our group entertained us by dancing at our restaurant at lunch a few days later. Our morning stop was to a roadside grouping of small tiendas’ touting souvenirs, paintings, music (I purchased a wonderful Cuban salsa CD and a carved wooden model of a motorcycle for my husband), and piña coladas. There was where I learned that, yes, the drinks are made with coconut milk but with added powdered milk for thickening. I was on my second one when I found that out and couldn’t waste it. (As as you can tell, it didn’t kill me.) If you look closely at the photo below, you can see rum sits on the counter so you can add as much or as little as you want. How convenient for drivers’ to pull off the road and have a refreshing drink. I can only hope they don’t add much. There wasn’t any food I could snack on in the other shops, (or much anyone could eat) but the nice men at the piña colada stand gave me a cup of extra pineapple to munch on, gratis. Piña, of course, means pineapple. Cuba is not like the U.S. where there are convenience stores lining the road. You can’t just run in and buy junk food by the handfuls to hold in your lap as you drive.
Lunch was at Casa Verde (green house) restaurant, a beautiful venue on the water. At each of these planned meals, we either had a buffet or the choice between 2 or 3 entrees, usually fish, pork, or beef. I’m not allowed the latter so I enjoyed a lot of fish which is my first choice anyway. Sometimes it was a little overcooked, but sometimes it was perfecto. I have no complaints about the main meals. There was always plenty of food even for people like me on a restricted diet. Who needs bread anyway? But I did have a thought on my last day in Cuba regarding bread. I don’t think they have major corporations messing with the make-up of bread so it’s probably much closer to its natural state and much more likely not to have the elements that cause me pain.
View from Casa Verde Restaurante
That afternoon we toured the lovely little town of Cienfuegos, including going to the 1889 Tomas Terry Theater which is very similar to the 1894 Grand Opera House in Galveston, TX. The Tomas Terry is still pretty much in the same condition as it was in 1889, with wooden theater chairs bolted to the floor and mesh under the railing around the main seating area, There were 3 box seats on each side of the stage, as one would expect, each one above the other, but they didn’t protrude out like small balconies. The openings were even with the rest of the wall. Not much leg room, I expect. Also, there were beautiful frescos on the ceiling. It’s an active theater, not just a tourist attraction, though on the side in addition to a coffee shop there were tiny tiendas offering tourist trash.
Below is a link to a video by Leslie Van der Meersch on Youtube, which shows the town much better than I can portray it.
Afterward, we again met with a group of UNEAC writers and again exchanged information about ourselves and our writings. Several people read, including myself. One man told a story about the capture of bandidos. I asked Profesora Susana later for the definition of bandido. Were they opponents of Fidel’s? Yes. The venue for that meeting was a garden area full of art, across the square from the theater, outside but under a covered area, like a small stage. (Good thing, because it rained–a welcome respite from the heat.)
On the wall in the garden.
Later we checked into our hotel, the Hotel Jagua, situated pretty far out on the peninsula. The services they offered were pretty up to date, including air conditioning (I guess they know foreigners can’t/won’t tolerate no air-conditioning because everywhere we stayed, we enjoyed it.) The rooms were large and clean and situated around a lovely patio and pool where families swam and sat out until dark. The interior of my room, however, was straight out of the 1950s. Not that the room wasn’t nice, just frozen in time like so many other things. The furniture was “vintage” or “retro” you might say, except I’m sure it was the original. The design on the bedspread was a dead giveaway. I liked it and felt like a time traveler.
My bedroom at Hotel Jagua.
That night was dinner on our own so some of us went to the restaurant adjacent to the hotel. It was very beautiful, the decor influenced by Islamic art.
The next morning, on my way to breakfast, I saw something moving under a bush in a small, rectangular, shaded area adjacent to the walkway. I thought it must be a pigeon or another bird that was, perhaps, injured. Though it didn’t fly away, it moved really fast. I stepped closer to see what it was and after a brief thump of my heart at seeing the size of the thing, wished I’d had my iPhone set to take a picture. The thing was a huge sandcrab at least six inches long. It was a good thing it was more afraid of me than I was of it. If it had run in my direction, it could have chased me all the way back to my room.
Breakfast that morning took place in a dining room every bit as large as those in some casinos in Louisiana. The buffet seemed to go on forever, and the food was great. Even I could find plenty. Of course, I want to add, this is not how everyday Cubans’ eat. We were tourists. Foreigners. I heard a saying the other day from a Cuban ex-pat who lives in San Miguel de Allende, where I live. He said the Cubans say, “When I die, I want to come back as a foreigner.”