The French City

Cienfuegos is the Paris of Cuba. Founded by a Frechman, Du Clouet, who came from Louisinana to set up a colony with 40 families his intention was to increase the white population. The first settlement was destroyed by a hurricane, so when they rebuilt it, they gave it a new name, thinking the old one was cursed. The central square is a prime example of colonial architecture, funded by the fortunes made through sugar. Maybe that’s where the term sugar daddy came from?

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According to our cemetery guide, (more about that later) they were done in by the heat, and too lazy to work, so the Spanish arrived, brought in slaves from Africa and off they went. But not before Du Clouet had founded the city.

In addition, Cienfuegos was the first place to stage the uprising against Batista and the mafia; unfortunately their timing was wrong. The   revolutions planned in other cities didn’t take place on that day, communications between the revolutionaries didn’t happen, and Batista was able to send a concentrated force to quell the uprising.

Edgar brings us to a casa in Punta Gorda, the peninsula where the more affluent Cubans built their mansion follies.

Our lodgings for a couple of nights is in a house reminiscent of 1950’s modernism with furniture to match. Our hostess, Maria is apologetic about the fact that one of the rooms is in the annexe to the main house, because the front room is taken up by another tourist couple. No problemo..

S takes the room in the annexe with one double bed, a new air conditioner with remote control, and a flat screen TV that doesn’t work. We get the room with the grunting AC and no TV. The price is 45 cuc, a bit pricey, but we are told that this is the price for Punta Gorda. Mind you, Edgar had told us that it would be 35cuc. And as I think about it, Playa Largo started at 25cuc, and ended up costing 30. Hmmmm, is this another estafa? Is it just that they all size us up and decide we are made of money and so the prices are inflated on our behalf? Why do they think we’re all worth millions?

We check out the guide book and decide that the place is worthy of two nights, not three, and Maria is not fussed at all.

We plan out our two days – check out the locale this afternoon and tonight, watch the sunset from the Club Nautica, the local sailing club, and then check out the main drag tomorrow.

Off to Palacio del Valle  –  truly a kitsch folly created by someone with too much money. It is a vast construction that looks more like some inventive Arabian dream, complete with pretend arabic script above the doors, and fanciful turrets.

It is now a restaurant with a roof-top bar, so we mount the marble stairs followed by a green spiral staircase to the top and enjoy pina coladas and a daiquiri to the accompaniment of the late afternoon sun and a local Cuban band – a melodious blend of rhythmic jazz.

We venture down to the small park at the end of the point, and admire the locals standing in the neck-deep water waiting for the sun to set.

As an experiment, and to send a signal that we’re not entirely dependent on Edgar’s choice of lodgings, S checks out a casa at the water’s edge, a beautiful bright two-story building with enticing rocking chairs on the veranda upstairs. Edgar is not happy. Yes they have availability, yes the rooms are nice and they’re only 30 CUC. So we decide for our next destination we’ll try the look see approach, and not rely on Edgar’s kick-back opportunities. Our casa is fine, but not on the water.

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We carry on to Club Cienfuegos, the local sailing club, complete with tennis courts that have no enclosure around them – LP Guide cheekily comments that you can expect to chase balls a lot if you’re not a good player.

Upstairs in the restaurant we nab the last table on the terrace, enjoy a set menu with welcome cocktail, and watch the sun setting over the boats and the marina. Unfortunately, one of my earrings has unhooked itself, and I spend a fruitless few minutes searching under chairs and table…. Sigh.A short stroll through the balmy night brings us back to bed.

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