Friday, February 02, 2007

Days 6 - 8 Vinales to Playa Larga and Cienfuegos

Leaving Vinales and driving over to Playa Larga - in the Bay of Pigs - took us the best part of the day, so we arrived there with great expectations of golden sands and clear Caribbean Sea. The sands and the sea did not disappoint, and our brief stop-off on the beach at Playa Larga went a little way to calming my beach-obssession; I had been in Cuba for almost a week without seeing a beach!

One thing which surprised us in Playa Larga was that accommodation was rather thin on the ground. We consulted our Cuba-bibles and asked around the area, but everything was booked, except a casa on the outskirts of the village and the 'luxury' concrete block hotel. Being quite eager to enjoy a little luxury I assured our friends that G and I didn't mind paying extra and going to the hotel. As it turned out, the hotel was made of bungalows designed by the architect later assigned to Guantanamo Bay, or perhaps the one they fired for making it too harsh.

Swelteringly hot with brown and stained bathroom walls and an air-conditioner which would give a Harley Davidson's motor a run for its money, the bungalow we were given was the furthest one from any kind of civilisation (if 45 Germans on a package tour is in fact civilisation). All this for the twice the price of the casas.

We actually had dinner at the casa and enjoyed crocodile meat. I wasn't sure about the étiquette of eating crocodile, I have to say the dilemma had never crossed my mind before, but since coming back from Cuba I have realised that there is quite a debate about them, and eating their meat perhaps wasn't one of my finest choices. But it was delicious, kind of like chicken.

We set out for Cienfuegos the next day after a brief brush with disaster when our hire-car failed to start, but Havanautos came to the rescue, and we were soon on our way over to the colonial town.

Cienfuegos, home of the singer Benny Moré, was both truly beautiful and truly crumbling. The pedestrian mall running through the middle of the main street was atmospheric, filled with Cubans on evening strolls. The streets along either side of the roads stank of urine and waste, and the façades, like a Monet, were better from a distance than up close. The people of Cienfuegos seemed rather different from in Havana or Vinales, there were more beggars, more suspicious looks, and I felt uneasy walking back to our casa. I gave away some of the notebooks I'd taken, but the people wanted convertible pesos.

Further down from the main boulevard is a pretty stretch of land less than a kilometre across called Punta Gorda, with the sea on either side. Our casa was a large house on this strip, and we had a terrace which led out onto the sea just in front of our room.

With the sea lapping below, a mojito and a Habana cigar, we sat on our terrace and watched the moon.

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