(October 9 - 12)
We left Havana for the drive to Cienfuegos, which is about 160 miles from Havana on the Caribbean coast.
On the way, we passed an old sugar mill called Australia, which still has working steam trains. Apparently the original owner thought the landscape in the area looked like parts of Australia.
One of the trains was actually "in steam" but it chugged away before I could get a photo.
We stopped for lunch at the infamous Bay of Pigs, where the CIA launched a disastrous invasion of Cuba in 1961. "Infamous" because historians are still arguing over what went wrong and what happened afterwards. It's quite reasonable to assume that the entire Cuban Missile Crisis was a consequence of this failed invasion. Now it's a sleepy village with a pretty beach although history was certainly made here and at Playa Giron, which is part of the same bay.
After lunch, we stopped at the Bay of Pigs Museum know in Cuba as the Museo Giron. "Bay of Pigs" is the name used by the Americans for the failed invasion. The cubans know it "The Battle of Playa Giron".
A British made "Hawker Sea Fury" used by the cubans against the CIA invasion force.
Anti Aircraft gun
The inside of the museum , which was hot and humid with only a couple of the A/C units working, was mostly old photographs with spanish captions. Our tour guides did their best to talk us through the events depicted, but it wasn't easy to concentrate.
After leaving the museum, we stopped briefly in Cienfuegos to admire the Hotel La Union. It looked like a nice place to stay but the hotel only has 38 rooms, so it isn't really a place large groups can use. Pretty though.
The lobby of the Hotel La Union
The pool area
An inside courtyard with the rooms above
We stopped again in the center of Cienfuegos, the Plaza José Marti
Plaza José Martí, Cienfuegos
A statue of José Marti, who fought for an independent Cuba
Then on to see a Youth dance group. The kids were cute and the dances were fun, but it did go on for rather a long time !
After a long day, we made it to our hotel, the Hotel Jaqua. The hotel was built in the 1950's by Meyer Lansky (of Mafia fame) and has been renovated several times since. It seemed adequate but had no character or charm. A Holiday Inn for Cuba, essentially.
The Hotel Jagua from across the bay
The view from our room, looking back across the bay.
The pool area from our room
The hotel lobby
Back on the bus to visit Trinidad, another city about 50 miles from Cienfuegos. Along the way, we stopped for a break at a small hotel with an interesting sculpture at the front.
Octoman ? Octomernaid ? Doc Oc ?
The city of Trinidad is another World Heritage site. All the action revolves around the main square.
Main square (Plaza Mayor), Trinidad
Before lunch, we visited a newly renovated private house, which is now a Bed and Breakfast. It's known as Casa Cofradia.
The owners, Lia and Pachi, explained to us why they had wanted to renovate this particular building and how they found it in the first place. Lia did most of the talking.
The owners of Casa Cofradia Lia and Pachi
The group in the kitchen.
The living room ceiling
Besides the B&B, Lia and Pachi are also musicians. They gave us a demonstration of their talent and they were very good!
After spending time with Lia and Pachi, we wandered the streets of Trinidad, admiring the various handicraft items for sale.
Textiles and crochet work are a speciality in Trinidad.
These decorative coffee pots made by artist Yami Martinez, represent the oppression of Cuban women by tying them to domestic tasks
However, we DID buy some carved musical figures, which now reside in Cocoa Beach
We started our last full day with a trip to the Ration Store in Cienfuegos, where Cubans can buy food items at very subsidized prices. The shop was very shabby and it was clear that not everything is always available. The list on the board at the right shows what is in stock and the prices. To buy any of the rationed items. a ration book is needed. Other items, not on ration, can be bought for higher prices.
The local ration store. The items on the shelves are available off-ration.
Then we went to a local market, to see what you can buy for 20 pesos (less than $1.00 US). It turns out you can't buy much.
We bought a few vegetables and took them to our next stop, which was a senior citizen center in the town of Santa Clara.
We were shown a traditional dance, using fans in various different ways to indicate (to a boy) whether he was in favor or out of favor.
Then we played a game of indoor baseball, using a small bat and a conical shaped ball.
Hitting the conical ball
Perhaps not surprisingly, the youngest, prettiest girl in our group was declared the winner !
Then on to lunch at another renovated private house, Autentica Pergola, for lunch.
The Autentica Pergola from the street. The restaurant is just visible at the top.
The indoor courtyard of the Autentica Pergola
The elegant sitting room
Lunch was served upstairs
After lunch, we went on a walking tour of Santa Clara. The "Boy with the Leaky Boot" statue in the main square is a symbol of Santa Clara, but the origin is unknown.
"The boy with the Leaky Boot"
There are many splendid buildings around the town center, which have been beautifully restored.
The Town Hall
However, like Havana, many old buildings are totally neglected and may fail before they can be restored
"Rescue me !"
Santa Clara was the only city where we saw horse drawn carriages used for routine transportation, not just for tourists
Then back to Cienfuegos, for the final "people to people" event - a Chamber Orchestra (Orquesta de Camera) which performed in the Art Museum of Cienfuegos. The performers were great but the acoustics in the museum were TERRIBLE !
Orquesta de Camera
And that was pretty much the end of the trip ! After the concert, back to the hotel and dinner. Next morning, we headed to the airport, flew uneventfully to Miami and drove home.
It should be noted that entire tour was organized by Road Scholar. We have known about this company for many years (it used to be called Elderhostel) but we have never used them before. However, this was an excellent experience and we will probably use them again. If you want to know more about the details of this trip look at :
which is the tour we took. Road Scholar aren't cheap, but you do seem to get what you pay for !
Most of the people on the trip were late middle aged, although not all. This is part of our group waiting in the hotel lobby. They were all nice people and most were well traveled and well educated, although none of them became close friends, at least with us. They were from all over the United States - I think Portland, Oregon was probably the furthest point.
Members of the Road Scholar group waiting in the lobby