Throwback Travel: City by the Bay

2016-03-30 10.52.38**NOTE to READERS: The following describes a trip which took place in March and early April, 2016. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

My morning starts with momentary panic.

I can’t find the bus pick-up spot — or the rest of my group. This is the nightmare scenario I’ve dreamt about as a schoolkid, where I arrive just as the bus pulls away. Ugh!

Luckily, I find them – but just as I do, I take a tumble and fall into the street. It’s that kind of a morning.

We arrive in Cienfuegos mid-morning, and top of the agenda is an orientation tour. Like, the closest thing we’ve had to a real one so far.

Confused Tituss Burgess GIF by The Late Late Show with James Corden - Find & Share on GIPHY

We begin in front of a statue of famed musician Benny Moré (above), and are given a very brief backstory. We’re taken through the main shopping district, right into Cienfuegos’ main square.

Much like Trinidad – perhaps even more so – well-preserved Spanish Colonial buildings line the perimeter of the park in the town’s centre. Cienfuegos has its own Arch of Triumph (the Arco di Triunfo), built  to commemorate Cuban independence.

When our group’s finally cut loose for free time, Jana and I start our sightseeing in a building near one corner of the central park, with a tower overlooking the town.

2016-03-30 11.17.16We discover that it’s currently undergoing repairs and renovation to restore it to its previous glory.

You can still see evidence of the intricate handiwork of decades past – the floor, the crown mouldings around the ceilings. It’s so pretty.

On the terrace, the sun beats down as we look out over the city below.

We then enter the tower’s base. It’s big enough that six or seven people at a time should fit (although there are currently more than that inside).

Only one person at a time can stand up in – and look out of – the very top of the tower.

I sit that part out because (1) I dislike heights, and (2) after my morning tumble, I’m not in the mood to press my luck.

2016-03-30 11.40.45Back down at street level, we wander over the Teatro Terry, the inside of which you’re apparently not supposed to take pictures of, unless you’re willing to pay 5 CUC.

The key words being, “not supposed to”.

I appreciate the craftmanship of the seating, the handiwork of the ornate ceiling, and the huge face mural/relief above the enormous stage.

The group eventually reconvenes with Santana, and we’re driven to home base for our local casa assignments.

Jana and I are placed with a man named Gilberto. He doesn’t really speak English, but each of us figure out what the other’s saying, so it’s all good. And just like Julitza back in Trinidad, our host is super-friendly.

We’re led through a small room to our bedroom in the back of the casa and Gilberto walks us through perhaps the best accommodations we’ve had so far on this trip. We have access to the front balcony (if we want), a front room complete with a fridge stocked with water, cola and beer … working air-con AND a fan, the best shower set-up to date, and …

2016-03-30 12.57.20

This back terrace. It is SO. CUTE.

If we were accidentally stranded in Cienfuegos for an extra day, I wouldn’t be mad. At ALL.

Dropping off our bags (and picking our jaws up off the floor), we thank Gilberto and return to the “home base” casa to meet some of the others for lunch.

2016-03-30 13.24.37One of the ladies flags down a horse-drawn taxi for us, which we pile into.

A few blocks later, however, we realize that Lieven literally hanging off the back of the cart probably isn’t a safe idea, so we call a second horse-taxi for us and split into two groups. Lieven even gets to take the reins of the second cart for a short distance.

What else can Lieven do, we ask jokingly. Anick quips, “I can’t tell you that.”

We arrive at a place near the promenade called Restaurante Bahia. Because of the place’s dimensions, we have to sidle through a couple of tiny, dining rooms, down a narrow hallway, and through a set of very stiff-moving, saloon-style doors, to a room in the back.

The food’s delicious, and waaaaaay too much. There’s a salad, an enormous plate of savoury banana chips (and I say this as someone who doesn’t like bananas), and a really tasty plate with fish. By the time my caipirinha (not a Cuban drink) arrives, I’m too stuffed to enjoy it.

2016-03-30 15.46.49A group of us decide to visit Cienfuegos’ botanical gardens after lunch to burn off some of this food. Charlie’s parents (Colin and Andrea) are up for the excursion; Charlie, not feeling very well, sits this one out.

Following some awkward fare negotiations, we catch two taxis to the gardens.

On the grounds, we walk down a well-worn path, past some enormous bamboo trees and these massive palm trees. Charlie’s dad, Colin, is able to access a GPS map of the path we’re taking, so as not to get lost.

It’s the middle of the afternoon, and it’s blazing hot. We gladly take shade wherever we can find it, because the heat in those open-wide spaces is intense.

The gardens close at 5 p.m., so (fortunately) we don’t wander around for hours on end. To be honest, it’s not what Jana or I expect. It seems like less of a botanical garden and more of a huge park. And it’s a bit underwhelming. But perhaps we didn’t visit a showstopping section of the gardens, I dunno.

2016-03-30 18.54.02After a brief break at the casa, Jana and I catch a horse-taxi down to the group outing at a bar near the water.

The sun’s started to fade, and despite the residual heat, we catch a nice breeze as we pass neighbourhood after neighbourhood, Latin music blaring from the radio.

A few blocks short of our destination, the driver slows to a stop. He eventually explains to us that he can’t enter the street we need to access the bar, so we walk the rest of the way.

2016-03-30 19.11.18We arrive at the Palacio de Valle, this villa by the water in the Punta Gorda neighbourhood of Cienfuegos. It’s a massive, but beautiful, building (at least to me).

Jana and I reach the rooftop to find everyone else (sans Santana) assembled. We’re out in the open, with two nearby gazebos and awesome views overlooking the water. Overhead, clouds start to gather.

We’re relaxed and enjoying our drinks when the sky suddenly darkens, releasing a smattering of raindrops. The wind picks up, and we take cover under one of the gazebos, the wind blowing at our backs.

Tonight, some of us plan to stay for dinner, while the rest will bounce. But they change their minds when they try to leave and are met with wind whipping palm trees back and forth, and a torrent of rain.

I sit with Sue, Ian, Colin and Andrea for dinner, while everyone else is nearby. It’s certainly a different dynamic, being the youngest person at the “adults” table. Nothing wrong with that – it’s just lots of talk of vacations and pensions, only one of which I can really relate to.

The rain lets up by the end of dinner, so Jana and I catch a rickshaw back to the casa. I’m happy for a quiet end to our evening. I’m kind of wiped.

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Photos posted are mine. Please do not re-post without my permission.