When we arrived in Cienfuegos we got a taxi to a place recommended by the host woman from our place in Trinidad. There turned out to be no room there but since just about every house in Cuba is a casa particular, they only had to yell at their neighbours from over the fence to find us a room. It was another nice place with great breakfast, comfy bed and an extremely friendly host who didn’t speak much English but kept trying and finding it hysterically funny when she couldn’t say something. It also had a terrace overlooking the bay and Club Cienfuegos which was some kind of country club with tennis courts, restaurants, a marina and inflatable water obstacle course which much to our consternation was out of order while we were there. I mean it pretty much ruined our trip, we could see it out the restaurant window taunting us.
Cienfuegos reminded us of Movie World on the Gold Coast, but where as Movie World is themed to be set in the glory days of Hollywood, the main street of Cienfuegos was actually like going back in time.
There wasn’t much to do there however, just some run down historical buildings and beaches so we don’t have much else to say about it. Although one guy did ask if he could have the shirt off of Sean’s back. And the day before that someone asked us how much we would like for our shoes…
Viñales was definitely the highlight of the trip for us. The small town is nestled in a lush valley with volcanic rock formations, acres of tobacco plantations and animal pastures all mixed in amongst untamed jungle.
The use of horses and oxen for transport was actually quite common, surely more out of tradition than necessity. While the town was very small, there were quite a few things to do within riding/scootering/taxi-ing range. Never ones to turn down a scootering opportunity, we headed to the restaurant that advertised scooter rentals. Despite the lawn being covered in shiny, new scooters, the owner told us that they were not functioning…all 26 of them…simultaneously. Not sure what kind of scooter mafia business he was running, we decided to hire bicycles from someone else. While they were better quality than the ones in Trinidad, they were still pretty rickety.
We didn’t really have a destination in mind as we rode out of the town center except that at some point we wanted to swim. It wasn’t long before we found a sign that said “Dinosaur Cave Paintings”. Intrigued and unable to turn down a dinosaur related site we followed the sign only to find that the dinosaur paintings were not of any historical or archaeological importance but had been painted recently and most likely by the propaganda/tourism department of Cuba as a tourist trap. We cycled closer to the tacky paintings out of curiosity until a group of tourists riding the other way yelled out to us, “don’t go any further or they will try and charge you three dollars each!”. And with that we decided to head in the other direction.
It wasn’t all a waste of time as there was sign to a mirador (lookout) and we followed it up to a house with a strange circle of stone seats. It turned out to be just someone’s house. This guy had erected a sign pointing directly to his house and was trying to sell juice to people who followed his sign. It wasn’t even much of a lookout really…
Hot and thirsty from refusing his offer of juice, we then tried to find somewhere to swim. We had a vague idea that there was a lagoon around somewhere and decided to try and find it. We passed through a strange village with highrise Soviet-style apartment blocks which stuck out of the otherwise traditional countryside. The lagoon turned out to be a bit harder to access than we had thought and after winding through pine plantations and climbing uphill for what seemed like hours we struck lake. It was shallow and muddy but there was no way we were not going to swim after all that effort.
On the way back the heat was getting unbearable and we ran out of water so we stopped at the Soviet village for some water. After quaffing about ten glasses of water and two soft drinks we asked the woman serving how much we owed. She said “one” so we pulled out a 1 CUC coin and handed it over. She shook her head and said “one peso”. There are about 25 pesos to a CUC/USD so it was about 5c. We got our change in pesos which came in handy to get 20c pizzas when we went back to Havana.
The following day, exhausted by the bike ride, we caught a taxi to a hotel up in the hills that we’d heard lets non-guests pay to use their amazing pool. When we got there we were told that we couldn’t use the pool because they had recently added chemicals to it. This sounded fair enough until we saw some people swimming in the pool. We are still not sure if we were lied too or if they woke up the next morning with a huge rash.
There was a new restaurant nearby where we got a gigantic feast that could have fed six people. We also met scruffy the chicken, who had some sort of jungle chicken disease but was very friendly.
The next day Sean overcame his strange, unfounded fear of horse riding. We rode Shakira, a white horse with very bony hips and Mojito a smaller brown horse that was apparently the lazy one in the group and constantly needed encouragement to go at a pace any faster than a dawdle. They took us to another swimming lake, a cave and a tobacco plantation where the owners were encouraging Americans to buy their cigars and pass them off as “Nicaraguans” since they came unmarked.
After Vinales, we returned briefly to Havana to catch our plane to Costa Rica.
Next stop: Osa Animal Sanctuary, Costa Rica.