After a delay at the Miami airport but a short flight (less than an hour) we arrived at the small airport of Cien Fuegos. To me it looked like 1970s small town Bangladesh. The humidity added to the familiar feeling. I was struck by the decorative black leggings the women customs officers wore. This coupling of standardized uniformity and expressions of individual taste is something that I will see throughout my time in Cuba. A cute non-threatening beagle sniffed for produce and I assume other un-welcomed items. The 18 of us piled into the large, air conditioned tour bus and met our local tour guide, Ari, like Tracy, an excellent, kind, informative and most helpful tour guide.
First stop, lunch. The alternative to state run restaurants are paladars. Homes that offer delicious food. The range of paladars extend from small apartments to mansions. Our first paladar experience was Villa Lagarto, poised on a sliver of land sandwiched between ocean waves.
Our lunch at Punta Gorda Harbor included a salad, soup, lamb for me, rabbit for Jim and dessert.
Cien Fuegos main square and cathedral was full of historical narrative that included celebrated 19th century poet Jose Marti. The theater (built 1889) was impressive and still holds performances.
We made our way to the hotel in Sancti Spiritus located on a walking boulevard. My favorite public space in Cuba! The scale was intimate. Every morning it was scrubbed clean. Cuba (except for Havana) was surprisingly clean. You can see people on their phones talking with loved ones because the government offers wifi in public plazas. Walking through the plaza, I felt welcomed but also intrusive of intimate conversations. I see people blowing kisses into their phones and sad good byes. So much emotion, publicly held. Sancti Spiritus, a 500 year old city, established 1514 is a step back into time. Our 200 year old hotel was comparatively “new” and beautiful. Our dinner that evening at local paladar home balcony of rice and fish was one of my favorites of the trip. I’m so glad our Cuba experience began in Cien Fuegos and Sancti Spiritus instead of Havana. It offered a calming, humble picture of reality grounded in a province known for their agriculture and long history. Just beautiful.