Four Hours in Cienfuegos

Itinerary:

  • Days 1-3: Miami, FL
  • Days 3-9: Cuba (Havana, Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba)

Dates: October 13-23, 2016

Our Odyssey:

As I type this in my office after work in northeast Georgia, there is a large wildfire spreading a thick and pungent haze over the area. It’s been going for weeks, though this area is not known for wildfires. And neither is the inappropriately-named Cienfuegos (100 fires), Cuba. Instead, this town is known for being more lavish than the bigger
cities of Cuba (think early 1900s yacht club), for baseball, and for its most famous citizen,
singer Benny Moré.

Outside the baseball stadium

On Thursday morning (October 20)
we pulled into port and for the only time on this trip, I felt like we were
truly “Caribbean cruise ship tourists” – in that not-so-great way.
Don’t get me wrong – we had a lovely time in Cienfuegos. But we were only there
for about 4 hours (we were told this is the time window that the Cuban
government granted our ship access to the port), and were a spectacle of 700
American travelers briefly blitzing a small city of only 165,000 people.
Walking around in groups downtown, I felt like we were disrupting the daily
lives of the people here as we bustled hurriedly about, trying to get so much
in that most people actually probably got very little of depth.

That said, we managed to get
quite a lot out of our brief time here. We started with a bus tour to see some
of the unique and neoclassical architecture of the city. The French colonized
the area in 1819 and you can see their influence in the buildings. The city
itself has two main areas – the central zone, where the core of downtown is
with the Parque José Marti and Paseo del Prado (Cienfuegos’ version of La
Rambla in Barcelona, and the Punta Gorda (literally, fat tip), which is more
modern with 20th century homes for the wealthy. You can visually see how much better
off they are economically.

Our bus tour started in Punta
Gorda with a first stop at Palacio de Valle – a 1917 palace built by a wealthy
family in a Moroccan style. It almost became a casino but is now a restaurant
and bar.

Palacio de Valle

We then had a walking tour down Paseo del Prado to the main square. In the main square there is a small Arco de Truinfo dedicated to the Cuban independence- a mini Arc de Triomphe, again showing it’s French influence.

 

The central square in Cienfuegos with its Arco de Triunfo

The square features all the
predictable characters – a cathedral built in 1869, government buildings,
statues and memorials. But it also features a unique mansion from 1918 – the
Palacio de Ferrer – that sits in ruins (technically under restoration) to be
explored for 1 CUC. We loved frolicking about this abandoned home, which you
can explore freely all the way up to the rooftop. From there, you can climb
into a turret and get a view over the entire little city.

Inside the “ruins” of the mansion

Tim in the turret! 

After exploring the mansion we
headed over to the Teatro Thomas Terry for an a cappella choir performance by a
well-loved local group. The theater, built in the late 1800s, is considered the
most beautiful in Cuba, and the music was so impressive Tim bought a CD of
their songs – a mix of Cuban and international songs and hymns.

The choral group.

From there we were straight back
on to our ship – just that quick and in time for lunch (not a bad thing since
the food on the ship was delicious) and an afternoon nap.

Governmental building in the main square.

Cienfuegos from atop the roof of the mansion on the square. In the distance you can see an unfinished Soviet power plant (yes really). If it had been finished it would have powered 50% of Cuba. Today it stands abandoned.

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