Leaving our lovely host family behind we hit the road again, this time toward the coast and Playa Larga.
The first cool thing about Playa Larga is that we drove to it via Australia; that is the small Cuban sugar-producing town which took the name ‘Australia’ after the old factory which has the name painted on a huge chimney stack that dominates the skyline at the entrance to the village. Australia served as Fidel Castro’s base of operations during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
As we arrived in to Playa Larga the sun was out and shining, so we swiftly made our way to the beach and sought out our own patch of sand. A swim was enjoyed in the sheltered Bay of Pigs and we sipped our Cuba Libres as the sun set on the Caribbean Sea.
The invasion was our primary focus for the following day as we visited the fascinating Bay of Pigs Museum to learn all about the history of the revolution and counter-revolution. The first requirement was that we watch the old Cuban-made report on the invasion – a prime piece of 1960s pro-revolution propaganda, which would have been very effective had we not been keenly aware of the intention behind the reports we were watching. The events of the 1961 invasion and how the character of the Cuban people was forged in the conflict were fascinating to learn about, and it is a key factor in trying to understand the complex relationship between Cuba and the USA.
History lesson complete (no exam, thankfully), we moved up the coast to a beautiful snorkelling spot in the bay called the ‘Cave of Fish’, where he was able to see hundreds of bright and colourful fish swimming around us in the turquoise water. About 150m inland we found a fresh water cenote which he says was glorious to jump into. The whole place was quite the unique location and it was amazing to experience both a fresh water cenote and salty sea so close together.
After a tiring morning’s meandering around museum, shoreline and cenote we arrived into the historic city of Cienfuegos (which literally translates to ‘100 Fires’). Strolling around the streets, we found it much more beautiful than crowded, crumbling Havana in many ways. This could have been due to the fair weather we briefly encountered, but the bigger surprise was how much better maintained than the capital this artists’ town was; no surprise therefore that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our guide confessed to us that Cienfuegos was one of his favourite places in Cuba for that very reason.
After a coffee and cultural tour of the town square in which we learned about Cuban national hero José Martí (see statue below), we climbed back aboard Che Lenin’s bus (our driver, genuine name) and set off for Trinidad, one of our favourite places on the island. See you there…