Finally we join the new road to Cienfuegos and it leads us straight on to Avenida 37 and down to the end of Punta Gorda where we find our casa particular in Calle 0 without difficulty. Our rooms are not quite ready but our hostess Mayda welcomes us with a choice of coffee or juice. She speaks no English but her husband Enrique speaks a little, and he completes the formalities. He also shows us where to park in their yard, earning a rebuke from Mayda for directing us too close to her washing line.
Enrique has told us where we can find a Cadeca to change more cash and we set off on foot to explore Punta Gorda, once the home of Cienfuegos’ bourgeoisie. We walk first to the very end of the point which is a public recreation area, and try to pick out the mouth of the harbour which is impossible. It’s an important natural harbour once defended by Jagua castle which now gives its name to a number of local landmarks including the hotel across the road and the nuclear power station. Along the road to the point are several casas particulares which look out onto the water at both sides, plus a school of hospitality.
On the corner of Calle 2 is the Palacio del Valle, a Moorish concoction of ornate tiles and stucco, where we have lunch. The dining room has high ornate ceilings and the tall windows provide cool air. The boys’ chicken is unremarkable but my seafood paella is delicious, stuffed with lobster, fat prawns and fish. I hate to leave some but it’s easily enough for two and impossible to finish. The mojitos are good, too. Sadly the waiter doesn’t return with our change and, by doing so, deprives himself of a more generous tip. As we leave, he doesn’t even acknowledge us.
Cienfuegos is a town renowned for its elegant, French-inspired architecture and as we walk towards the location of the Cadeca we pass two of its most impressive examples, the Club Cienfuegos and the Palacio Azul. Unfortunately we can’t find anywhere to change money on Calle 12 where Enrique said it would be, but we do stumble across the Laguna del Cura where there is a little marina featuring some seriously dodgy electrical infrastructure.
We spot a service station with a mini market and stop to see if they have any Earl Grey tea bags as Simon is running low. They don’t, but they do have the red wine we enjoyed from the shop in Playa Giron. Behind is a café where we buy some cold water – it’s ridiculously hot. There’s a tourist office opposite, so I go and get better directios to the Cadeca which turns out to be in Calle 14 at the junction with Avenida 39. The grid system here makes navigation easy if you know the address – even numbers across and odd numbers down, with house numbers starting with the number of the nearest street … so 3904 Calle 14 would be the fourth house along from the junction of 39 and 14. The Cadeca turns out to be a tiny kiosk and, unaccountably, it’s closed. It’s not due to close until 4 and it’s only about 3.15 so we join the lady who is already queueing. After 30 minutes or so it suddenly opens and we change our money, then pop back to the café for another cold drink to sustain us on the hot walk back to the casa.
Casas particulares are a new phenomenon in Cuba, introduced by Raoul Castro to allow Cubans to rent out rooms for which they pay a licence fee to the government. There are few hotels outside Havana and the main beach resorts and in many towns they are the only option. They are just like a B and B but the rates and facilities are dictated by the government and the host has to pay a room tax whether or not their room is occupied. All are charged for by the room and must have air conditioning and a fridge; most hosts make a little extra by filling the fridges and charging for what’s consumed.
Casa Mayda is a typical Cienfuegos house but less typically has a garden with side access. It has a covered outdoor dining area surrounded by ferns and bougainvillea, some rocking chairs and garden ornaments including a couple of larger than life flamingos and a “welcome” gnome. It’s a cool and shady retreat from the heat of the city. Our two rooms are on the first floor and above them is a roof terrace with views to through the trees to the sea.
After a break to recover from the heat and rehydrate (I can’t stop drinking since the walk to the Cadeca) I pop over to the Hotel Jagua to check their wifi and see if it’s possible to use their pool. As I pass the Palacio de Valle next door a teenage girl dashes across the car park barefoot in a full length mint green dress with a tiered net skirt. Possibly a bride, or a bridesmaid? I never find out. The boys are up for a swim at the hotel but by the time we get there a storm has rolled in and the pool is closed. We sit with cold drinks on the shady poolside terrace and watch the lightning instead.
Back at the casa I borrow a corkscrew for our wine (I’m sure I packed one but can’t find it anywhere) and we play cards in the cool of our air conditioned bedroom until it’s time for dinner. We’re booked in here for dinner tonight, which is served alfresco. We start with a lentil and vegetable soup and are offered red wine, which is served chilled. The chicken the boys ordered comes on the bone for a change,;and my fish is huge, over-salted as is often the case here and decorated with a flower made of peppers. The usual fruit plate, salad, rice and beans are served and we’re still not sure what order we’re supposed to eat them in. There’s much more than we can eat, as usual, and we decline dessert.
There seem to be many people in the household – Mayda and Enrique, an older women who is clearly the mother of one of them, two younger women and two children – a boy in nappies and a girl of primary school age. The boy emerges during dinner with a full litre tub of ice cream, a lot of which is over his face. Another woman serves us but she presumably works here as she wishes us Buenos noches and leaves after we’ve eaten. Several other people come and go during the evening.
We would have stayed at the table and played more cards after dinner but there are mosquitoes about, so we go back to our rooms and Alex discovers a problem. He has flying ants all over the place, including in his bed and in his case, and there’s an ant highway running up the corner by the door. The regular ants seem to be dragging the carcases of dead flying ants back to their nest. We tell Alex he can move into our room for the night (both rooms have two double beds) and I go to tell Enrique.
We both go to look at the room and Enrique insists that they aren’t ants – the flying ones, at least – but he doesn’t say what he thinks they might be. I find another black insect on the sheet and it jumps as I point to it – that’s definitely a flea! Enrique is very apologetic and gets to work with the insect spray.