After visiting the quaint little colonial town of Trinidad, we were all excited to get back to Havana for one more night of fun exploring Cuba’s capital. Little did we expect to be bowled over by the bustling city of Cienfuegos. In contrast to Trinidad’s picturesque cobblestone streets and vibrantly colored houses, Cienfuegos provided a completely different look into Cuba that, despite being quite far from the capital, felt incredibly cosmopolitan. The roads leading up to the Jose Marti plaza were lively arteries filled with stores, offices, and apartments. A highlight was a quick stop into a kind of dollar store, filled to the brim with everything from beauty products to clothing to kitchen supplies.
In Cienfuegos, our people-to-people encounter was with the local chamber orchestra. We filled into a cavernous colonial-style building. As we assembled ourselves in the folding chairs provided, I looked around the building that, while grand in stature, had walls of peeling paint, in need of repair. We were all unsure of what was to come. The chamber orchestra, a group of about 15, emerged with the conductor, who exuded confidence and excitedly told us, with our guide translating her Spanish, each song the orchestra was about to perform. The music rang out to all corners of the room, ranging from classical, Cuban jazz, to a special treat for their American visitors: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Upon their conclusion, we found out that the orchestra is headed to Washington later this year for their first concert outside of Cuba. We wished them our heartiest best wishes and were on our way. Our experience reminded me that music is truly an international language, breaking down cultural barriers and stripping the human experience down to one of its most basic forms, the sounds of sheer beauty.
The afternoon was topped off with lunch at the Palacio de Valle. Located along the water, we enjoyed a second musical performance from a quartet of older gentleman playing inside the dining room of this immense gothic-style mansion. We feasted on lobster tails, recounting favorite tales from the trip thus far. And then it was adios, Cienfuegos, and back to Havana!