Farewell to Cuba

The last dance is always the one that I remember most. Today was our last day. The thought made my heart clench. I look back now at the photos, like a lover smelling scented clothes. I am propelled by my feelings and by my memories into a place which is unique, even to the world. The sounds become real, the smells the colors. I know I am not there and yet somehow this feels so real.

The impressive Grand Theater of Havana looms ahead, the Cuban flag perched proudly blows in the wind.

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Pass the ever grandiose buildings and arrive quickly at El Capitolio. Domed and all white, it cuts an authoritarian figure and towers over the dainty colorful houses, which are opposite it. I can see myself laughing and joking. I press the camera shutter, but never quite at the right moment. Half a car, no car but somehow never a whole one.

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Round and round we go up as far as the gate to China Town. The  Old Railway repair yard is still rusty. The cigar factory is shut, although I don’t think it was like that when I was there. Sometimes memories play tricks. If I am wrong, it doesn’t matter, tomorrow I will go back but this time I will open it.

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Lunch in a sumptuous Italian in China Town. We are served by Cuba’s own Abercrombie and Fitch models.  White shirts tight over their strong muscular frames. The sugar is sweet but not as sweet as Carlos. They have blankets for if we are cold (such gentlemen), and probably spare shirts for when their old ones split from too much muscle flexing. Obviously they all fancy me. This is how I remember it anyway…

All the clientele are locals and many parties are couples on dates – Was it lunch or was it dinner that I had here? Either way its not the best place in the world to bring your girlfriend if your trying to convince her that you are the most attractive man on the planet. So yes, the food is really good, best ravioli outside of Florence and great price… Anyway back to the service…

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We walk back to the hotel, passed El Floridita, and back down towards the sea to our hotel.  I feel sad. This is when the bags are loaded and when we hug our new friends goodbye. The journey back to the airport, back home, back to reality is short. Too short.

I will miss you Cuba but I will see you soon, I promise this is by no means goodbye. I never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.

Cienfuegos – the city of a thousand fires

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It felt as if we had well and truly left the countryside as we rolled through the grandiose gridded city of Cienfuegos. The heat rose from under our feet, and crept up our bodies quickly stifling our senses. This is the city of the sun, the city of a thousand fires.

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Cienfuegos lacked Havana’s charm, it was less lively, there was no music. The main square was however beautifully done up, with gardens, large revolutionary symbols and drawings of Che and his slogans.

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The highlight of the plaza, the Casa de la Cultura Benjmain Duarte.

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The tuk-tuk sprinted down the main boulevard down to the sea. The heat made the lagoon air smell of the city’s sewers. Lovers sat under trees and boats glided motionless on paper still water.

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Down the main boulevard we careered. Sat on the bicycle we gained a little height and so we were able to escape the heat emitted by the tarmacked road which had become overwhelming, especially when we were engulfed by the fumes of the cars spluttering past. Now we could enjoy glimpses of sea through gaps in the lavish houses with the wind in our hair.

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The mansions were grand, their architecture fascinating but somewhat lacking in taste. The Only Way is Essex but on Mojitos. Although it is said that wealth can seldom be subtle, double exterior staircases cascading down pastel facades must be seen as a step somewhat in the wrong direction. Indeed, is a great social success not a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain?

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Past the yachting club and the double fronted domed house with tennis court and tropical garden.

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We finally saw looming ahead of us at the end of the Punta Gorda, the diamond of the crown, the real gem, the Palacio del Valle.

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Once a casino, this Palace now stands as a beacon of culture. Magnificent and towering, it is built in a style  reminiscent of Spanish-Moorish art with influences of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Mudejar arts.

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Spanish carvers made the gateways, mosaics and Spanish ceramics adorn the walls and stained glass taints the views. Beautiful crystal allegories are painted on the marble staircase. Cornices crown the entrance to the halls and doorways, the ceiling are high and the rooms spacious. The living room is  Empire in style paneled in gold and pink marble with applications of bronze and white marble floors.

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Palacios del Valle stands aloof at at the end of the Punta Gorda, a reminder and testimony of a golden age of Cuban opulence and wealth.

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I feel that it is not worth spending a full day at Cienfuegos. It was though a great way to break the journey from Trinidad to Havana. We stayed at a really nice casa particular called Apartamento Independiente Eduardo & Odalys on Avenida 56 number 5306 (Altos)/ 53 y 55. We had our own little apartment with bedroom, living room and kitchen. The shower pressure was better than in the casa that we stayed in Trinidad but there was no air-conditioning. It was very close to the station so it was easy to get there from the bus on arrival from Trinidad.

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