Traveling in Havana

By Regina Cano

During peak hours buses on the more trafficked routes can get pretty crowded. Photo: Caridad
During peak hours buses on the more trafficked routes can get pretty crowded. Photo: Caridad

The day I decided to write this blog, somebody stole my documents and my appointment book while I was on the city bus. The truth is that public transportation here stopped being safe a while ago.

To travel by bus, or guaguas as we call them, is to enter into battle from the moment you think about boarding one, and even more still at any intermediary bus stop along one of the more trafficked routes.

People are accustomed to getting in line out of symbolic habit, because generally when the guagua arrives they rush to get on in any order, especially during rush hour. Those times of day entail speed and violence, as well as pushing, stomping, yelling, and cursing. Even the two or three stairs for getting on the bus are crammed with people. Whew! – these are usually the worst moments of the day.

When you get beyond that fray and forget about having been being stepped on, pushed or subjected to the usual gripes, people feel fortunate for having made it on the bus. Nonetheless, they will continue to feel an occasional nudge or knock of a backpack or sack carried by people scrambling to get either off the bus or to the back of it.

On occasion, with people jammed so closely together, male sexual thoughts and sensations are aroused. Some become excited and end up violating the privacy of women, pressing their erect organs against any woeful female passenger. The woman may or may not complain, or she may or may not slip away; the only thing certain is that Planet Guagua can get pretty weird.

Still, the most common misery is the one induced by economic necessity, the one perpetrated by those commonly known as pickpockets; they are practitioners of an age-old craft that I know exists in other countries.

These individuals take advantage of the shoving and crowding to find circumstances favorable for poking into pockets, hand bags and day packs and pilfering other people’s wallets. Their aim is to find -among people of their same social status- a few pesos for bare subsistence. They ultimately create major havoc, because in the case of identity documents that everyone is required to carry, the victim has to spend considerable time and money to replace them.

Returning to my story, I was with a fellow classmate that day. We both study English at a Dominican-run school that offers even better conditions for studying than the great majority of institutions within the official governmental system. In addition, you don’t have to be a believer.

Standing up in a guagua and trying to study the language a little, we took out some books (a grammar text and a dictionary) from my day pack and later I put them in my open hand bag, which hung down to my hip. What apparently happened was that I was distracted and my purse was near the top, within reach of people.

I only noticed it was missing after more than an hour had gone by, and when we were far from where it must have disappeared. It’s easy to imagine what had occurred.

It was painful to lose documents this way, especially to lose things of substantial sentimental value that were unrecoverable.

Thanks to good friends, my spirits were lifted and I decided to do this blog, where like others I want to chronicle my life experiences in this city that perhaps someday you will decide to visit.

Wish me luck!

3 thoughts on “<em>Traveling in Havana</em>

  • A handbag or purse in American English, is a handled medium-to-large bag that is often fashionably designed.-“

  • It’s a crying shame what poverty reduces people to — no point talking about morality, AFAIC. This is far indeed from socialism — let alone being a harbinger of the ‘New Communist Man’. But this stuff must certainly give comfort to the ever-hopeful mafia in Miami.

    I hope this kind of adversity doesn’t make you too cynical about your own country. We do have that sort of activity — and much, much more besides — here in the West too. Lots of it, actually. Solve that problem in Cuba — and you’ve basically cracked the problem with finally introducing a working socialism to your country. I wonder what it will take.

  • Regina,
    What a joyful, robust voice you possess. Thank you for sharing this.

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