News from Cuba – Update #6

The research team in Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is a pleasant town not too much bigger than Bellingham, about 100 km to the southeast of Playa Larga. We took two buses to get there, one of which was an old school bus that serves Playa Larga, the other of which was a Via Azul bus, the ones the government runs to serve the tourist trade. For whatever reason, it is difficult for tourists to ride the same buses as the general populace. The Via Azul bus was probably unlike what most Cubans will ever ride, with air conditioning, reading lights, and a TV/sound system playing nonstop Cuban pop music videos. Very much like stepping into another world after the ancient school bus that we shared with the people of Playa Larga.

Along the Malecon

We set up in Cienfuegos in another group of casas particulares, using one, Casa de Paco y Lucia, as our base camp.  This city has a robust history, so we spent some time with the director of the local museum, who helped us to understand the history of Cienfuegos, and also took us on an architectural tour.  Taking advantage of his unique views on his country’s culture, we interviewed him for our video.

James writes:

While in Cienfuegos we had some time to explore.  Garrett,  Amelia, Erik and I  went down to the harbor where there were some stairs leading down to the piers.  Some stairs were missing and some in bad repair, some of the benches and lightposts were decrepet  falling apart.   We saw a lot of boats, some that were small fishing boats and some larger ones were very old and rusted.  A man came up to us there, nicely dressed with sunglasses like you see in the movies.  He started talking with us, asking where we were from, and so on.  He was from the town and was curious about us.  It turned out that he ran one of the horse taxis that we saw all over town.  We asked him how he liked living in Cienfuegos, and he had a kind of a rare answer.  While he said he liked his town, he would live in the USA if he had the chance.  It was kind of flattering but wasn’t the kind of answer you would expect, given our other experiences.  After talking for a while he offered us a discounted taxi ride, but we walked back instead.


Also in Cienfuegos we took some time to catch up on our reading and writing, and also worked in a rest day since our schedule has been so packed.  One day we took a side trip to Trinidad, an even more ancient town (400 years old, older than Havana!) to interview an artist and gain a greater perspective on the culture of the southern coast as it relates to sustainability.  Trinidad was an interesting juxtaposition of aggressive tourism against a backdrop of a rich history and culture.

Garrett writes:

The shop at Ramon's farm

On our way back to Havana from Cienfuegos, our cab driver, Ramon, invited us to stop in at his parents’ farm.   I was kind of taken aback, because I never thought a cab driver would just say, “Hey, do you want to come by my farm?”  So we went, and it was a nice little farm, with chickens, pigs, cows, bananas and mangoes, onions, and lots of other things growing.  They gave us some milk directly from the cow.  The most interesting part, I thought, was the workshop, which was basically just a roof with a bunch of scrap metal and tools lying about.  They were completely building a new car out of three or four different cars.  I always wonderered how they kept the really old cars in Havana going, and the answer is to take engines out of newer cars, or put stuff together out of other cars, which was really cool to see.  When we were there they were totally welding up a new gas tank out of scrap metal that they just had lying around.  It was very interesting, to say the least.
Now we are back in Havana for a couple of days before our final stop at Playa Jibacoa, where we will wrap up this expedition.   We hope to get at least one more interview in here, and also a service project.  We’ll get some more stories and pictures posted as soon as we can!

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