Cienfuegos Warm Hospitality. The Pearl of the South is a five hour bus drive from the capital of Havana, and located on the southern coast of Cuba. Cienfuegos translates to 100 fires. Cienfuegos was originally inhabited by indigenous people of Cuba, but then settled by French immigrants from Bordeaux and Louisiana. Don Louis de Clouet, their leader, founded the city on April 22, 1819. It became a trading hub for sugar cane, tobacco, and coffee.
Cienfuegos has an exceedingly pleasant UNESCO plaza surrounded by well-kept buildings and of course, a cathedral. Visitors can start their visit with a stroll on the Malecon, watching the waves rhythmically break. You then can connect with the wide boulevard of Paseo el Prado and stop in for a bite or an ice cream at the many quaint restaurants and cafés that line the street. When you see the Benny Moore café you should take a left and walk down the pedestrian lane of San Fernado. Cienfuegos is the home of musical legend Benny Moore. See if you can find his statue. After walking down San Fernado you will be deposited in the expansive yet quiet Plaza de Armas. Check out the wonderful detail of Tomas Terry Theatre, a 19th century structure. Explore the interior of the Cathedral of Cienfuegos, a cavernous church. I was able to witness a ceremony. In the center of the park, is a statue of freedom fighter Jose Marti, an omnipresent landmark in most Cuban towns. And finally, you may walk under the Arco de Triunfo – the only Arch in all of Cuba.
All of these sites made for a memorable stay in Cienfuegos, but it is the warm hospitality of one family that I will remember. While circling the plaza I noticed a roof deck overlooking the entire square. I decided at that point, that I would take photos of the sunset from that perch. I walked into the small store below the deck and inquired to where the entrance to the roof deck was located. One of the employees explained it was not a restaurant as I imagined, but a private residence. Initially dejected, I then asked them employee if I could make a donation to the family to gain access. He disappeared and in a moment led me to a staircase.
An elderly woman, held a gate open, and gestured for me to follow up a dark staircase. In butchered Spanish and wide smiles I thanked her for her hospitality since she had declined my monetary gift. I set up my tripod and set up station on her private deck overlooking Plaza de Armas as the sun sank.
After 45 minutes, I packed my gear and headed back into the home. I then was introduced to the whole family; her daughter, son-in-law, and her granddaughter. For the next hour, I spent in their living room learning about their lives and Cienfuegos. I was to learn that the founder of Cienfuegos, Don Louis de Clouet, lived in their house. And their home was the oldest in the town. The elderly woman was born in Cienfuegos and made her home there for over 80 years. Her daughter was a dentist, and son-in-law a doctor. Her granddaughter a student.
I thanked the family ad nauseam for their incredible generosity and trust to allow a complete stranger into their home. I will definitely remember my visit to Cienfuegos, but not because of the historic plaza. But to the family who opened their doors to a stranger.