Monday 30th September 2019
Another great night’s sleep. Up bright and early this morning to have an early breakfast and finish packing … to be ready for our trusty steed arriving between 8.30 and 9.00am. Looking forward to travelling in transport that resembles something from this century. After a few phone calls had been exchanged, our taxi finally showed up about 10.30am. And I say ‘our taxi’ – the car parked outside was nothing at all like the car or driver we had made the arrangement with. Apparently this was a substitute and to make matters worse, they requested some additional money as we were to be the only two passengers. Alarms bells rung but after lots of questions about fuel, tyres and the general road worthiness of the car we made the decision to accept. They managed to squeeze our two suitcases into the boot and we settled into the very uncomfortable back seat of this old Fiat Uno. For some reason two drivers had been provided … a couple of likely lads but pleasant enough. Obviously no English but that’s our fault.
Lots of hugs and farewells exchanged with Aunty and Grandma – we had loved our stay at Casa Susy.
The first stop just down the road was to fill up with petrol (you think they may have done that before)! On pulling out from the garage the car engine cut out and we were coasting … alarm bells ringing once again but we kept the faith … the car got going. Then the driver struggled to find the road out of town – we began to doubt that he knew the way at all …. in fact I began to wonder if he could even drive!! So within 15 minutes he was stopping to ask for directions … and this was repeated at several points during the journey, in what they had estimated to be a 5-6 hour drive.
They managed to find their way on to what is their nearest thing to a motorway – you have to see it to believe it. It’s a wide road with no lanes but, with potholes just about everywhere, the method of driving involves swerving in and out of the dangerous spots. Fortunately there’s not a great deal of traffic, presumably due to fuel shortage. But for a major road linking their national cities it was hysterical, like something out of the Wild West …. with passengers being transported in horse and carriages, tractors and carts, fully enclosed people trucks as well as local jeep like taxis bursting at the seams. I’m a terrible passenger at the best of times but, despite several travel sickness tablets to try and keep me calm, I was pretty much struggling from the start … but compared to be being in an packed open-cart attached to a tractor, I guess I should have felt lucky.
But then things took a turn for the worse, we broke down. We’d only been on the road about an hour and the car packed up – dead as a dodo. Steve and I tried to keep each other’s spirits up as we waited and paced around on the side of the road … for over an hour, while the two ‘lads’ fiddled with the engine … taking bits off, adding bits, fiddling around, seemingly not having a clue. It went from being pretty hot to raining heavily so we had to get back into the car, which equally freaked me out as we were parked in one lane of a two way road. Finally something happened and lo and behold the engine started up … and they were SO pleased with themselves. So, off we headed – the rain pretty torrential by now, but at least the windscreen wipers worked. And after another 20 minutes we watched their faces change from smug to concern as the engine faltered again and we ground to a halt. We kept our cool very well, considering, and this time it took about half an hour before we were on our way again. But it wasn’t sounding good and the car felt very hot.
It had been 4 hours since leaving Santiago by this time and, to put it mildly, we just weren’t enjoying the ride! When we saw a sign that said it was another 260km to Camaguey we knew that we just couldn’t endure another 5 hours of this torture – our lives were at stake. So we asked to be dropped off at nearby Bayamo instead – this of course involved a heated argument and so we ended up being practically dumped in the town and we still had to pay the full money, even though we had only covered about a third of the journey. No tip obviously! Stupidly we had left ourselves short of money, thinking we were going from door to door … we didn’t envisage having to fund further travel or possibly overnight accommodation. And of course, there are no card transactions here. So, leaving me to mind the luggage, in the pouring rain, Steve set off in shorts and flip flops to find an ATM or a bank. It took him about 40 minutes during which time I imagined all sorts of things … but success, the pot had been filled. And we found the bus station.
Then a whole new chapter of chaos began. It took ages to figure out who to ask, no-one seemed particularly helpful, lots of pointing and talking loudly but nothing we could understand. Eventually a helpful passenger came to our aid and escorted Steve to an outside office that apparently dealt with buses (well, one bus a day) to Camaguey. But Steve returned having had no joy … he hadn’t been able to make himself understood and the ticket officer had no positives to offer. We sat there at a bit of a loss, considering taxis, finding a hotel for the night … !? I decided to give the ticket office a go myself so went armed with phrase book and put on my brightest smile (find it works wonders in these sort of places) … latched on to a very friendly and smiley member of staff who spoke no English but offered some reassurance in his body language and saying ‘wait’ indicating to a chair in this waiting room. So I waited for a while and got the feel others were waiting for the same thing … I went and fetched Steve and the luggage and we did as we were told and waited…. and waited… and waited. Eventually we were called into the office and a ticket was issued and our luggage labelled.
After 3 hours of waiting, the bus arrived and we joined the pushing crowds to get our luggage safely loaded. By the time we got on the bus there were only 2 seats left and they were right at the back. We managed to negotiate 2 seats together by asking a nice Cuban chap to swap. At least this meant we could eat our dinner together – a cheese and ham sandwich which our casa hosts had provided for the journey. We realised fairly soon that we had drawn the short straw in our seating – the elderly couple in front had their seats pushed so far back, even though as Steve put it “she was only 3 bl***ing feet tall!!” I literally had a few inches of leg room, my circulation was almost being cut off at the knees. After enduring a couple of hours of this, Steve stuck his legs out into the aisle so that I could free my legs up into his side. It was a bumpy 5 and a half hour ride in all – we tried to manage some sleep but I had a rattling window at my side which was like having a cicada in my ear hole, torture! We were travelling in darkness by now so I couldn’t see the road ahead and it definitely felt safer than being in that excuse of a car. So mustn’t grumble!
We arrived at Camaguey bus station just after midnight and readily agreed to a taxi price to take us to our Casa Particular. Although it was late, we were cheerily met at the door by Maria, our wonderful host. We had a little chat as she speaks some English and then we said we were just ready to collapse into bed. We turned down her offer of food even though we had only eaten two rolls since breakfast but we did accept 4 ice cold beers and iced glasses to help us unwind. Maria’s son Mario came to say hello when he came in shortly afterwards and he seems very friendly too, well educated, has travelled a bit and speaks excellent English.
The house we’re in is quite magnificent – looking forward to exploring it further tomorrow.
And so, we sat up in bed and enjoyed our cold beers and talked and laughed about the absolutely horrendous day … but felt so lucky to have (1) survived it and (2) actually managed to get to Camagüey…. and we’ve certainly learnt a few lessons along the way.
A little restoration of faith in Cuba required right now!
* obviously it wasn’t a day for photos! Just a few of our new home for this week 😊