Cienfuegos, Cuba I had read the info on Havana and Veradero, but it didn't really prepare me for Cienfuegos. Wow. Wow! I'm almost reticent to submit this for posting, as I really hope readers don't spoil it in the long run. Some of this may seem a bit dry, but it sure wasn't! I'm just trying to avoid writing a book. This information is dated mid-Feb/96. Two weeks weren't nearly enough! First, a bit of background. Cuba went through a very tough period in '92/93 when the Russians pulled out, lock, stock and rubles. My new Cuban friends tell me they just about starved. Things are better now, but that's only due to Cuban legalization of foreign currency holdings to some extent, and the resulting influx of (primarily Canadian) capital and tourism, and the hard currency that comes with it. There are 3 currencies in Cuba. Cubans get paid in "soft" pesos. The average Cuban earns something like 100 or so of these a month. The street (read: black market, but really read: free market) conversion rate is usually around 25 soft pesos to the American $, which means the average Cuban earns about $4, count 'em, *four* dollars a month. A top professional like a doctor might earn $10 or $12/mth, which is why you find them preferentially working as porters in tourist hotels - for the hard currency tips. In the vernacular, my friends tell me the soft peso is "worth shit" and buys about that. What you need to have are either the new convertible Cuban peso or the American $. Don't bother to exchange $ for convertible pesos at the airport. Everyone there understands green currency, including the banks. I didn't have anyone complain about getting Canadian currency either, although most Cubans aren't too up on the exchange rate, so US$ are best to have there. If you have $, you can buy anything. ANYTHING. Well, I don't know about drugs, but certainly anything else. Sensible people stay away from those anyway - there is much else to keep you plenty amused and occupied. Tips: you will need 2 things: an English/Spanish dictionary, and some US$. You can live like a king, complete with harem, on less than $500/week. I did. Some general notes: horse drawn carriages will take you almost anywhere for $1. There are 3 types of taxis: Tourist taxis (only _real_ tourists take those), private taxis ($5 to a casa or to your casa, until you get it figured out, and then it's $2 for the same ride), and Cuban taxis that take soft pesos but aren't convenient in the middle of the night at the disco like the private ones are. Places to find willing and eager ladies: Cienfuegos has an old part of town (downtown) and a newer (mostly 1950's) part on the little peninsula. There you will find the new Hotel (the only new tourist hotel right in Cienfuegos itself) and some restaurants ranging from very inexpensive (soft peso) to the prices in $ we are accustomed to in Canada/US. Aside from tourist resorts outside of the city, there appear to be 3 discos: one at the Hotel, one at a converted church that I didn't go to - apparantly only on some weekends, and the Carribean House (Cariben~a). The night life starts to roll about 10pm (don't bother going out much earlier), and continues until places close (2am early in the week), and <whenever> later in the week, or until everyone passes out. If you're around the hotel, the restuarants, or the discos, you WILL be approached. Don't jump at the first chance, take your time, there will be and are LOTS of choices. Don't get yourself stuck with one particular girl unless you really want to, or you will miss out on opportunities later. Beware of girls that ask "tu amour por yo?" (do you love me?) on the first night as you roll out of bed. Guaranteed they like your money rather than you. If they really care for you, the personal stuff comes later. You see, here, you are way better off with some real girlfriends - find yourself a few of these, or let them find you. They understand it's short term, and if anything more grows out of it will be ecstatic. How many you want depends on your time and inclination. Beware, it's easy to become very close to someone there, so make sure you are either careful or expecting it. My first night there I heard the music wafting over the field, but heeded my Cuban friends advice and stayed put. After all, it was after 1am by the time I wound up in the house I was staying at. I should have gone out! :) The next day, I met a Canadian student who took me for a walk downtown, and introduced me to my first useful Spanish phrase "no say", which she told me gets you out of most jams. "no say" (Don't know) usually does work. "Yo no hablo mucho Espaniole" helps too. By the end of two weeks you can graduate to "Yo hablo un poco Espaniole, no mucho." :) "No gracias" is the 3rd phrase to remember.
Sunday night: Armed with a general sense of direction and purpose, I walked back to the tourist hotel at about 9pm, only to find out that the hotel disco was closed that night, so I went across the street to a $ (vrs pesos) restaurant, and bought a $2 beer. Sitting in the courtyard by the street, I was immediatly approached by a nice young lady on the other side of the iron fence. A bit of dictionary work and insight from the waiter "She wants to know if you like her, want to take her to the disco ... and maybe later fuck" (exact words, I remember 'em), led me to a $5 cab ride to the disco. By that time it was about 10pm, and the place was starting to liven up. We talked for a bit. She knew about 30 words of English and my dictionary did the rest. She wanted to wait for a "romantic" dance, so we did. A few of those later, my roaming hands convinced me that this was likely for real. She introduced me to a "friend" who had a "casa particular" for rent for $5, and by 11:30 we were off to there. Bed, washroom, barrel of water (don't expect running water!), towels; all we needed. Bring your own condoms - some girls may have one, but often not. The local police (more on that later) come down hard on the girls and a condom on their person is a dead giveaway to them. At the house, we did it all for a few hours, enjoyed every minute of it, *both* of us, then slept a bit. We had scheduled a wakeup (my stupid idea) at 3am, so that I could get back to where I was supposed to be staying. I'd not negotiated anything beforehand, so I gave her $20 as a "present" (be careful not to offer money for service - many girls, especially the real ones, consider that insulting). She was *most* appreciative. The cab driver was waiting. $5 back to mia casa. My first mulato girl was off to Italy to see her sister the next day, so I was back on my own the next night. My Cuban male friend and I went back to the Carribean House (Cariben~a) Mon night at about 9:30. No women in sight. He said "be patient", so I was, although in retrospect not quite long enough. My first girl had introduced me to a friend, but she came in with someone else. Oh well, sigh; she was *nice*. Still no girls by 10:15; a few cerveza led me in search of the washroom (banyo). On the way out, there's a fairly nice blonde standing there with a smile that grabbed my attention. She offered to join me, so who was I to say no to the only hot proposition at the moment. An hour later we were at a casa particular for an hour or so, then back to Cariben~a for some post-orgasm partying. Went home about 2am when the place shut down - they close early on Mon night. :) She's a very tasty 19 (and her Cuban ID booklet, that they all have to carry, agreed). I think I gave her $30 that night. She grabbed the spare condoms. Tue night - back to Cariben~a, this time by myself. My Cuban friends had stopped worrying about my safety by then, not that things aren't safe, but I had the phrases down well enough to fend off the street sellers. Speaking of safety, this is one of the few places on the planet where I am not apprehensive about walking across an unlit, large empty lot at night! A few blocks later, I rounded the corner to the disco, and somebody said "the blond is waiting for you". A few steps later someone else reinterates. At the gate, the doorman ($1 to get in) points to Vivian. Sure enough, she was waiting for me. The police stopped in to the disco, and when she saw them coming, promptly whisked me off to a casa particular for a couple of hours (she brought the extra condoms from the night before), then back to the disco and a few more beers. This time though she wanted more than the night before, so I gave her $40, still a bargain compared to anywhere else. The other girl was by herself that night and put on quite a show for me. Vivian exhibited the signs of a "celosa" woman, so I didn't really get a chance to talk to my other budding female friend who did manage to slip me her phone #. Wed night - a virtual repeat, except by now Vivian wants to be "looking" (one of her few prized english words) to see how much money I have. Before I forget, let me mention that I now know that she *is* married, and that that entire particular experience was only for money. Not that I mind that, but I hate being lied to. Thu night .... I was in Cuba working (during the day), and combined with the late nights, I really didn't feel much like bedding Vivian that night. I didn't get 5 feet into the disco before she was glued to me. We drank, danced, and talked. My Spanish phrase book got a real workout. My nameless (other) female friend made her presence known. It was pretty obvious that she wanted me. Fri night. Cariben~a was packed! As usual, I was told "the blonde is waiting for you", long before I got to the gate. So were about 100 others, mostly in the 15-25 age range)! No lack of persistant propositions! I went in and Vivian promptly found me. The police were on the way for a routine party girl search'n'destroy, so we walked to a private house right away, then back to the disco for the usual party until about 3am or so. The "other girl" kept trying to get my attention, but Vivian made sure she didn't get the chance.
[note: the police are there for *your* protection. From what I can gather, they want to ensure that tourists are not taken undue advantage of, so that you come back and bring yet more money next time. If you really like a particular girl, there apparantly is a legitimate procedure where you and she go to Cuban immigration and file some simple paperwork so that she isn't hassled and hauled off to the "calabozo" for being with you - otherwise she will be if noticed. I'll be checking that one out on my next trip.] Sat night. Vivian had told me that she was going back to Trinidad (a Cuban town about 75km away, not the island) for the weekend, so I got a chance to party with my patient, georgeous, mulato girl and her brother and friends. She asked me why I was drinking beer (Cuban beer is pretty tasty). I told here "because I like it". She pointed out that cerveza is $1 a can at the disco and a *bottle* of rum is $4. Coming from a place where I spend $30+ for the same bottle, I promptly handed her a ten and said "go get a couple of bottles". Unfortunately, she wasn't unable to go anywhere with me that night, with profuse apologies. It turns out that she is just an ordinary girl, school teacher by profession, (vrs working girls who have no legal "profession"). Since she wasn't actually there chasing after tourist $, so she hadn't made any arrangements for a place for us to go - she didn't know she'd get a chance to nab me that night. Sun night. Vivian was back and snared me the minute I walked in. Same old stuff, and she was pretty pissed about my being with the other girl the night before. She heard. The girls all know each other and have their little spy system. No surprise to me. Vivian isn't quite as wet that night. I go home, satisfied, early. Mon night. Same stuff, but my two girls had one hell of a shouting match! My mulato backed off. I slipped her my phone #, and bought her a beer and a pack of smokes when Vivian went to the "banyo". We had a chance to talk for a couple of minutes and agreed we'd figure out a way to meet somewhere later in the week. Tue night. My male Cuban friend's wife was away, so he borrowed a car. I put some gas in it ($10 of gas to a Cuban is impossible. The monthly gas ration doesn't go far, and free market gas is out of their reach). We headed off to a hotel he used to work at about 30 minutes outside of Cuenfuegos, I think it was the Pasacaballio or somesuch. Dead. Well, except for two girls sitting with a dozen or so tourists that they weren't paying much attention to. After a couple of beers, my male friend went to the banyo. Within 30 seconds, the two girls were asking me if I wanted to dance. Sure, why not.... Unfortunately, I wound up with the one who didn't match my taste. Beating a hasty retreat after a single dance, I apologized saying that we had to go to another place and maybe we'd be back later. Down the road to another resort. A very cold Tue night wasn't the night to be there for the beach party. No one else was. Back to the Pasacaballio. It took the two girls about 3 minues to spot us and slide over. I finally explained in my broken Spanish to the one I didn't want, "no chica, gracias". I liked her friend and wanted to get to know her, hoping the first wasn't too offended. That worked. They worked it out in Spanish between themselves. Danced a couple with the nice one, and we talked as best I could with my trusty dictionary. Turns out that it was Baby's first time out and she wasn't really looking for a pickup. We talked some more. I slid her $10 for some zapatos (shoes - all Cuban women seem to need shoes!), and I went to try to get a room at that hotel. $25 for a very nice hotel room sounds really good, but that does no good when they suddenly have full occupancy because you have a hot Cuban girl standing beside you - rent rooms by yourself!. Ok, out to the hotel pool, but it turned out to be way too cold that night for the primal thing, so she agreed to come into town for dinner and .... on Thu night. Wed night. Back to Cariben~a. Vivian was waiting for me. You can guess the rest, casa particular, beer, etc. She and my the other girl had a serious argument over me that night! I really was afraid they were going to have a real catfight, and they probably would have if some of the other girls hadn't interceded. Vivian asked me if it was "finito". I told her (mistake!) that she should decide, ... that was tough, she likes my money! She made a point of getting me a taxi early. I refreshed my $ supply and walked backed to Cariben~a. She was still there, on the lookout, so we had a full repeat of the night. Didn't get a chance to talk to the other girl as I had hoped. My patient girl saw me though, and made sure I knew she was still waiting for me. Thu night. Went to the restaurant where I was to meet Baby at 8pm. I was about 15 minutes late. No Baby. I wandered around for about 15 minutes, refusing several offers of some of the cutest 16 year olds you ever did see, and finally sat down outside of the restaurant. A very nice lady immediately joined me. She had about zero English, so out came my phrase book and I explained that I was waiting for "mia amiga". She stuck around. By 10pm, I gave up, and this lady was all for me buying her a dinner instead of who I had been waiting for. Chicken soup comes with a knife and fork so that you can cut up the piece of chicken. Don't order filet mignon unless you like it boiled. :( We danced, and went off to the casa particular I had arranged for the night - it turned out that she was 18 and had to be home at 3, but we certainly did enjoy the evening. She made sure I had her address for my next visit to Cuba. Nice girl, wonderful firm body, great personality, really into *making*love*. Nice night after all, but in Cienfuegos, you can't go wrong if you try. Fri 6pm: Got a phone call from Baby. She was in town now, but obviously on the wrong night. Oh well, I had plans. Too bad I don't speak enough Spanish to explain how she screwed up. Too bad I didn't have a spare night to squeeze her in. She was not impressed, but what could I do, I had some firm and tasty plans. Fri night. Avoiding Cariben~a. Actually, I don't want to see Vivian. I'd rather see the girl who's been chasing me for a week and a half. I do. We make arrangements on the phone, and she and her brother pick me up. We go to a private house (casa particular), and party our brains out. Damn. Wrong time of the month for her. Sigh. Is she ever hot though! They just don't come that way back home. She finds another way of making me happy, (... and she doesn't need new shoes!) I slide her a $30 as a gift. We party on until way late. Sat night. My patient unnamed girl comes and picks me up and we go party at a casa particular This is my last night in Cuba, she knows it, and knows I'm spending it with her, so within a few drinks we decide to ignore her monthly "problem". I'd bet she could *really* hurt me when she's feeling up to it, if that night was any indication. Then, party until 3am, when it's time to drive across Cuba to the airport in Varedero. I hand her what cash I have in my pocket (and my from my shoe). She gives me something very nice to remember her by, and we said some very fond and close goodbyes. I'm intentionally not publishing her name. I'm in love. I'm pretty convinced she is too (and still am two weeks later as I write this after having spoken to her since). Damn. This wasn't supposed to happen! I'll be back. I promised. She promised to be waiting, with the wrapped condom she wanted to keep for me until I came back, even if in her case we don't use them. (So far the tests back home say it's ok with her.) You can't go wrong in Cienfuegos. There's no way it could ever get better than this! Just be careful not to spoil it for the rest of us. These are some of the nicest people on the planet, so treat them accordingly, and they'll certainly do the same for you.
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