HAVANA TIMES— There’s nothing better for a romantic reconciliation than doing something that breaks with routine. An invitation from some friends who had rented out a beach house (at the extremely low price of 30 CUC for an entire weekend) came to us like a gift from heaven.
Excited, my partner and I made arrangements to leave at noon on a Friday. We didn’t have enough money to pay for a cab, so we decided to head over to the stop of the 400, the bus that takes you directly to Havana’s east-laying beaches.
That’s where our odyssey began. It was a rainy afternoon and, when the bus arrived, everyone was scrambling to get inside. When I say “everyone”, I mean a broad variety of people, from young to not-so-young. When it’s a question of boarding a bus, they don’t care who’s standing in front of them – they will step over an old man and make a pregnant woman go into labor with the same carelessness, it’s all the same to them, they simply want to get in the bus and find a spot where they can travel as comfortably as possible.
We went to the back of the bus, thinking we’d be out of the way of people who, trying to board or get off the bus, are constantly shoving you around.
We were wrong. The back seats had been invaded by youngsters. Before we had crossed Havana’s bay tunnel, all had lit up their cigarettes, even the girls who, in addition to blowing out copious smoke, would laugh at the tasteless jokes made by the brainless boys.
All they talked about was stabbing people and the fact they were from a rough neighborhood (some were from a place known as “El Canal”, in Cerro, others from La Lisa). They were just about to get into a squabble when a man asked them to put out their cigarettes. The kids categorically refused.
I could only look at my partner, expressing my desire to get out of there. Since the bus was crowded and I was standing on tip-toe, it was actually impossible to walk away.
They were the worst 45 minutes I have ever spent on a bus (if I’ve experienced similar moments, my mind has already blotted them out). The only fortunate thing is that the kids weren’t homophobic, for things would really have gotten ugly then.
Our friends gave us a marvelous welcome when we arrived at the beach house. We hadn’t spent ten minutes there when we started being bitten by mosquitos, gnats and ants, which had apparently mutated and could fly.
The only place one could be relatively comfortable in was the one room in the house with an AC, a unit which didn’t really cool the place down too well because the room hadn’t been prepared to hold an air conditioner (it had many openings on its windows).
At bed-time, it felt as though we were on a tractor, for the AC made numberless noises that are difficult to describe. Many of us who slept in this room didn’t get a wink of sleep.
The following day, I took a stroll to the nearby houses. All were in bad condition. There, I found several water tanks full of mosquito larvae, laid by the same ones that were bugging us day and night. I asked myself where Public Health is when you need them.
To top things off, there was no drinking water in the house, only brackish water. At one point during the afternoon, there was simply no running water at all, such that we couldn’t even take a shower at night.
Washing the dishes was impossible because, when you tried to do it, the whole kitchen flooded – it was full of irreparable leaks. We had to clean the kitchen every time we washed something, again and again.
By Saturday night, we were already anxious to get back home. Inside the room, we could only think about the next day, when we’d go back to normal. It seems that, in cases like these, routine is a whole lot better.