Waiting in Purgatory: A Trip to Nueva Gerona, Cuba

Luis Rondon Paz

Esperando en el terminal de omnibuses.
Waiting in the bus station.

HAVANA TIMES — Nueva Gerona is a half-hour flight away from the Cuban capital. You could say it is as long a trip as a cab ride from Havana’s Parque Central to the bus and taxi terminal in Playa. That’s what I heard from some Cubans who travel to the Isle of Youth regularly.

What these people never told me, however, is that it would take me ten hours to reach the city by sea. I had heard some rumors about this, but I had never taken comments on the length of the journey very seriously.

As this was my first, long journey by sea, I followed the advice of a friend of mine who’s experienced in the matter to the letter. “You have to get up at 6 in the morning and be at the bus terminal by 7, to check in.” He added that, the earlier I got there, the less time I would have to wait in line for the check in.

That is what I did.

As is often the case with me, reality proved far stranger than fiction. I arrived at the bus terminal at 6:30 in the morning and was shocked to see the number of people ahead of me in line. I think there were more than 100.

By 7:20, I had confirmed my trip. “Well, now I only need to wait till 8:30 am to get on the bus for the Batabano port town, and then it’s off to the island,” I said to myself, enthused.

Llegando al puerto de Batabano.
Arriving at the port of Batabano.

Twenty minutes past the departure time had elapsed and the door to the terminal hadn’t yet opened. I was curious about this and asked several people if the delay was normal. Most of the replies I got were along the lines of: “Kid, the only time you should worry is when they open the doors on time. It’s strange to see any punctuality in this system.”

I arrived in Batabano by bus at 11:45 am, a little tired. I tried to ignore the neglect and desolation of the town, but the image became imprinted in my mind. I began to prepare psychologically for the worst.

In view of my experience in the morning, I went ahead and confirmed my ferry ticket and went straight to the waiting room. Luckily, the room was air-conditioned. I think I would have had a panic attack otherwise, given how shut-up and boxed-in the place was.

“Is this hell or purgatory?” a tourist asked me. He told me he had mistakenly booked a trip to Gerona by ferry. Regrettably, I couldn’t but concur with his description of the port terminal. The whole thing looked like something pulled out of the Divine Comedy.

Arriving to Nueva Gerona
Arriving to Nueva Gerona

Two hours later, they finally opened the only door leading to the vessel.

There I was, tired, in a bad mood, hoping my situation wouldn’t get worse. Once inside the ship, I noticed that the man sitting next to me was being escorted by the police. Luckily, it turned out to be a self-employed person who was being deported to the Isle of Youth because of a fine he owed back in his municipality. “Relax, the worst part’s over, enjoy the trip and the sea,” I said to myself.

I set foot on dry land at four in the afternoon. The atmosphere that welcomed me was different, one could even say charming. But I’ve concluded that visiting Nueva Gerona is not worth all the trouble. If I have to go again, I will travel by plane, or I won’t go at all.

2 thoughts on “Waiting in Purgatory: A Trip to Nueva Gerona, Cuba

  • In Cuba (and most ALL Latin-America) “You
    Gotta Go With The Flow.” Don’t be in a hurry-Enjoy and savor the experience…Always keep something with you to keep yourself occupied- Me? I always have a video camera-NEVER a dull moment.

  • Great story, wish I had more photos to view. In the states, we have Greyhound and much more efficient. It appears it will take some time to get it more together on your side of the straits.

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