Gym junkies in the western world might think they have a monopoly on sinew but they can’t compete with the trishaw driver lugging two short, chubby foreigners from the Beny Moré statue on Avenida 54 to Club Cienfuegos where they hope to enjoy dos Cervezas Cristal and the famous sunset. Part way down Paseo El Prado — just after one says “I’m giving him every CUC I’ve got if he makes it” — the absurdity of this ride strikes them both.
Since their arrival in Cuba, they had forgone the vintage car tour (way too kitsch) and a circuit of the island on Guevara’s son’s motor bike (way too weird) but were not immune to all the transport deals offering to ease their way, and this is why the snappy bicycle cabs catch their eye when contemplating the long walk down to the bay. Many of these taxis have young, handsome drivers but the one that chooses them is powered by a skeleton with a toasted hide. They estimate he’s been on this earth about sixty years and has never carried an ounce of fat. Wheeling to an abrupt stop, he extends an arm and they climb aboard.
Cuban vehicles have their own language and are in constant communication. In our travellers’ home town of Sydney, the car horn is considered a means of abuse — think the long “blaaaasst” directed at someone who has slipped into your parking spot. That’s seldom heard here. Many Cuban cars, even those on their last legs, are blessed with a lilting horn. There is a beep for “hey amigo, I’m behind you” and a double tap that says “Still here—why haven’t you moved?”. Another for “Qué bolá?”—directed at someone on the footpath. On the slow ride towards La Punta, it seems that all the cars—and even horse drawn carriages—passing our man have perfected the “Lord, look at that load” chime.
After ten minutes of grind the passengers are no longer sure their driver remains a willing party to this trip. But he ploughs on with eyes straight ahead. Eyes on the prize. The pace is ideal for the observers in the back as they take in the atmosphere: bicycles whizzing by; families strolling down the meticulous EL Prado; boys waiting at curious bus stops; and a glimpse of the incongruous Punta Gorda modernist housing enclave close to the harbour. Finally, their first view of the Club Centifuegos reveals a mansion as elaborate and well preserved as the Guide Books had promised.
Steering them towards front gates that say no entry to him, the driver accepts the bundle of CUCs and casts around for a new fare. Meanwhile, without exchanging a word, our two tourists agree that the return trip will be done under their own steam.
Top image is from the Parque Jose Marti in central Cienfuegos. Second one is the beach at the end of the road. The Beny Moré statue shown below is (from memory) near the corner of San Fernando and El Prado.
Beny Moré (1919-1963) was a Cuban salsa singer. His statue is on the beautiful Paseo del Prado that leads down to the harbour.
You can hear him sing, and see a little of Cienfeugos on YouTube
The surprise of seeing modernist facades in Punta Gorda, which, at one time, must have been an up-market part of Cienfuegos, led me to search out more about Cuban architecture. Here are a couple of articles from the Docomomo website.
- Theory and Practice of Modern Regionalism in Cuba.
- Cuba’s Vanishing Modernity: The Architecture of Nicolas Quintana