After our wonderful two days in Havana, we continued to sail west then around the tip of Cuba to a southern inlet on a beautiful beach at Maria la Gorda. It was a relaxing day that started with a short motor boat ride to a coral reef off the beach where we snorkeled for an hour or so. Not the best snorkeling I’ve seen but we had fun and then went back to the beach and found some chairs to soak in the sun. It was nice break and allowed us some rest.DSCF3421

Cienfuegos

Our final port of call on the island of Cuba was Cienfuegos. Once again we got our temperature taken before leaving the ship and went through an immigration office where we surrendered our temporary visas. We picked bus #6 again for our group tour and had a nice guide who on several occasions asked us what we wanted to do—indicating a very flexible agenda. This is why I think the Cubans will need to figure out some more formal and researched tours for future American audiences. They may have been feeling their way with us to see what we were interested in.

5670088876_6c9ac6b9f9_bOur first stop was the center of town—where we walked around the town square and learned a bit about some of the local buildings including a beautiful and magnificent theater. We went inside and were amazed at the restoration of this 1880s vintage theater with gorgeous paintings on the ceiling, old school chairs, and just the quaintest and classic setting I’ve seen. It was delightful. We weren’t allowed to take photographs but I googled one here and they don’t do it justice—it was one of those places where you had to soak in the ambiance in person.

IMG_4364We then made our way to an art gallery, the Sociedad Grafica de Cienfuegos. The gallery supported local artists and they share their talents with the neighborhood kids. The art was very interesting and I bought a small piece and got to meet the artist. Outside the gallery some of my fellow travelers were giving treats to some local kids who were loving the attention. One kid got some soap and had a broad smile when showing his mom his new gift. It was very sweet.

The sign in the window is an ad to sell the house.

The sign in the window is an ad to sell the house.

Along the way our guide told us some interesting cultural facts. Very few people in Cuba are allowed to own and sell their homes. He pointed out a sign on a house indicating the lucky owners who were trying to sell their abode.

We were very lucky as it turns out because our tour guide had some connections to a local artist who lived on a street of artists who were having a festival on the day we were there. So in a sense we got to hang out with locals who were having a block party. A banner across the street welcomed us to the creative zone. We were the only bus who got to go there, so this was a very special treat for us.IMG_4451

The locals were playing music, singing, dancing, creating works of art, and playing dominoes on a table in the street. One woman was working hard cleaning vegetables and potatoes that were going into the community stew pot. It was a huge black pot sitting on some burning logs right in the street. The guy behind her showed me a skull of some animal (a sheep maybe) with some meat still on it that was going to be put into the pot later.

There was also an interesting structure (for lack of better words) they created out of some kind of husks—maybe sugar cane since that is what the city is known for. It had a kind of a bulb like shape and was hanging on some poles. There were headphones attached and you could listen to music that was playing inside of it. There was some significance to this but unfortunately I could not hear our guide explain it. We shopped and explored several studios on the street that were basically the front rooms of the artists’ homes. It was a fantastic afternoon.

IMG_4472We asked our guide to skip a part of the tour that seemed boring—just a walk around of some tourist hotel and restaurant and instead opted to go back to the center of town to do some last minute shopping and explore the area. We had to get rid of the last of our converted pesos, so we helped the economy and bought some handmade jewelry, t-shirts, and dominoes games.

Final Thoughts

The Cuban people were interesting and friendly. We loved just walking around and exploring towns. The people have had to live through a lot of challenges through the last century—getting support from the Soviet Union and being in the middle of a fight between two super powers. They were living the good life for a while when supported by Moscow but have had to figure out how to survive living under an oppressive regime without financial support when communism failed in the Soviet Union. Change is coming (very slow to be sure but coming) and many of the people will probably be up to the challenges of living in a more socialistic society as opposed to a communist one. They are getting rid of some old policies but still are afraid of a government who maintains control and suppresses freedom.

Dominoes is a very popular game and the neighbors here are playing in the street.

Dominoes is a very popular game and the neighbors here are playing in the street.

Their infrastructure gets updated slowly—one building is about to fall down next to another that has been restored beautifully. The people have great education and health care but are very poor and have to work a lot to get any extra money for luxuries. They gather in public places to get Wi-Fi and as we all know, the Internet provides people with information and opportunities they need to become free. I felt very blessed to be able to see this country and visit with the people there. My hope is that someday their society will change enough to allow freedom for the people to seek God and worship Him openly, to find employment at will that allows for more comfortable lives, and to feel free enough to get rid of the Che Guevara postcards and express their opinions without fear of retribution.

IMG_4494With President Obama’s visit and the new policies to open relations with Cuba, we’ll wait and see if some of our democratic values will take hold in our southern neighbors. In the meantime, I would encourage Americans to visit now under the People to People program. And one note of interest, the Cubans also refer to themselves as Americans, which makes sense—so when there, you may want to be more specific when explaining where you are from.

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1 Greeting Cienfuegos

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