Cuba’s Rail System

Yenisel Rodriguez

Foto by Caridad

Our inter-provincial trains are a disaster.

They consist of mid-twentieth century wagons built in Germany or Argentina, and are designed for a climate and a demand that have nothing to do with our reality: humid heat and frantic inter-provincial movement.

The railroad system in Cuba offers a ridiculous package of selections.  Their clase especial to Santiago differs only slightly from its alternative, el tren regular to Cienfuegos.

Traveling on either train leaves ones with the same feeling of dissatisfaction. You get home saturated with indescribable smells and with your stomach splitting.

The special train to Santiago de Cuba maintains its status by providing two essential services: a “speedy” trip and air conditioning.  But it is no surprise to anyone that these special features disappear from one minute to the next.  A breakdown at the last moment, travel along an unplanned route or some short-circuit is enough to drop your journey down to a five on a scale of ten.  The promised fast and refreshing journey only ends after interminable hours with lots of heat.

That’s why the Cienfuegos train always meets our expectations.  By being at the last rung on the scale of quality, it only has to arrive at its destination for one to be pleased.  To travel on it is an adventure though.

You don’t have to pay to get on. You can ride alone for the whole trip in a compartment for eight people.  Never have more than 15 people been seen in its wagons.  The danger of short-circuiting doesn’t exist, nor is the water dirty.  Its wagons aren’t electrified and their refrigerators never have water.  This is the dream world.

Fortunately, you’re awoken by the rhythmic rattle of the food cart, which at that moment appears like an oasis of sodas and sausages.  With it we discover that the disappearance of food and drinks is not a question of magical incantations, but of hunger and dehydration.

It’s surprising how long the smell of Cuba’s railroads stick to a person.  When arriving home from a trip, not even the dog comes up to welcome me, and my partner greets me from afar with a towel in hand.

“Dear, your bath is ready,” she informs me sarcastically.

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.