Chronicle of a Bus Journey in Cuba

By Freyser Martinez  (lahoradecuba.com)

Photo: Freyser Martinez

HAVANA TIMES – In the summer holidays, many Cuban families travel within the country. Family encounters are common right now. I went with my family to Holguin, to visit my wife’s family.

With everything ready, we reached the Camaguey bus terminal and, as we had already booked tickets, we went to sit in the waiting room, or should I say sauna, as there weren’t any fans and it was so hot you’d sweat kilos right off. To our surprise, a girl from the neighborhood, who we knew, was also waiting for the same bus with her grandfather. The old man wasn’t going to travel with her but was their to hand his 12-year-old granddaughter over to the bus crew.

With the departure time drawing near, the bus was still nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, everyone waiting began to worry that it might have broken down. However, it finally appeared, half an hour delayed.

The grandfather approached one of the drivers and kindly asked his name so he would know who would be responsible for the child. To his surprise, the driver reacted in such a paranoid manner that he didn’t want to disclose his name. Seeing that man act more like a wanted criminal or a lion tamer than an interprovincial bus driver, my wife and I offered to keep an eye on the girl and make sure she got to her relatives in Holguin.

We began the journey without any setbacks, but when we stopped at the bus terminal in Guaimaro where so many passengers got on that the aisle was completely full – like we were on a city bus. Some passengers complained, but the drivers didn’t seem to care, focused on what we Cubans call “the struggle”, in this case, letting everyone with a ticket in hand onboard.

It would have been bearable having someone right next to your seat to some extent, when you think it could have been you stranded on the highway at any other time.

However, things went too far when some completely drunk guys got on the bus and continued to drink the entire journey. The “original” passengers had to put up with the alcohol on their breath and the new passengers swaying about in the aisle, who also looked quite rough.

At the Las Tunas bus terminal, the “strict” pilots left a mother with her 4-year-old daughter behind, as well as three other passengers who had gone to the restroom. It seems, oversight made them hurry and leave, as they went to collect people outside the station first, unless others got there before them. [These people pay under the table for the trip.]

We finally reached our destination. I hope that some day in the near future, traveling on a bus is a completely satisfying experience for ordinary Cubans, worthy of the price of a ticket and with the comfort and assistance passengers deserve.



23 thoughts on “Chronicle of a Bus Journey in Cuba

  • Nice bus! Don’t they have disorderly conduct infractions laws while in the public realm ? Alcohol users are an stubborn bunch.

    Reply
    • I don’t understand why anybody would be surprised. Anything that happens in Cuba is completely surreal, like coming out of an Alejo Carpentier or Garcia Marquez’s novel. It is like falling through the rabbit’s hole and landing in a wonderland in reverse. If you are one of the unfortunate nationals, you deal with it, if you are a visitor you learn not to go back unless strictly nessesary.

      Reply
  • I just came back from Cuba a month ago where I took a round trip Viazul bus trip from Matanzas to Palma Soriano – more than 800km and just 49 CUC each way. The bus, a fairly new Chinese-made Yutang highway coach was excellent and the drivers – there were three of them on board, driving in shifts – all extremely competent and courteous. I’d say the above story is mostly bullshit.

    Reply
    • There’s a world of difference between tourist coaches and local / national buses or transportation for Cuban nationals. The same is true of many things including access to food; tourists will always be able to eat the best meals, nationals may not even have enough of a staple such as rice or eggs on some days.

      Reply
      • @Andrew – A world of difference?? Maybe…I don’t know because in my numerous trips to the Island, I’ve never been on a dedicated “tourist” bus. The Viazul coach I took from Matanzas to Palma Soriano in June WAS DEFINITELY NOT a special tourist coach. The bus was a regularly scheduled run from Havana to Santiago and was filled with ordinary Cubans. In fact, as far as I could tell, I and one other passenger were the only non-Cubans on that bus. My only complaint about the bus was that for most of the trip and particularly at night, the air conditioning was a bit too cold – all things considered, a very insignificant and minor complaint.

        Reply
    • If you carry hard currency everything is “rose-colored” if you carry “pesos” everything is “shit-colored”

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      • That sums it up perfectly!

        Life is “rose colored” if you have access to the “green” !

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    • You’d say it’s bullshit because you travelled Aviazul. Most Cubans never ever travel Aviazul because they don’t have the money. We are talking a bus la wa wa that is available to Cubans. I have traveled it from Varadero to Santa Marta. That was enough for me. I have got on the Cuban daily buses as well and let me tell you sardines took on a whole new meaning for me. Sometimes it’s important to remember that your experience as a tourist who can afford to travel in style is not the experience of the locals. The story is absolutely not bullshit but the reality Cubans live every day.

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      • The urban “guaguas” are just as bad.

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    • “just 49 CUC each way” = 98 CUC = almost 7 months minimum wage in Cuba! Mr. Emeness illustrates an abysmal ignorance of the reality of Cuba. How can the average Cuban possibly aspire to travelling on Viazul? If Mr. Emeness you ever return to Cuba, go and travel as Cubans do – on converted 65 year old trucks – if in Havana, pop up to La Lisa where you can see them at the “terminus”. As for your description of “the above story” it displays an evident past lack of parental guidance – but I guess you are American.

      Reply
    • The above story is not bull shit as the other poster stated, there’s a world of difference between the tourist busses and the Astro busses Cubans use.

      Your view of Cuba through rose colored glasses is bull shit.

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      • Unfortunately, it is the “view” that most foreign fans of castrismo take back with them.

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    • You was there as a tourist… different for Cubans national.

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  • I believe some got lucky others like locals don’t have any lucky at all. I hope in the future most of cuban have better luck.

    Reply
    • I lived in Cuba for 5 years and can tell you that the above story is actually very descent compared to what I experienced. I once had to take la wawa (bus), pice corre (long back truck), bicitaxi, horse drawn taxi and motorcycle to get from one city to the next. The only bathroom on the way was a latrine on the side of the road and the drivers/conductors accepted bribes to help take off luggage from the bus.
      I am a spanish speaking afro-Caribbean of Cuban descent so I blended in everywhere I went and lived like a local. Cubans definitely live like second and third class citizens in their own country, which contributes to the lack of morale and moral compass in the country. I found it literally impossible to trust anyone, including family. Schemes, intimidation, dishonesty and sneakiness seem to be an acceptable and engrained part of Cuban culture and most have ‘dos caras’ (two faces). It is a sad and shameful reality considering how much the Cuban government promotes the country to be otherwise. Though my family is there, I wouldn’t go back unless it was absolutely necessary.

      Reply
  • Dear Mart Emeness, what is the point in responding in an agressive manner with four letter words? So you had a different experience, thanks for sharing it. Everyone else is not lying, chill out.

    Reply
  • The grovellers for communism it’s constant failures and oppression don’t like these stories.

    Reply
  • I have travelled 90% of Cuba on busses. travelled on tarp covered trucks with steel benches, gypsie cabs. .I have paid off security and drivers to get on busses and sit in the aisle, hitchhiked etc. The only difference I’ve noticed between travelling in Cuba vs Mexico is that I feel far safer in Cuba and its way cheaper.

    Reply
    • That’s probably true –police states generally do an excellent job of eliminating crime and criminals, since the authorities don’t have to worry about technicalities like the 5th amendment, limits on how long a person may be held without charges, etc., etc.
      Some restrictions have eased up in Cuba, but that is only because the influence and expectations of a much bigger police state 8000 miles distant, the USSR, is no longer present.

      Reply
  • After 37 years out if Cuba I will never plan to comeback and so happy of my departure i never had a good experience there,my generation was the most sacrificed,total loss my younger days spend cutting canes and kicked out of the books.

    Reply
    • Sacrifices made only to satisfy the megalomania of the man who “ended” apartheid — as the leftist mythology goes!

      Reply
  • Tourists, of course, travel in spacious, air-conditioned luxury in autobuses imported from Japan, Argentina, and Spain

    Reply

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