A family situation requires that I return to my home province in the next few days, and the only option I have left is going by train.
Many would say that this is fine, that there’s no problem with that; but I’d respond that they’re completely mistaken.
The mere thought of having to get on a train is almost a nightmare to me.
And that horror doesn’t begin with me being seated in a coach as the locomotive pulls out, but much earlier – when I have to try to buy a ticket.
First I’ll have to find out what date the “Espirituano” (the train that goes to Sancti Spiritus province) has service. With that information in hand, I’ll go the day before and put my name down on the waiting list, which can be quite long.
They give you a small slip of paper that has a number on it indicating that you made the list and the time you should return to see if you can buy the ticket, usually sometime after 4:00 in the afternoon the following day.
The day the train leaves out, you arrive packed and ready at the station at 4:00, but no one thinks this is to actually buy their ticket. No, that would be too easy.
You get there at 4:00 but you generally have to wait until almost 5:00 to get into nothing more or less than another line.
In this queue they’ll give you another slip of paper that has the number of the train and the coach.
But to finally get your ticket, what’s necessary is a final effort: you have to get in yet another line.
Many people grumble that the process for buying a train ticket is outright oppressive, but no one hears them speak up. So every time we need to travel, we have to endure this endless litany of lines and little slips of paper.
With my ticket finally in hand, I’ll get to the platform at 9:00 in the evening, with the train due to leave at 9:40. But, I’ll have to get in another line so they can stamp my ticket.
I get on the train and find my way to my compartment in the dark, since it’s almost always too dim, and then I store my luggage.
I expect the trip to take 10 hours —if I’m lucky— though this train has the well-deserved reputation for breaking down anywhere on the tracks for at least two hours.
To me, 10 hours seems excessive for the 220 miles that separate Havana from of my native province.
In any case, I’ll try not to think about the roaches that scurry across the walls and could get in my hair (the “good” part is that they’re small).
I’ll try not to think about how I have such little space to sit, or how the seat will start to cramp my neck after a while.
In the train you feel either too cold or too hot, depending on the time of the year. They seem to conspire against maintaining a normal temperature inside the coach.
I’m afraid of the train, meaning all the problems of getting a ticket and the long hours that make me feel claustrophobic.
But I don’t have choice. The price of a bus ride would be 75 pesos, a considerable figure. The train fare is only 13.
This is the travel alternative for those of us who have less buying power on the island.