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February 9, 2017

We enjoyed our breakfast on the upstairs terrace as we looked on the horse drawn taxis. From our balcony view, the large city with a population of 110,000, still seemed like a quiet ghost town. Our breakfast was much of the same…egg, papaya, pineapple, and bread and juice and coffee. Here the pineapples were larger and not as good as the tiny ones in Viñales. We enjoyed our time at Eliza y Miguel Angel’s house, but it was time to pack up and keep touring.

We started out at the square around Parque José Martí where a mangy mutt protected us tourists. Each time a Cuban approached, he barked, and chased, and carried on until he felt sure the tourists were safe. He knew who was going to feed him table scraps…tourists and in particular Mary, but for some reason he followed Brian, Erin and I around the square while Page found a gallery that suited her shopping tendencies. Erin, Brian, and I looked in on the buildings that surrounded the square; the cathedral, theater, and town hall before we found a nice hotel with an available bathroom. Then we passed by the greyhounds that symbolized wealth and strolled through market on the way to the waterfront. I loved seeing the old fishing boats, though I must say I would not want to travel on one 90 miles to Florida like many Cubans do.

Our leisurely stroll took far less time than the hour allotted, so we seeked out some shade Parque José Martí and utilized Brian’s wifi card. My phone is finally synced on the correct time! Parque José Martí is home to a marble statue, carved in 1902, of the Cuban revolutionary for whom it is named. On its western end, stands a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in honor of the city’s French Heritage as it was founded in 1819 by immigrants from Bordeaux.

Our next stop was Palacio de Valle, a home designed for Acisclo del Valle Blanco in 1913-17. A wealthy sugar baron, he had the two-story building decorated with Gothic, Venetian, and Neo-Moorish motifs like the Alhambra in Spain. He died shortly after the structure was complete, and Batista turned it into a casino. Currently, it operates as the number one restaurant in the city, and its rooftop deck is a perfect place to take in fantastic views of the harbor while sipping a Ron Collins, lemonade with rum.

From Cienfuegos, we bused to Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was founded by Diego Velazquez in 1514 and was a major center for trade in sugar and slaves. Overtime with slave revolts and American businessmen taking over the sugar plantations, the area became impoverished and isolated. Trinidad adapted and now its old cobblestone streets with brightly painted houses known for their wooden shutters and doors within doors are full of residents who make cigars and handicrafts such as pottery and embroidery.

I found Trinidad to be much more interesting that Cienfuegos. To me it felt like a combination of Havana and Viñales. It seemed the town was freshly painting some of the building facades, doing its best to cater to tourists, yet many places remained in disrepair as residents with their day to day lives and jobs.

We arrived in the heat of the afternoon after a VERY light lunch Big Bang Restaurant in Cienfuegos, so after a short tour along a few streets and a description of the buildings surrounding Trinidad’s Plaza Mayor, the group split up to enjoy our “rest time”. Brian, Erin, and I climbed up the “Spanish Steps” and listened to some music at Trinidad Terraces while Page who loves embroidery and pottery continued to support the Cuban economy as she sifted through the local market. By chance, we all met up as we went in search of food. We decided on Restaurante La Parranda whose specialized in pig roasts and had live music playing on an open-air patio. And oddly enough, the TV at the bar was airing a European Grand Prix. The tasty pig, pizza, and pork hamburger revived us enough to attempt to climb the bell tower at the Iglesia y Convent de San Francisco for a lovely view of the city, but it closed at 4:30.

Next, we tried to find some Cohibas at the corner cigar shop, but we were unsuccessful, so we stopped in at the Casa de la Cerveza. Brian excitedly, “What’s on your beer list?” If only, I could have captured the look of surprise and dismay on his face on camera when the waiter replied, “Presidente and Bucanero!” Ha Ha, those were the same two beers available everywhere we went. What was the point of coming to the House of Beer, decorated with several beer logos, if they only had two choices?!? Not quite the same as a brewery in Colorado! Though they did have alcohol choices as well, unlike most brew pubs in the Mile High City.

It was an eating kind of day, as our next stop was for dinner with the group. We wandered through the streets to a Gourmet Vista Restaurante near the top of a hill where we had a choice of a buffet or a la carte. I’ve found buffets to not be terribly sanitary, so despite the variety it offered…lasagna, rice pudding, and much more, I ordered plain fish again. What a boring food elimination diet I am on…though somewhat failing at on this trip.

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Page and I called it an early night. I was personally worn out, though I can’t particularly say why unless the humidity zapped me today. I’m glad I went to bed early in our room that looked like a Valentine’s Day Suite with blush and bashful pink bedspreads, as the roosters begin their circuitous conversation around the neighborhood at 5am. ETB

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