We are staying in Cienfuegos, the “Paris of Cuba” or “the Jewel of the South.” Like all things Cuban this jewel could use a little polishing, but it’s a lovely place to explore. Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 by Don Louis D’Clouet, a French emigré from Louisiana. He invited 40 French families from Louisiana, Bordeaux and Philadelphia to join him with a mission to increase the white population on the island.
As I look around the main square, thankfully, his whitening was not successful and Cienfuegos, like the rest of Cuba, is a fabulous mix of different skin tones. Our guide Keko told us that most Cubans have at least some African blood, mostly from one of two African tribes. At odds with this, “white” is what 65% of Cubans identified as in a 2012 census.
Cienfuego’s ordered French layout and neoclassical architecture won the city UNESCO status and well needed money for restoration.
COVID and hard times have not spared this jewel. As a Canadian expat told us in the square, there used to be music venues and musicians everywhere in the city and now his guitar tunes are the only ones we have heard. Cuban music was popularized by the Buena Vista Social Club. Now the music that we heard everywhere when we were her twenty years ago is all but gone.