Monday 20 March 2017

Cienfuegos 2

What a day! I awoke after 3-4 hours of sleep at around 0600 local time – not realising that the clocks had gone forward one hour. After dozing for an hour I got up at 0700 according to my phone but at 0800 according to the ship’s clock. After consulting the sailing guide it seemed the phone was wrong but I later discovered that it was not and despite only occasionally registering a mobile network signal it had correctly advanced the time by one hour.
I was in the process of getting the dinghy ready for the trip ashore (a bit of a chore on one’s own) when Lauren the Frenchman I met on the custom’s dock anchored nearby and asked if I could take him ashore later. He was off to visit Havana by bus for a week and understandably wanted to leave his dinghy on the boat. We agreed 1100 which was later than I had planned on going ashore but it gave my time to read up on the city and plan my excursion a little. However, as noted above I had incorrectly concluded that the clocks had not yet gone forward and therefore he turned up at around 1130 having got a lift from another Frenchman nearby. I had agreed to keep an eye on his boat whilst he was away and so chatted briefly before he went off. A bonus too. His lift had rescued my (actually left behind by Bernie a few years ago) British Rail Orange worker’s jacket that was ideal for wet weather in these climes but which had got blown overboard yesterday afternoon.
I had just finished breakfast and so cleared up as quickly as possible and went ashore, had a shower and headed into town on foot. It would be about a 30 minute walk.
What a remarkable place. The marina and approach to town was set in the posh suburbs very much like I imagine 1960’s Florida would have looked complete with 1960’s American cars on the streets. The local area and the main city was laid out in a formal grid but included some wonderful colonial architecture. As I walked into town the streets gradually got busier. I noticed that the Cubans were ethnically, a very mixed people and as far as I could tell their ethnicity made no difference to one another.
I went in search of the Bus and Rail station first, both situated next to eachother in a rather run down suburb on the south west of town. I wanted to take a bus for a day trip to Trinidad while here and thought that would be the best place to check out the options. I did find a timetable but there was a long que at what I took to be the ticket office and after consulting my Rough Guide to Cuba, I reckoned I would be better off getting on line to find further details. So I left and checked out the rail station next door. Both were very run down affairs. Little did I know how difficult it would turn out to be to get an internet connection. Through talking to a few random people in cafes later I eventually established that I needed buy a state internet card in order to use any local wifi spot. These it seemed were few and far between providing unreliable connections. When I did find the state run telephone service at about 2pm I was told they had stopped selling internet cards for the day and I would have to come back tomorrow! Some of the tourists I spoke to said they had bought theirs from their Hotels and so I will try one on my way back to the Marina. I really wanted to get on-line to share photos with the family and post my blog updates.
I visited the famous Tomas Terry Theatre which was indeed a colonial gem albeit fairly modest my European standards. Next I visited the city museum. Cuba it seems cannot do Museums. It was charming but VERY primitive. However, what a Jewel I stumbled across. It just so happened that a private (in Cuba!) concert had just started and whilst I could not join the audience I was able to see many of the singers – mainly beautiful young women dressed in light blue dresses reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman styles. There were men too – mainly out of my view, but those I could see were rather more conservatively attired. There were no musical instruments just the ‘choir’ and whilst I could not understand a word their singing was quite sublime.
Next door was an Art Gallery. I think it was a commercial operation rather than a state one. It was full of vibrant paintings and carvings and other knick knacks. I didn’t buy anything – partly because I had very little cash and being a weekend the banks were closed and partly because I was trying to economise, but I did take photos which I hope to post at some stage.
In between times I had a rum cocktail (disappointing) at a bar in the main square – the ‘Pargue Jose Marti’ and later found one of the live music venues recommended in the Rough Guide. No performance today but the charming waitress at the bar said there would be a performance of local music tomorrow night at 8pm. I’ll be back for that.
Just realised that I have missed the Cathederal so I’m going to have a look at that before heading back towards the Marina where hopefully I’ll be able to get an internet connection. I hope so because I’ve lugged my laptop around all day! Mind you I’ve just realised it’s almost 1800 local time so I may not get into the Cathedral.
I didn’t.
I walked back to the Marina via a residential neighbourhood unlike any I had ever seen before but which was probably very similar to all the others in Cienfuegos. The same rigid grid of streets with what I can best describe as two story apartments lining the streets. Some in very poor states of repair others less so. The streets were dotted with fruit and veg carts, some horse drawn others just pushed along. Kids played in the streets and old people sat outside their houses on the pavement. Despite the uniformity of the streets there was a very homely atmosphere. I passed a group of young men playing dominos on a table set up on the road. I stopped and asked for a photograph which they were very happy to oblige and then tried to get me to join their game. They were playing for money so I politely declined which they took good naturedly. Then back to the boat via the town waterfront where there was a bar and music and which looked like it would get quite lively later.

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