The pearl of carribean and a surprise in the nuclear town
Cienfuegos is called the pearl of carribean because of its colonial architecture, neat waterfront, numbers of galleries and sculptures on streets and services for tourists (too expensive for our budget).
We explore the streets in the city for half a day, find out that a train to Havana will go in 2 days (?) and we get to the exit of the town. There at something like a bus stop full of people we tell a guy wearing yellow overall where we want to go. This is not a bus stop, this is a place for stopping cars and the bee-guy is a professional hichhiker. After he stops a car (which is actually easy, because the drivers who have place in the car should stop) he shouts the final destination and number of people who can go. People pay him 10-20 pesos cubanos and have a ride. We don’t really understand the reason why the people pay him and not the driver in the car like a share for gasoline, but here it is like this.
We wait there two hours and the sun is really strong. Sometimes we chat with locals who are interested where we are from and where we are going to. Then I start to make a big sign “Havana” to try the luck by ourselfs. After painting the first half (which takes a while with a pen!) Jan laughts that there is typo :)
One mulat girl approaches us and starts to talk some weird language which we don’t understand at the beginning. Later we get it – it is a perfect Slovak with a little of east accent. Magda is a Cuban but her mum is from Secovce in east Slovakia and since she was kid they were speaking Slovak together. In the times of Czechoslovakia she studied in Russia and used to go for vacations to her granmother. She is civil engineer, has two kids and lives close to Varadero. Now she is coming from a visit and has been waiting here also almost 2 hours for a ride. We talk a while and they (she and her boyfriend) decide that is already too late for travelling and invite us to her mother’s – looks like a Slovak meeting at Cuba? Julian is a gentleman and offers that he will go with Jan on bicycles and I and Magda will take taxi (why not :)).
We get all the luggage from bikes to the roof of the tiny car where we are seven people together (4 in the back seat, 2 in front, and the driver fortunately alone). The way takes 40minutes because we need to go around the whole bay till the nuclear town. That was created during the building of the nuclear power plant which wasn’s never finished. They are maintaining it at 80% and hope that there will be enough money to finish it in the future.
Magda opens the door and shouts to her mum that she is back because she didn’t get any ride to Varadero. Then a 160cm tall (short:)) lady appears, I greet her politely and when I see her confused face I try to explain that we were trying to get ride to Havana and … She finally says that I don’t need to explain anything, that she is shocked but very happy to get a visitor from her country.
Eva is very nice older lady. During her studies she met her future cuban husband and got pregnant so she didn’t finish her studies. After Magda she had another child Darinka. She’s living in Cuba for more than 40 years and so she tell us how was it here before and how is it here now (and all in our language). They moved to this town when the nuclear power plant has been constructed. The project was financed by Soviet Union and she worked as a translator for the russian workers and engineers (so everything from names of screws to the nuclear processes). But she hopes that they will never finish the power plant – who would like to have such thing next to his house?
Magda starts sorting the plastig bags because we go shopping. Lady Eva sends me to brush my hair. She tells me that people will still look at me like I’m an alien but at least I shouldn’t have that hair nest on my head :D. In the shop are many people and long queues. We ask who is the last one and wait (we regret we didn’t ask who is before her, because she often leaves and returns). Magda explains how the food ration system works and that for not respecting the order in the line can people fight. It’s finally our turn – we give the book to the first lady. She marks what they have in “menu” and what we are going to take so it cannot happen we will come twice. She writes a paper with everything we should get and we wait for another lady. We get out our plastic bags and hope we have enough and without any holes (this is a big difference than anywhere else in the world – here plastic bags are not for free and you have to pay a lot for them).
The rations for adult for one month (I hope I rememner it well):
- 5lb of rice (half good and half worse quality – they don’t have enough)
- 2 packs of pasta
- 2lb of salt
- small pack of beans
- 10 eggs (5 in the beginning and 5 at the end of month)
- 2 bags of coffee (50% of coffe, 50% of minced peas)
- 0.5l of oil
- 1 bread for 4 persons per a day
- milk is only for children and they get lower ration when the child is older (up to 9years)
- meat (beef) is only for children or ill persons (I don’t know the amounts of chicken and pork)
Interesting fact about beef: During our travelling across Cuba there were plenty of cows around us, but the owners cannot kill it. They can have the milk and make cheese but at the end they must sell the animals to the state for meat. They could go to prison if they don’t. Generally it wouldn’t be so bad if the state distribute the meat to the population. But most of it is exported and the rest is sold in the shops in CUC for tourists.
On the way back we buy some vegetables in normal stands (this food is already expensive for the people so you can imagine they cannot afford anything from the CUC stores).
Back in the apartement we begin to sort the beans and rice – it is really necessary here! After one hour the guys come. They needed to wait 2hours for the boat and during that time they checked tomorrow bus (today’s hichhiking wasn’t successful so tomorrow we don’t risk) and Julian guided Jan in the centre a little bit. We eat perfect dinner, discuss a lot of things, go to visit Julian apartement (he is unfortunately the only one who doesn’t speak Slovak) and at the end we get a place in a big bed with slovak sheets.
In the morning we get up before 6, eat perfect breakfast, say goodbyes and go to the boat. Cienfuegos is a pearl of the Carribean, but it will be in our memories always connected with this unexpected and nice meeting with Slovaks in the nuclear town. Many thanks and hope to see you again!