The middle of Cuba: Sancti Spiritus and Morón

Sancti Spiritus somehow sounds like it's going to be a nice place. Even to a non-believer, the name has a good ring to it. Uplifting. Like someone loves it. I mean, at least it's not called "Slaughters" or "Martyrs of Barbados" or "Colon". And it is an unexpectedly nice place, with all the beautiful buildings of Trinidad - it was tarted up for its 500th anniversary in 2014 - and none of the hassles. 

The main street (the Boulevard) is pedestrianised, and has quite a few shops that appear to be selling things that people might want to buy, which is somewhat of a novelty. There is a pretty little arched stone bridge, almost like something out of an English village but with a very Cuban orange plastered top, over the (predictably rubbish-clogged) Yayabo river. And overlooking the bridge is a classy looking restaurant which the guide book promised had "one of the best wine cellars in Cuba". 

At the end of the Boulevard (which has Wi-Fi almost its entire length - shock horror!) there is a pretty main square, with fine buildings and street stalls offering virgin pina colada, chicken croquettes, ice creams and, occasionally, churros. (Also Wi-Fi.) There was a festival going on (marking the beginning of summer, apparently - you mean it's going to get hotter!!), and there were lots of people around, and seats set out on the main drag for what appeared to be a talent competition and went on into the early hours of the morning. (The stage was on the street right outside our huge, cool, airy casa particular rooms, which gave us a ringside view from the terrace, and when we'd had enough, the air conditioner was noisy enough to mean we weren't disturbed.)
Nobody asked us if we wanted a taxi or a horse, the food was in local prices, and all in all, we were very pleased with Santi Spiritus. 
We wanted to try Taberna Yayabo overlooking the river, but things didn't work out quite as expected. It poured with rain the night we wanted to go, and the restaurant we found instead was a spectacularly bizarre place, with water pouring through the roof, only one copy of a menu that anyway was in such tiny print you couldn't read it, the oddest waiting staff we've come across - though surprisingly good food. (Which wasn't the case in the other restaurant we tried in Sancti Spiritus, which advertised Chinese food, a novelty we couldn't resist, but should have. We'll stick to Cuban food, beans and rice in future). 
We were also stymied when we decided to check out the movie theatre, which advertised four movies - one each evening at 8.30pm Thursday to Sunday. We were assured that Saturday's movie, Marea Negra (2016), was in English with Spanish subtitles, but when we rocked up excitedly the cinema was unfortunately closed for the night for fumigation. (They do lots of door-to-door fumigation in Cuba, against mosquitoes, we've been told).

The problem for Sancti Spiritus as far as a tourist is concerned, and the reason presumably it's so free of touts, inflated prices and general irritants, is once you've wandered around the pretty streets and stuck your head in shops full of washing powder and tomato paste, and eaten too many ice creams - there is nothing much else to do. No horse treks, or hop-on, hop-off bus tours, or swimming holes. 
There was a hotel 10km outside town supposed to offer fishing trips, but when we headed there we found a grim, dilapidated, Soviet-style concrete block, with more than half the rooms apparently boarded up, an overcrowded swimming pool, and no visible lake. Apparently it was too dry for fishing. On the other hand, they did offer the best mojitos we've had. Which was a distinct consolation.

And so onto Morón, which is as uninspiring as its name is unfortunate. The city's one claim to fame is an abusive 16th century bureaucrat, who was nicknamed "Cocky" by locals and eventually run out of town. Apparently the city was named after him, though the link is not totally clear - was he called Snr Morón, or was he so unpleasant, the name "moron" stuck? Anyway, there's an iron cockerel statue in his honour on the way into town, which crows at 6am each morning. Unmissable.
Anyway, the town is a flat dusty place, full of bicycles, hot uninteresting streets, closed shops (OK, it was Sunday), pizza joints with long queues, and uninspiring places to stay. The Lonely Planet recommends Alojamiento Maite, where "the tireless Maite" has added a swimming pool and a famous restaurant and "guests can lounge on the substantial roof terrace with a mojito". The pool was tiny and empty, the terrace tiny and hot, and tireless Maite tried to cram the five of us into a 3-bed room and charge us double the usual rate. She also appeared to have tirelessly taken over all the surrounding houses, in an un-Communist fashion, to block out competition.
We ended up down the road in a nick-nack-ridden house owned by an elderly couple, with pink satin bedcovers with frilly hearts (always a bad sign), electric shocks from the hot water system and a "terrace" where you could sit in a hard chair and stare at the washing line, water tanks and car spray joint next door. Which is what the elderly couple did a lot.

Once you've exhausted the childish joy of photographing signs that say "Restaurant Morón" (just add a comma) or "Book shop Morón" etc, you are through with the city. Our host suggested the "Hotel Moron" had a pool, so Sam and I trudged for miles in the blazing heat only to find the Hotel Morón(another hideous Soviet-looking block) has a small, dry fountain, but no pool. The guy on reception laughed a lot when we turned up, towels in hand. 
Actually the swimming adventure had a happy ending. We hopped on a cycle taxi where a cheery guy took us to another hotel, a rather beautiful colonial house just down the road from where we are staying where we begged, successfully in the end, for Sam to be allowed to swim. 
However Morón (unlike Sancti Spiritus) does have its Inspiring Tourist Attraction. Emma, Geoff and I took a horse and carriage out to the Laguna de la Leche. Being in a horse and carriage is a fine way to travel, and quite normal here in the town. The drivers take their passengers the 8km out there and then wait while they have lunch and a wander, and then take them back. Meanwhile the horse crops the grass, the driver has a beer - and everyone's happy. 

The lake is Cuba's largest and is supposed to have reflective underwater lime deposits (hence the "milk" in the name), though it just looked like a normal lake, a bit smelly and with plenty of beer cans and plastic bags around the edge. The place was packed with locals, drinking in little bars along the lake front, or eating in one of two restaurants on stilts over the lake. Laguna de la Leche is renowned for its fishing, although strangely, we were assured the fish on our menu were from the sea, and the food was not particularly good. The setting was very fine though. And they had good mohitos. Does one need anything more?