The morning started with a quick chug of coffee while chasing down a taxi NYC style in a primarily Catholic country where nothing happens on Sunday morning. Somehow, by the grace of that Sunday god, we managed to make it to the bus station in time to catch our ride to Cienfuegos, or 100 fires if I remember my Spanish correctly, 150 miles southeast of Havana. We were mentally prepared for a 5+ hour bus ride with a nasty bus bathroom, and were pleasantly surprised when after 3 hours we pulled into a beautiful rest stop in Piocua, Cuba. The palm thatched stop offered real Cuban coffee with real whole milk, topped with a stick of real sugar cane, harvested from the nearby fields.
The Cuban coffee was just a decoy though. The stained glass that surrounded the place was striking. A musician playing his guitar, flamingos wading in a pond, all captured in glass with the morning sun shining though. Oh, and sombreros from real gauchos hung above on the wall. I wanted to stay and have a few more sips of the satisfyingly rich coffee but the bus driver had other ideas.
A few hours later we reached Playa Blanca and picked up some young backpackers from who knows where, and I managed to take a shot of a Russian tank while we were waiting. We continued on and as I was looking at the guidebook, my travel buddy BG asked me to translate our next destination. Bahia…Bay….de…of…Cochinos…..Pigs. Oh! Bay of Pigs! I remembered one or two sentences from my high school history book about the Bay of Pigs but couldn’t quite remember details. As I read through the Lonely Planet travel guide, I quickly understood why the event was swept under the proverbial rug and only given one or two sentences in my history book. Unless you are a history buff, it will be an eye opener to read the details. All I can say is…. We tried.
As we approached Cienfuegos, one of Cuba’s newer settlements, I could only think of dropping off my luggage at my Airbnb and exploring this nautical city. The city of Cienfuegos was actually founded by a guy from Louisiana, yes Louisiana in the US! He invited some of his New Orleans friends and some friends from Philadelphia and France to settle the city, and you can see so much of the French influence in the architecture in the Punta Gorda (southern) part of the city.
Many farms surround Cienfuegos and this turned out to be an asset for us. Yamelby, our Airbnb host, grew up on a farm and has family who are still farmers on the outskirts of town, so our homemade breakfast consisted of fresh pineapple, guava, banana, and eggs, all provided by her family’s farm. It was a strange yet welcome mix of city and family farm.
The view of the Bahia de Cienfuegos from our Airbnb was unbelievable. The air was fresh, and our hosts were friendly and quickly gathered us into their family. But, I was on a mission to check out the Dream Yacht Charter base, only ¼ mile south of us. The DYC base is beautiful! Housed in an old 1950’s mansion, they provide all you need for a 4-7 day sailing trip to the barrier islands south of here.
We visited much of Cienfuegos and loved it, but our most adventurous time was hopping onto the ferry that takes the locals to their jobs and homes in the southern end of the bay. We were smushed (and there is no better word!) together on our way to Castillo de Jugua, but still we have no explanation as to why we put ourselves in that situation. Maybe just for the boat ride across the bay? The views from the Castillo toward the sea in the south were gorgeous so well worth the trip.