Buses in Havana and Sancti Spiritus

Daisy Valera

Havana Bus. Photo: Caridad

Not long ago I returned from my native province of Sancti Spiritus. I had gone to the small central Cuban provincial capital of the same name that unites me with my also small family, which I visit whenever I can.

I can’t look at Sancti Spiritus as a city though; to me it remains a village, like Diego Velazquez called it when he founded it in 1514.

The village of “Sacred Spirit” is small and clean, with a few old buildings that don’t present any danger of collapsing and with many smaller look-alike structures spread around.

The highest building in Sancti Spiritus is 12 stories, and the most extensively used means of transportation are buggies powered by draft animals.

Many “espirituanos” are plump; these local residents assume that obesity is synonymous with health.

There are few lunatics, fewer transvestites, and a theater along with a couple cinemas that practically never open.

People will agree with me that Sancti Spiritus is a place very different from Havana.

However this past week when I was out there, I wound up finding one small point of contact: the transportation situation.

Less than a year ago there began to appear a fleet of urban buses, small and painted an intense green color.

It seems that we Cubans have a certain need to give buses the names of animals.  In Havana they had their double-humped “camels,” while we espirituanos decided to dub our new vehicles “crocodiles.”

I was in a neighbor’s kitchen when the conversation wandered onto the topic of those “crocodiles.”

Four women, who along with me were waiting for some fresh brewed coffee to be ready, were pleased that bus services had returned after having disappeared during the Special Period crisis so many years ago.

Bus fares now cost only 20 cents, compared to the house-drawn wagons that charge a whole peso (five times as much). So, they represent a considerable savings.

From the positive side, the conversation veered toward the negative aspect of the issue.  My neighbors began to tell me about the down side of urban transportation.

One of them talked about how her hair had gotten caught in the door of the bus, and that a friend of hers broke her foot when she was pushed off of one.

Everyone agreed that it’s necessary to make mad dashes to get on buses, though typically hardly another soul can fit.

They also concurred that you have to put up with all types of unimaginable odors and that people climb on with their chickens and sacks of root vegetables, making the situation more than difficult.

All this seemed quite similar to my situation in Havana, and they concluded by pointing out that this is what I have to deal with every day in our capital.

But if you think that all those difficulties are met with sadness, you’re mistaken.  No one in the kitchen could stop roaring with laughter at the problems on the crocodiles.

Espirituanos are different from Havana residents; they’re more optimistic and cheerful, but unfortunately less critical.

Starting this week I plan to look at transportation differently, though without forgetting that the situation is critical.  I’m going to try to smile and remember that I was born in Sancti Spiritus.