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W andering round the Cuban town of Sagua La Grande is like turning the cobwebbed pages of a forgotten magical realist novel. It has two grandiose churches: This settlement, 15 miles from the north coast of central Villa Clara province, was once prosperous. Sagua even had a famous son to immortalise its spirit. Those golden days ended when the bottom fell out of the sugar market in the midth century.
Its port, Isabela de Sagua, closed and its youth dispersed in untold thousands to the US. However, after years of decline, things are changing.
The noise of pneumatic drills has been shattering the silence for over a year now. The lavish Hotel Sagua opened in to great fanfare. After lying derelict for decades, it reopened last year as the room Hotel Encanto Sagua, with a restaurant, pool and rooftop bar. On a walking tour of Sagua with local journalist Carlos Alejandro, we pass the derelict Palacio Arenas, with eclectic styling that blends Moorish and art nouveau.
It was once considered one of the seven architectural wonders of Villa Clara province. The last died in and the house became derelict. Carlos and his partner Maykel have bought the small, derelict but gorgeous, apartment to which the nymphomaniac sister was banished.
Hungry for seafood, we head there, passing fields and buffalo farms. In Isabela, the hurricane-lashed frames of old wooden cottages still stand on stilts over the bay. The harbour foundations are visible in the water. The roofless warehouses were once filled to the rafters with rum and sugar: The Customs House, a little out to sea, is still handsome, despite having no windows and barely any walls.