Snow Leopard
Wed 10 Feb 2010 10:33


22:07.22N 80:27.19W


Cienfuegos is a beautiful quiet city with very little traffic. The normal mode of transport appears to be horse-drawn taxis. The main shopping street was pedestrianised but that’s where the similarity to Oxford Street ended. The various shops appeared to sell anything that they could get hold off. It was not unusual to see bicycle tires for sale alongside lingerie, and rum – always rum, the only thing that is very definitely not in short supply. The town is centred upon the lovely Parque Jose Marti (as we were to discover there are more statues, street, park and plazas names in honour of Jose Marti than any one else by a long chalk). After a short time in Cuba we realised that if you see a queue find out why. This saved us in our search fro bread when we came across a queue outside a back-street bakery. The bread would be available in ten minutes – worth waiting. Cuban bread consists mostly of air, but it is very cheap and there is no alternative.


Cadet sailing in Cienfuegos


That evening in Cienfuego we cat in a small garden watching the most uncuban-looking 14-piece brass jazz band. It took us an hour to realise that it was a touring Norwegian band! They were very good, which is just as well because it was freezing sitting outside.



The touring Norwegian brass jazz band, Cienfuegos


Next day and off to Havana, by 4-hour bus ride. This was not a bus for the locals, but the ‘Via Azul’, air-conditioned luxury only available to tourists or ‘rich’ Cubans. The interior was rather dull, subsistence agriculture, tiny villages and then a three-lane highway, (built by the Russians, but not completed so it ends in the middle of nowhere) with no traffic!


The first job in Havana was to find a hotel. We went to the travel company Cubatur, who promptly assured us that all hotels in Havana were full as there as an international book congress. After a lot of searching they found us rooms in a somewhat utilitarian, but nun-the-less clean and comfortable, hotel in the suburbs. It was the first time we had slept ashore for over three months! Dinner that night was at a Cuban restaurant, recommended by our taxi-driver. The food was good and the waitresses stupendous, dressed in what appeared to be negligees and cowboy hats. I loved it but I’m not sure the girls were so taken.


Next day was sightseeing. Starting with the old town, parts of which have been beautifully restored, but the majority of buildings and streets are still a decaying mess of what once must have been a beautiful city. Havana is a mad, bustling city of contrasts – wonderful buildings looking little better than slums, elegant hotels of another era now fading from their glory, works of street-art and galleries everywhere, an extraordinary collection of museums (my favourite was dedicated to the Revolution and Cuba’s struggle over the past 50 years), wonderful cafes in which to sit and watch the world go by, 50-year old American cars (hundreds of them both taxis and private) and beaten-up Ladas (hundreds of them both taxis and private), and every character imaginable going about their business. True street theatre – so please come and see it; I have never experienced anything quite like it, but don’t go anywhere without a roll of toilet paper!


Havana – the peacock is alive



Plaza Vieja, Havana – beautifully restored by UNESCO



Wendy at our favourite cafe


And Lucy too


Chinese New Year – Havana


Street theatre


Old pharmacy – Havana


Art Deco – Havana



Governor’s residence. Now Museum of the City - Havana


Highlights included drinking daiquiris in the Floridita bar, where they were invented and Ernest Hemingway’s favourite hang-out; second-hand book stalls (there are clearly no new books in Cuba); street performers including stilt-walkers and dragon-dancers; wonderful coffee; extraordinary people who will queue for anything worthwhile.


Having said that, Havana is also noisy, smelly and very tiring and after 3 days in was a joy to return to the peace of Cienfuegos and back on board our boat.


Cuba may be poor financially and in terms of services and infra-structure – and food, but so rich in culture, art and music, and the huge, friendly and generous spirit of the people make up for any deficiencies. Its hard work, but worth the effort.


Ernest Hemingway, still propping up the bar at Floriditas


The revolution and its heroes are never far away


The ever-present Jose Marti




Back to the country – Cienfuegos