Of horses, bicycles, sugar cane and lots of cake

Cienfuegos’ main square is Parque José Martí, which has some very fine restored colonial buildings, the city’s main tourist attractions, and our favourite internet-and-mohito-enabled café. But we also have our own square, round the corner from our house. Parque Villuendas is a nice place, with pretty buildings round the outside, and trees and benches in the middle. It’s pretty much off the tourist track, and a sort of a microcosm of Cuban life.  

For a start it’s a setting-off point for the ubiquitous horse-drawn communal taxis that are the main mode of transport both in the city and the countryside around. We haven’t worked out how the system operates, because as soon as a tourist approaches they switch to offering a personalised (not a communal) service and won’t hear of you joining the crowd. But it seems as if the drivers wait in a queue with their vehicles, fill up with passengers, and then head off. A cross between cab rank, with horses, and a bus depot. Once they set off, they go at a brisk trot – even with six or eight people on board. No plodding nags in Cienfuegos. Which is all very picturesque for a tourist, though they make quite a clatter outside your room at 5 in the morning!

The other most common mode of transport is the bicycle, which often has a second person side-saddle on the cross bar. Scooters are even more flexible – you can get granny or the kids on as well. (Though it has to be said the Cubans are less creative with their scooters than the Vietnamese were when we were there. We haven’t seen any carrying large panes of glass, or with half-a-dozen live chickens dangling from the handlebars.) There are also bici-taxis (cycle rickshaws, Cuban style), old American cars, Lada taxis, ancient buses, converted-truck buses. Everything you could possibly want, really.

 Drinking smoothies with the in crowd

Drinking smoothies with the in crowd

On the catering front, Parque Villuendas doesn’t have much for the tourist trade, but has three tiny (2-3 table) cafés serving the Cuban speciality, rice with black or red beans, pork escalope or fried fish, and salad. You pay local prices too, so it’s the equivalent of only about a dollar a plate. Then there’s a stall selling sugar cane juice, and another place with smoothies – most days it’s guava, but if you are lucky they might have mango. You order, pay your 10-20 cents, stand on the street and drink, and then hand the glass back. Delicious. Next to the smoothie place you can buy a ham and cheese toasted sandwich. Whereas in Havana and Guanabo, pizza was the fast-growing snack food of choice, here it’s toasties. They are good too.

 And sugar cane juice with the others...

And sugar cane juice with the others...

Finally, the square has Cienfuegos institution Doña Neli – a cake shop selling a small selection of seriously over-the-top, fake cream-covered delicacies that are very popular with the locals – and Sam. In case you aren’t hungry, you can also buy rum and beer.

 It doesn't look much, but you should see the cakes!!

It doesn't look much, but you should see the cakes!!

Oh, and there’s Wi-Fi too. What more could anyone want?