From Vinales to Cienfuegos via Playa Giron, Nov 6
Another night’s sleep and now for the taxi test! You may remember our taxi from Habana to Vinales was a no show. Now let’s see if our next taxi to a Cuban destination arrives. So we get up and take care of our morning hygiene and pack up our bags. Once again, our Host makes us a fabulous breakfast and we bid them adieu. Oh yeah, pay our bill also! The room was paid for, but we still owe our host for meals and random items out of our room fridge. Toss in a tip of about 5% and we’re good to go. 5% you say? Could you be any more of a miser? But we have been strongly advised that 5% is quite acceptable in Cuba. In fact, if you tip 10%, you are “flaunting your wealth”! So I will continue my miserly ways for the rest of the trip! We also give our host a bag full of toiletries that our dentist back home gave us to share as these items are in need in Cuba and she was very grateful for the items. One last gift to our host was an assortment of cooking spices which we also brought to share.
Good news! We don’t have to wait for our taxi, he pulls up early! Well, this is a welcome sight. Our driver is ‘Alian’ and it turns out he will be our driver for the rest of our city changes. This is good because we no longer have to worry about arranging our taxis. Alian loads up our bags and we head out, waving goodbye to our wonderful hosts in Vinales. As we get underway, we chat with Alian with the aid of Uncle Google and find out he lives in the city we are headed for today, Cienfuegos. We ask him how long it takes to get there and he tells us 4.5 hours! I have to note that he picked us up at 8 AM and that means he has already been traveling from 3:30 AM to come get us! We have some concern about our driver being so long on the road, but it turns out that Alian is a very good and safe driver and he never seems to lose alertness throughout the day. He mentions that the air conditioning was working yesterday and he doesn’t know what’s wrong with it. Oh, good grief! Does this mean that air conditioning in our taxi is a non item for the rest of our trip? Oh well, windows down at highway speed is at the very least, somewhat comfortable.
Our trip takes us back through Havana as Cuba is a very long and narrow island. The southern coast of Cuba as we travel East is a very large National Park Wetland area and there are no usable roads through it. So we ride and watch the scenery for hours as the day progresses. Our trip will be longer than the 4.5 hours that Alian tells us is the distance to Cienfuegos, for we are going to make the trip via Playa Giron, also known as the “Bay of Pigs”. The plan is to visit the museum there and get the Cuban impression of that famous battle. I spend my time marveling at the transportation methods and vehicles we see on the trip.
We travel on from Matanzas in the north and come to our first glimpse of the Caribbean Sea. (The North side of Cuba is the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean) We have arrived in Playa Larga at the top of the Bay of Pigs. It is lunch time and Alian takes us to his families restaurant where we chow down on more delicious Cuban food. It is as hot and humid as the rest of Cuba here, even though we are on the coast. The restaurant is open air like Vinales. Again, glass windows are an expensive commodity afforded to only a few.
So lunch over, we travel on a few more miles to Playa Giron. Alian brings us to the Bay of Pigs Museum where, for $2 each, we go in and check out the battle story from the Cuban perspective. Oh wait, another $1 to take photos, LOL. Hey, they got to make a buck, right? So we go in to mostly signs telling the story in Spanish. So I take photos of every sign and story so I can translate later. Wait, I saw a photo icon in Google Translate! Let’s check it out. Sure enough, did you know Goggle Translate does the translation right there in the app? So we go back and hold our phones up and read translations which attracts the attention of other tourists who laugh and hold their own phones up for the same purpose! Glad we could help!
This museum is the only Memorial that bears witness to the great defeat of the Yankee imperialism in Latin American and is found in a city known as Cuba’s Athens.
The museum is located in Playa Girón tourist perimeter, which belongs to the municipality of Ciénaga de Zapata. It shows in great detail the Cuban battle against mercenary troops that invaded the country from April 17th to 19th in 1961 with the support of the United States.
We come out of the museum somewhat enlightened, in part because I really don’t remember much from history classes about that battle, only that we lost. So ok, let’s move this day along! Alian is waiting out front in the heat and I have to think that he has been up and driving for us since 3:30 AM! I’m glad he’s young, because my day would be over if I were him. But he’s a trooper (and it’s a money opportunity for him that otherwise, he’d have to be fighting for fares instead of having a total of 3 days of bookings) and he drives us the next 1.5 hours to Cienfuegos.
We drive into our newest city and already marvel at the sights, the architecture and the people. We check into our Casa and meet our new Host for the next couple days, an expat German that seems out of place here. But he is pleasant and he helps us get our bags upstairs to our room.
It is mid afternoon and I look at our finances. I realize it is time to find a CADECA (Money Exchange) or a Bank and exchange currency because I was pressured for time in Havana when we arrived and did not exchange all of our money. So we walk towards what we are told is the Historic District, cameras in hand and a Bank to be found. We are only in the city less than an hour and a rainstorm sets in. We have forgotten our umbrellas that we brought in case of rain. How inconvenient! But, luckily, there are storefront overhangs that we can get under. I find it a bit ironic that the overhang we are hanging out under is the front of a CADECA that has closed moments before we got here and because they handle money, they won’t open for us.
But, at least, they come to the door and explain to us that there is a bank one block over and one block up. So we stand under the cover in driving rain hoping it will let up. And hey, maybe I can get a shot or two here in the rain! Well, luck is with us as we’ve begun to realize here. Rain seems to set in for 10-30 minutes at a time and then dissipates. And this storm is no different. So we head over a block when it slows to a sprinkle and up a block and sure enough, here is a bank that is open. You may ask why the urgency? We have plans for tomorrow and a couple hours left this afternoon. So, amid walking around the Historic District and having fun with the camera in the rain, we need money. Some of my initial trip jitters come back and that bit of stress sets in again.
Because when we walk in the bank, it is different from American Banks. There is a receptionist that asks for ID. She scrutinizes my US Passport and tells me to go to Window 2. I step up to the window and realize that my money belt is under my clothes. An uncomfortable moment later I pull Euros (That I exchanged my US money for in advance, a story to come later) from the money belt. The cashier examines every single bill. Every Single Bill. For an uncomfortable amount of time. For Every Single Bill. I begin to worry and wonder what the Bank Cameras are showing Security. They have cameras here, right? Wow, I can’t believe I’m only a tourist and not a criminal. What the heck do criminals think when this happens?
The cashier accepts most of my money. She rejects a few bills because they are not crisp and new. Wow! I experienced this before in Peru so I was not totally surprised by it. But I need more currency. So I pull out US Dollars and she gives me the equivalent value (87 cents on the Dollar with the 10% penalty on top of the 3% currency exchange rate) I’m sure glad I kept all of the currency I brought with me in flat pristine condition as I have learned from traveling!
So now armed with enough money for the next few days, we walk out and find our way to Jose Marti Square and the approaching sunset and rain clouds lend a magical quality to the light. The rain holds off and my camera shutter clicks away happily at the freshly washed city!
We walk on in the direction of our Casa and the camera plays as we go. Sunset after a rain is pure eye candy. We are vaulted back in time at every step and it’s hard to believe this is 2018. Not only the Spanish settled Cuba, the French also came here to seek their fortune. Cienfuegos was their city, and the French influence is obvious when you look at the architecture that surrounds us. The city is divided into two parts, the Historic District that we are in today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Punta Gorda, an upscale community built upon a narrow strip of land that we are told is sinking in the bay. We will check out Punta Gorda tomorrow. For today, we are happy and our vision is filled with beauty!
We walk along the Seafront and start feeling hungry. But it’s sunset and there’s still a few photos to take!
So we seek out a Paladar (restaurant) that has been recommended to us by my Cuban Hero and we find it a couple blocks from our Casa Particular (Airbnb) and sit and enjoy good seafood and cold drinks before going back to our Casa for the night.
See you in the morning!