Cuba’s Public Transportation, or Discos on Wheels

Dariela Aquique

Havana bus. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — It’s true: nearly all of us Cubans are music lovers. It’s as though we carried a sense of harmony in our blood. We unconsciously tap our feet if we hear a drum and clap, snap our fingers or tap any nearby object rhythmically to follow the beat of any music we hear. It’s almost like an unconditioned reflex.

It’s the way we are: we like to mark the rhythm and hum the lyrics of songs. And that’s all fine, provided we do it at a party or the privacy of our homes. But, does anyone have any idea how many people fit in a Cuban bus? You have no idea, right?

Well, just imagine that incalculable number of Cubans all squeezed into a bus like sardines, sweating like pigs in the sweltering summer heat, exhaling all manner of unpleasant odors, keeping an eye on out for pickpockets and other delinquents, listening to reggaeton music or bachata at top volume.

I don’t know who came up with the brilliant idea of playing music inside public transportation, where we are forced to travel with so many other (different) people.

There are old people in buses who can be bothered by very loud music. There are also people who are ill, who have conditions like migraine headaches and are unable to take such noice. There are mothers who travel with babies, etc, etc.

The worst part of it is that we are all forced to endure the music chosen by the driver (whose taste is almost always awful). To add insult to injury, there’s always the music-loving extroverts who sing, put together choruses, yell and, to make even more deafening noise, even drum the windows, posts and seats in the bus.

This doesn’t only happen in buses. You also see it in cabs, mini-buses and practically all passenger vehicles.

Since no one can afford to buy a Peugeot in Cuba (they cost around $230,000.00), we have to endure Romeo Santos and his deplorable soprano voice crooning a cheesy number (his fans will have to forgive me), or a vulgar reggaeton piece, or the dull rhythm of the house music played on the cell phone of the young man next to you.

When you finally got off the bus, you arrive at your destination a bit disoriented, as though you’ve just walked out of a disco on wheels.

3 thoughts on “Cuba’s Public Transportation, or Discos on Wheels

  • Cubans do indeed love their music, especially played at loud volumes. I usually stay in Guanabo making Habana an easy commute. There is a popular disco in town and on Friday night the music goes on till 2AM, sometimes later. And it can be heard through out the whole town as if it is right outside my window. It sounds like one unending song with some guy shouting over it. And then of course when the disco shuts down there is the screaming and the yelling of the people down on the main street waiting for the last bus back into Habana. Maybe around 3 or 4am I can finally get to sleep. And then this repeats again on Saturday night. The disco is out side and I pray for rain on the weekends… Thankfully I only have to endure this for 2 weekends a year. I feel sorry for the locals… I love music though I also have limits…

  • Noise cancelling headphones cost over $200. Not a realistic solution for a Cuban, is it? A boom-box is less expensive, but still a significant investment and it takes batteries, which would eat up a substantial portion of a Cuban’s meagre monthly salary. Again, not a realistic solution.

    And that brings us to your third brilliant suggestion, a piece of covert electronics designed to jam radio signals. That won’t raise the suspicions of the police and MININT agents at all!

  • Once, when I was out cutting down some bushes on my property with a chain saw, my neighbor gave me an extra pair of noise-blocking headphones. Such headphones could be your solution. Failing that, you could bring a boom-box and crank it up HIGH to CMBF, Radio Musical Nacional, the classical music station (Would this provoke a violent reaction from the reggaeton folks?) Finally, there was once a device advertised here (it could be hidden on the body) which when turned on would jam all surrounding radios, up to a distance of 50 yards, with a buzzing sound. This might be your best bet. Anyone with expertise in electronics could duplicate such a device in Cuba. This might be a solution.

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