The Cycling to Cienfuegos
Although a steady climb on our cycling, the 80km from Playa Giron to Cienfuegos is an easy non-traffic ride. There are plenty of shade stops for drinks, repairs, lunch, etc. At some point we found a long stretch of the road covered by seeds. We asked one of the workers and came to know that farmers were drying their rice… on the highway! They used the massive flat heat radiation area from the sun and pavement. We waved good bye and played some salsa through our very loved speaker. Cycling Cuba has been full of surprises, particularly when you think you are getting used to it.
For sure the highlight of the ride is a reward you’ll see towards the end of the Playa Giron-Cienfuegos ride. A nice long downhill as you arrive to Cienfuegos, but hold your horses, pavement repairs -or lack of- are not up to your final sprint.
Cienfuegos is mostly known for Benny More birth place and of course they are proud of that. He is deep in the heart of the history of Cha cha cha and Mambo. This was back in the 40s and 50s when Cuban showed the rest of the world how to dance. Donde estabas tu and Yiri Yiri Bom are great examples of both styles.
There are some nice pedestrian areas where the pushy restaurants’ hosts wont leave you alone. As a Mexican and Italian couple, we think the food wasn’t worth the money, even from the pricy restaurants. Take away pizzas are folded in half -quesadilla style- and dropped into a grocery plastic bag, did you order two? Well, they throw one on top of the other.
We took a rest from the monotonous Casas Particulares dinner and treated ourselves into a Melia restaurant right at a terrace looking at the sea. We ordered pizza, pasta, and beers. 10 min later I reminded the waiter about the beers. Then they came immediately. About an hour later I asked about the pizza and he came back with whatever pizza he had ready. Not ours, he apologized saying that this is everything he could do for us, that we could forget our order. He said he was alone super busy, and that there was no gas to cook. If that was true, not sure why he didn’t get rid also of other clients. Once again, the Casa Particular dinner choice was way better than any restaurant we tried while cycling Cuba.
Should I stay or should I go
Our stay in the city was particularly exciting… we were on a mission! A very close friend of my mom left Cienfuegos during the revolution (1960s) when she was on her 20s. If you followed other entries of us, or know some Cuban history, you can safely conclude that her family was very well-off. Before the Cuban government took all their belongings they managed to hide their jewelry in their hair, and took the first flight out of the country. Other Cubans living in Mexico have similar stories. They had successful businesses, then the government took it or offered to buy it at a price they set. Some of them took the money but most thought it was so little that it was offensive to receive.
She has never been back to Cuba afraid that once she is in they will not let her out again. So she wanted a few pictures of her hometown and the house where she grew up. Her street was Arguelles, easy to find, but the number had three digits only. We asked around the Arguelles colonial houses on downtown. They all assured it was a mistake because all houses had 4 digit numbers ever since they were born. All that was true, looking at the house right in front of us had 4 digits. But when we looked at the very top of some especially old street doors, we found a faded old 3 digit number.
Only a few had them. We found no logic sequence and no left and right separation between odd and pair numbers. After walking back and forwards we concluded the house had to be within three blocks from where we were. We asked for assistance to older people, they in turn sent us to a government office, whom in turn sent us to a museum, then to the Archive Office, and finally to the Office of Conservation. In this last one they were extremely friendly. What seemed to be a rapid question with one a researchers that walked at reception to address our request, became a 2 hour conversation.
She explained that after the revolution new numbering changed from 3 to 4 digits as the city grew quickly and government assigned land and properties to everyone in need. We Mexicans are like this: we take any comment concerning our country very seriously. We know what’s wrong but either we make fun about it -letting you know that its ok to criticize it-. Or we defend it and justify it to death. That was her but in steroids. Being friends of high level politicians she mostly defended the system and rejected anyone who didn’t agree with it. As nice as she was, she made her point clear: anyone leaving the country during the revolution was a traitor.
“Can you imagine, these people left us taking their jewelry and stuff when they flew away!” Well it was their jewelry -I told myself silently-, it was the only thing they could start a new life with. I was not going to argue with her. Clearly they are saved from religion believes compared to many other countries. But everyone is spoon-fed by the idea that everything belongs to the nation. It’s the only marketing we found while cycling Cuba and she was one of the evangelists. For me it was an argument I didn’t have to win so I didn’t ride that road. She also heavily criticized the younger generations that received free education but opted to become taxi drivers or worked in tourism. Nope, the hundredfold salary difference wasn’t a smart detail to bring up in the conversation.
Our Casa Particular charged us 10CUC for a load of laundry. We thought they robbed us. When we received it we both sweared it smelled just like we gave it to them and found the same dirt spots. After confronting them they confirmed they washed it themselves. They asked for a contribution or $5 at the most normally. So because of this we don’t recommend at all the place we stayed at Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos, a place to stop by and visit when you are cycling by, but wont be your trip’s main attraction. It has an amazing place to watch the sunset, this is the terrace at the Palacio de Valle. Go up after 4pm for a free entrance through the narrow spiral stairs and you’ll find a great view, live music, and a bar with tables. We really enjoyed that and walking along the pedestrian-only streets and plazas in Cienfuegos. People was generally very friendly and helpful.
Find our recording of this ride here in Strava.