Rose early, caught my first Viazul bus ride from the pickup point in central Vinales. By 7:30 a.m. we were underway. We had a couple stops before the long almost-straight-through haul to Cienfuego. During the first stop the very kind gentleman sitting next to me departed in Pinar del Rio to begin his one week class in Supervising which will elevate his position in the huge hotel he’s employed by in Vinales. At the next stop a couple came on board, yet there were no two seats open on the whole bus.
The second bus driver who wasn’t yet driving walked back to me and asked in Spanish if I would be open to moving to another seat. Mi Espanol es muy pocito, so I had no clue what he was saying. A nice woman sitting behind me translated and I said right away, “Sure, I don’t mind.” He moved me to THE VERY FRONT of the bus to sit next to him with the amazingly huge front and side window views! AWESOME! The couple that had just boarded took my seat in the near back.
From my new front seat vantage point I listened to all the conversation the two bus drivers carried on between each other and with the three soon-to-deboard Cuban folks that were riding while standing on the bus’s internal steps. There was a ton of chatting, laughing, sharing and good vibes going on between them all. Later, after the ride-alongs (who were smilingly called ‘family’ by the bus drivers but who were probably riding for free) were left off at various road crossings, the bus pulled over to the side of the highway and stopped in front of a couple farmer-type looking men. The bus driver I was sitting beside asked if I’d like a cup of coffee. I declined, as the Cuban coffee is pretty strong and I’m a lightweight, but thanked him and took a picture of them taking their coffee-break!
Later on the bus driver received a cell phone call and answered it while driving with one hand – WOW! A short time later the bus pulled in to an excellent rest stop where we had about a half hour break for a bite to eat, drink or bathroom pit stop. We were told we wouldn’t have another break for about 3 hours.
What a neat stop! On the backside of the rest stop there was a small walkway out over a pond to a covered seated area. From there you could see a large pig on the far side of the pond half buried in mud while rooting in the pond’s small dirt hillside.
Our long highway drive to Cienfuego took us past large commercial fish ponds, tall smoke stacks and large factories of some sort. Finally we pulled into the second rest stop – equally as nice but different from the first one.
Upon arriving in Cienfuego about 3:45 p.m. I was expecting to see someone waiting for me holding a sign with my name as had been arranged earlier, but NOoooo… and it may well have been a good thing, as a man named Alexander convinced me to come to his Hostal called Casa Dayana (named after his wife). He spoke excellent English and lived only about 5 blocks from the bus terminal. I met Dayana and their adorable one-year old daughter while settling into my decent little room which cost only 20 CUC per night, the least I’d spent yet. Alexander then pitched his Cuban cigars to me, but I wasn’t buying 🙂
On my late afternoon walk downtown (9 blocks straight down the main cross street that Alexander lived on) I stopped in at a most amazing art gallery! The artists here in Cuba are some of THE most creative, talented artists I have ever met!
This is a group of five artists that have teamed up together to form their own gallery – Carpe Diem (Seize the Day). One of them wasn’t there when I visited, but all the rest were, so they ‘held’ the missing artist’s space in this photo I took of them.
On my wanderings around the Parque Marti I bumped into three different couples and one group of people all of whom I had met while in Vinales! Talk about an afternoon of reunions! We were all on the heavily traveled tourist corridor – Havana, Vinales, Cienfuego, Trinidad! I had not known it when I started, but this is a route the majority of travelers take while seeing western Cuba.
Found a little shop where I bought a few gifts for my brothers, saw the world heritage UNESCO buildings, popped in to a couple little restaurants and pubs for a look see – what an energetic, beautiful city!
The next day Alexander arranged with a collectivo taxi driver who was picking up a group of five from Poland right across from Alexander’s house to take me with them first to Refugio de Fauna and then on to El Nicho, a waterfall area high in the mountains almost a two hour’s drive away. We were a half hour late in departing due to the group of five’s tardiness, and once we arrived at Refugio de Fauna, only 15 minutes away, we were told it would be a 2 hour wait before they had enough free boats to go onto the pond where the flamingos were (all the boats were being used up by a large tourist group that had arrived just before us on a large bus).
Not having the time to wait due to El Nicho being quite a distance ahead of us, we departed for the mountain waterfalls. Only 8 kilometers before arriving at El Nicho, our taxi broke down on a steep hill and had to roll backwards into an off road shoulder area. I hailed down the next car that approached us and caught a ride with the lovely Swiss couple in their rental car to El Nicho.
But upon arriving at El Nicho I discovered there is an entrance fee of 10 CUC to walk a hundred feet to see the falls ! I’ve seen plenty of spectacular waterfalls in my life and by this point in the day I was so done with this less-than-satisfactory trip that I took a few pictures of the roadside water features and started walking back from whence I’d come on the road.
I walked up and down the steep hills almost the entire distance back to the broken taxi when the Swiss couple stopped to pick me up on their way back. As we drove by the broken taxi we could see the driver stripped naked to his waist with tools lying all around his jacked-up old vehicle. He was clearly doing the mechanic work himself. I heard from the Swiss couple that the 5 Polish folks had arrived at El Nicho via another taxi just as the Swiss couple were leaving.
They dropped me off in the first large town we came to as it was the junction to Trinidad which is where they were heading. I wrote “Cienfuego, Por Favor” on the back on my notebook and stuck my sign out toward cars headed back to Cienfuego. Fortunately, two very kind women told me I needed to stand at a different road intersection. They walked me to that location and within a couple minutes a locals bus came by which they told me I should take. It cost me 1 CUC to return all the way back to Cienfuego to just 3 blocks from my Casa! Thank you, lovely ladies! You saved my day!
Alexander was disbelieving at first that the taxi had broken down – he had paid the driver 20 CUC in advance for me and had then told me if I didn’t like the trip I didn’t have to pay him back! Well, I did NOT like the trip and was relieved when he was very understanding and accepting about me not paying him. Thank you, Alexander. That is one adventure I could have done without, but it was beautiful nonetheless up in those mountains!
The next day I visited an interesting art walk, then a pier near a great little eatery where I met two lovely young ladies who are going to school to become tour guides, then walked on down to Punto Gordo where there was an amazing art sculpture parque, a lookout tower and an end-of-the-point park. Lovely section of town, Punto Gordo!
Returning from Punto Gordo back to central Cienfuego a group of young boys were learning how to box along the side of the street.
Back at the Casa and counting through my cash, the disturbing realization was dawning on me that with over two weeks left to travel, my money wasn’t going to hold out. I needed to borrow some funds but every avenue I considered didn’t look promising. U.S. debit cards don’t work in Cuba and there is no mail system to speak of. I visited a Western Union but that looked dismal so I left.
Amazingly, the next morning I bumped into yet one more couple that I had met in Vinales, a young couple from Austria, and they were headed to Trinidad in a few hours. They offered to give me a lift to Trinidad in their rental car with them. Trinidad was my next destination anyway, so I accepted and within a few hours we were on our way.
Alexander had called ahead for me to reserve a Casa room in Trinidad! Thank You so much, Alexander and Dayana! You folks were great and very helpful! I highly recommend Casa Dayana in Cienfuego!
Next stop – Trinidad! Climb on board, hitch a ride, or join me anyway you can! Don’t miss Trinidad!