A few kilometres out of Cienfuegos on the packed, rattling, gua gua (local bus) is Laguna Guanaroca, a small salt water lake, surrounded by mangroves, where you can see flamingoes, pelicans, ibis, three sorts of heron, and more. On the way you go past the splendidly-named settlement of Martires de Barbados. It's hard to imagine living in a place called the Martyrs of Barbados. Or for that matter in the Cuban province/city of Matanzas - Slaughters. Or the town of Colon.
But I digress. The Good Book says the tour of Laguna Guanaroca takes 2-3 hours and includes a guided walk to the lakeside and a boat trip to view the flamingos. It's certainly very picturesque, with lots of bird life... but the guided walk turned out to be an unguided route march, and the boatman rowed at top speed down the lake, allowing us just a few minutes to peer excitedly at the flamingos (they really are very pink and prehistoric looking) before racing back to shore to pick up other tourists.
So even with peering at some wonderfully disgruntled-looking land crabs, spotting a woodpecker on a roadside telegraph pole and a tiny hummingbird in a bush in the car park, we were still finished by 9.30am... and now what to do with the day?
So instead of going home we caught the next gua gua (it's pronounced wah wah, in case you were wondering, like a baby in distress) onwards and got off at the end of the line. It's an odd place called Pasacaballo where, in the 70s, a Soviet-Cuban group had the extraordinary idea of building a vast concrete architectural monstrosity of a hotel on a rocky shoreline, 4km from the nearest beach, and miles from any other attraction. They probably don't mention that in the marketing brochures.
At Pasacaballo we got a ferry across the narrow mouth of the Cienfuegos harbour to Castilla de Jagua, a very fine 18th century fort, built to keep the pirates and the British out of the bay (there wasn't a city there then). There's an excellent view from the fort of the abandoned, half-finished, Juragua nuclear power station - another well-thought-out idea from the time the Russians were influential. But the Castillo itself has been extensively restored, with lots of information about the history of the fort, the area, and colonial Cuba as a whole, along with a fine collection of antique firearms, cannonballs etc. There is a bar in the barracks downstairs, which is a rather good idea. You are even allowed to pull up the drawbridge, which was surprisingly achievable, even without a squadron of Spanish troops. My pick of Cuban forts so far.
After a much needed swim, I enjoyed an excellent lunch of locally-caught prawns and lobster in a lovely restaurant overlooking the harbour (and the ugly hotel), with pelicans and frigate birds swooping in front.
Unfortunately, Geoff's stomach was delicate that day, so I had to eat everything myself. Life's tough sometimes.
As a final coup de grace, I managed to buy a freshly-caught fish from a local, to be filleted at home and stored for future dinners. And then I caught the local ferry back down the harbour to Cienfuegos.
A grand day out.