Castillo de Jagua is my first sight this morning. Since I would have to drive some 50 kilometers to get there, I decide to try my luck going the other way around and see what it looks like from across the Bahía de Cienfuegos.
I end up in Las Milpas where a girl invites me to check out the paladar she runs. Looks very nice; it comes as no surprise that in this place so close to the sea the menu features pescado and camarones. Langosta is about half the price it is offered at in state-run restaurants. Estoy aquí, she says and I tell her I'll think about it.
A boy named Enrique asks me if I would like to visit the Castillo de Jagua. Says he can arrange for us to get on the launch that leaves from a place close to the Hotel Pasacaballo. The fare is one peso and when we get to the other side, Enrique shows himself as a regular tour guide as he explains the ins and outs of the castle to me. Inflation in Cuba must be sky-rocketing, since the return fare for the launch is one dollar...
Enrique offers to come along with me to Cienfuegos, which is where I plan to go next. He just has to change his clothes and get some money, so he asks me to come along to the place he lives. And that's what it is. It's a place where he lives. Frankly, it's a dump and I cannot believe anyone can live here. Yet he does, together with his niece and his kid brother, who runs around on bare feet. A humble eight-by-three meter den, put together from scrap material. Two small beds in one end of the place. Clothes hanging on a line - no closets. The girl is busy cooking a meal on a log fire; the pans are covered with soot. Flies are everywhere. An uncle of Enrique excuses himself for not shaking hands since his hands are all greasy from cutting meat, and invites me to sit down. He suffers from an inflammated right eye. I feel uncomfortable holding my 500-dollar camera.
Enrique tells me both his mother and father drowned while fishing, three years ago. Now he has to earn the money to make a living for himself, his niece and his little brother. One of the things he does to make money is cut grass (usually, you would call this 'mow lawns', but in Cuba 'cut grass' is closer to the truth. They use machetes). He will turn seventeen soon.
A loud bang rings out between the buildings around Parque José Martí when a truck tire explodes. Luckily no one gets hurt. The situation has improved a lot since David Stanley was here to do research for the Cuba guide: police are everywhere, hustlers are nowhere to be seen. No doubt Cuban officials read LP guides too :) In fact, this park is one of the most beautiful I've seen in Cuba, with impressive, colorful buildings like the Museo Histórico surrounding it.
The west part of Cementerio La Reina has been severely damaged by hurricane Lily. One large 15 centimeter thick tombstone has been smashed to pieces and most if not all of the roof above it has disappeared. The quality of my LP guide proves undisputed since Enrique did not even know this cemetery existed!
We sit in the car by the side of the road, eating ice cream that Enrique bought at a street stall. One of those funny yellow bulb-shaped carts that are used to carry guests of expensive hotels around approaches us from the opposite direction. Honestly, Enrique has no clue at all why I almost split with laughter when he says - with a touch of surprise in his voice - that the driver es una mujer.