Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


From Havana, we took a bus to Cienfuegos.  It seems that in Cuba the bus drivers find it necessary to stop at some roadside cafe after about two hours. Not sure whether this is a regulation, or because they need a rest, or for the benefit of the passengers (personally I'd rather just get there quicker), or - more cynically - because they get a kickback from the owner of the cafe.  But whatever the reason, we spent forty-five minutes there. 

We had only been back on the road for around twenty minutes when we pulled off again, this time to a garage.  We then stopped at another cafe a few minutes down the road.  This time though, it wasn't a food stop; we had a puncture.  Now you would think that the bus would carry a jack and a spare, but apparently not.  Instead, we waited there for just under two hours until another bus came along and we got on that one for the rest of the trip.
We were met at the bus station by Anay, the owner of our Casa Particular.  As we were fairly late, we decided to have dinner at the Casa, so once we had settled in and made friends with their sausage dog, we were soon tucking in to a nice meal on their roof terrace.
Our first task in the morning was to buy our bus tickets for the next day.  It took us a bit of time just to find the right bit of the bus station, as tourists do not buy the same tickets or travel on the same buses as most locals.

When we did find it, we couldn't get in because someone had locked the door so that they could mop the floor without interruptions.  When we finally got to speak to someone, we were told that we couldn't buy tickets in advance, or put our names on a list, we just had to turn up about an hour before the bus and get them then.  Fingers crossed. 

Our next job was to get access to the Internet.  This wouldn't normally be our priority, but today it had to be as I needed to book flights back to the UK for my aunt's funeral.  We went to the local ETECSA office, where you can buy a 30 or 60 minute Internet card to use with their terminals.  Unfortunately, they didn't have any cards, so they suggested we try the hotel opposite.  The hotel kindly took pity on my situation and sold me one of the few cards they had that are normally reserved for hotel guests only.

Flights booked, we could concentrate on looking around the town.  We took a wander around the main square, Parque Marti, which is leafy and elegant with great buildings.  One impressive structure is the old theatre; it has a lovely and shady side courtyard which was a great place to sit with a drink or two and watch the world go by.  As well the ancient cars driving around, we spotted a group of school children out in the park practising their marching, presumably for some official ceremony or other.

We also took a wander up and down Prado, the wide main boulevard that has an abundance of old colonial buildings.  It is also a great place to see the classic vehicles, including an old oil tanker and an even more ancient little ambulance.

The central paved area includes a statue of Benny More, one of the most famous Cuban singers of the fifties.  He had already gained popularity in other parts of Latin America, but was virtually unknown in his homeland until he returned to Cuba in 1952.

Stopping for lunch, we watched while a group of older men from North America and the UK were joined by a group of somewhat younger women, who appeared to be Cuban.  Some of the guys looked more enthusiastic about this, while others looked a bit uncomfortable.  We didn't stay around long enough to see how it turned out.
After lunch we took a walk down the Malecon, the path along the seafront which is one of the key features of Cienfuegos, with a view perhaps to eating at one of the places on the waterside.  This is where some of the big old houses are; signs of wealth from before the revolution.

On the way down, we were stopped by one of the bike taxis; the guy wasn't too pushy and was friendly and talkative even after we said we were going to walk, so we figured that despite our usual cynicism, if he was around when we were on our way back we might use him. 

We went into the Palacio del Valle, a moorish extravaganza of a palace built in around 1917, and up to the rooftop bar for a drink while we watched the sun disappearing.  We decided to head back into town to eat, and found our bicycle taxi guy. We agreed a price and set off, with him chatting to us mostly in English about football and other topics.
When we got to where we were going, he stopped just short of the place in a darker part of the street, presumably thinking we would be a bit intimidated by that, and tried to double the price, saying that what we agreed was a price per person.  And all of a sudden his English wasn't so good either.

Well we werent having any of that, and Nic's Spanish is good enough to tell him so.  We paid him what we had planned to and walked off, no worse off, but somewhat disappointed that the guy had turned out to be another person on the make.  Needless to say from then on we always double checked that any price given included both of us and any luggage that we had.
When it came to heading home, we asked the guy on the door of the Gran Hotel if he could get us a cab.  And in a manner of speaking he did.  He flagged down the next car that came past and asked the driver to take us to our Casa.  The driver obliged and we got in.  The car just about started again without us having to get out and push and he followed our directions to the place.  It seems that the unwritten rule that Cubans are supposed to pick up hitchhikers applies equally to providing an ad hoc taxi service when needed!

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