CUBA TRAVEL JOURNAL

A Trip to Rancho Luna and a Visit With a Cuban Family

July 2, 1998 7:45pm

Last night was quite entertaining, though quiet by local standards as it was a Wednesday. We walked to "Malecon" (a concrete embankment facing the sea just outside 'El Centro de Cienfuegos') and enjoyed observing the Cubans taking advantage of the much cooler evenings. This is the social area and time for the town.

Before long, a number of acquaintances of Chris' from his previous visits approached us. Friendly conversations and inquiries of life in the United States ensued. There is only one tourist hotel in town and the guests seem to stay on the premises unless on tour in a brand new air conditioned bus. They rarely venture far and I wonder what impression of Cuba they will leave with. Almost without exception, they are Canadian or European. I haven't met another American here and my presence seems to be quite a novelty.

Everywhere we go, we are watched. Occasionally, I believe it is the secret police but more often it is locals, looking for an opportunity to strike up a conversation. Usually they approach to inquire about the time of day or ask for a light. The conversation eventually turns to where we are from and when the US is mentioned, endless details are explained.

Everywhere we go we meet people from another day or Chris' last visit and we are approached "My friend, my friend, how are you?" accompanied with vigorous hand shakes.

Our plan today to go to Trinidad fared poorly. The "Auto Particular" (a private car for hire but like the "Casa Particular" intended only for Cubans) turned out to be a vintage American Bel Aire, barely running with broken springs poking through the seats. We decided to visit Rancho Luna, a beach and hotel area only sixteen kilometers away before we attempted the mountainous eighty kilometer route to Trinidad.  
   

Our "Auto Particular"

     
  The ride was tortuous but the beach was beautiful. The hotel was rough, spartan and lacking in guests, perhaps due to the season. We asked the driver to return for us in an hour however after two hours, he had not returned and we hired another car to return us to Cienfuegos.

On the road to Rancho Luna

     
The beach at Hotel Rancho Luna   The front of Hotel Rancho Luna
     

The heat in midday is horrendous and we went to the Casa Particular for a shower and ended up sleeping the midday away.

 

A carriage ride to town allowed us to reclaim the bicycles left yesterday for the repair of six months exposure to the sea. Ten dollars paid for rust removal, flat repairs and getting the parts moving again.

We rode off to the town square in hopes of finding a breeze. The heat is stifling and sweat pours profusely just sitting in the shade drinking cold beer.

       
 

As we rested, various people came by to strike up conversations, sell us cigars or ask for a peso or two.

The people here are remarkably friendly, outgoing and seem generally happy though by most standards they have absolutely nothing.

       

We decided to visit a friend of Chris' we saw last night on the wall. He was an English student at the University and is now working to build a house for his family.

It consists of a portion of a larger building accessed down an alley and is only about twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. Though he is putting in a floor above, this houses him, his wife, their children and their in-laws.

 
     
  They welcomed us to their home with ice cold mango juice and warm hospitality. We discussed the work he planned and the many months it would take for him to barter and save for the raw materials. In order to finish he requires $40 which Chris generously offered to complete the work.
     
  I spoke with his wife and children who were fascinated with my cameras and asked for many pictures. They thoroughly enjoyed all the lifesavers candy I had with me and the children begged for coins.
     

We've returned to the boat and found no ice delivered and our stores going sour rapidly. Chris has tapped into some electricity which will help the situation but we still have no water.

We've decided to rent a car and drive to Trinidad ourselves tomorrow. Dependable transportation and flexibility will be worth the price of $80 US per day.

On the way back to the boat we met Omar, manager of the dive shop in Rancho Luna. Though closed for the season and renovations, he welcomed the opportunity to dive with us Saturday.

A conversation with another boater at the marina who has a weather radio provides us with the news of another tropical wave expected Sunday. We'll be lucky to start east for Casilda, Cayo Blanco, Zazar de Fuera and Cayo Breton by early next week. We've also learned of a boat race and carnival (festival) here in Cienfuegos on July 17, 18, and 19th that we would very much like to attend and will try to return for the event.

1998 John Petrak

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