2017
03.27

One of those Beauties

SYNOPSIS:  TRANSIT CAMAGUEY.  ANOTHER VIAZUL TRIP, ABOUT SOME PEOPLE, TRAVEL EXPENSES, ANOTHER AIR BNB.  TEA, AND A FEW OTHER THINGS.  TWO BLOCKS APART, TWO WORLDS APART –  A NIGHT STROLL.

1.5 thumbs up to the Viazul station in Trinidad!  It was the first one we encountered that was clean (except for some trash corners), not overcrowded, and had a system in place that indicated that somebody had put a thought to something as simple as: check people’s luggage as they arrive at the station rather than scramble with it when the bus is there and time is in short supply.  Duh! 

Now we got the hang of the system.  We look for the Viazul check-in counter no sooner than 1/2 hour before scheduled departure of our bus, and all goes smoothly.  Standing in line for the actual bus, we made a few friends.  An odd couple from Britain:  The guy, an older weather-withered man, was an antique dealer who had traveled for long stretches of his life:  following The Grateful Dead around for 6 months, driving a jeep through Africa and that sort of thing.  Cuba broke his bank and he and his very young girlfriend headed home one month sooner than expected.  Yes, traveling in Cuba is by no means cheap!  First of all, there is that already mentioned price gap between CUP and CUC.  But on top of that, prices that are charged to tourists are comparable to home and at times borderline extortion!  In Trinidad I would have been charged $5 for each of the lousy museums to take photographs!  In one of them, the clerk charged me two (without giving me a receipt).  We both won.  In the other places I tried, but gave up; therefore, no photos.  This $5 charge stood in no proportion to the $1 entrance fee and according to the museum staff had been steadily raised by the government over the last few years.  Why?  Just to piss off tourists? 

The other cost that quickly cuts into one’s budget is having to resort to taxis for transportation.  By this incredible chance, 6 weeks ago in January, I realized that I needed to pre-book buses; something I have not done ever in all of my travels.  Celi thought I was crazy; I felt really weird doing it, but I followed through.  It saved us hundreds of dollars in transportation, dozens of hours of time, and an uncounted amount of uncertainty and stress.  We got lucky; others around here did not.

And food…  One night in Trinidad, we ate at one of the roof-terraced restaurants, overlooking the central square.  Clearly a private place catering to tourists.  We paid nearly $35 for both of us, including a drink and dessert.  Not too much if you measure it by American standards, but if you multiply that by one month, it is too much to sustain.  The next night, we stepped from the House of Beer into a small Pizzeria, still catering to tourists, but also locals.  Including drinks we paid less than $10 for both of us.  In other words, it can be done, but takes some luck, some searching, or someone who knows. 

The other friends we made were a lovely, older couple from Germany in their 70’s, Bernd and Karin.  Both of them radiated a warmth and kindness, looked so hip in their baggy, comfortable travel clothes, and they joined our conversation, waiting for the bus.  I took an immediate liking to them.  They are experienced travelers, hobby artists, and a true inspiration as human beings.  I hope I can be on the road like this when I am in my 70’s or 80’s!

I not only pre-booked all the buses and AirBnB’s, I also asked each host to send a taxi to pick us up from the bus station.  So far, each and every transition has been smooth.  People here really try their best to make things right.  They are relatively new to AirBnB and I hope they won’t burn out.  This time, Fidel (not Castro, as he quickly added), picked us up in a shiny, new car with AC — the first one of those I have been in since our arrival.  We live smack in the center of town with Maryl, who has designated the two upstairs rooms of her compact home into guest rooms providing her with an income to live on.  A small roof terrace with a few garden chairs provides space to sit and look at the beautiful restored towers of a nearby church and across a few clay-tiled roofs.  We are in walking distance of everything.  The place lives up to its online description as, by the way, every other place did so far.

Myra is a bit older than we, and obviously a fashion lady.  She was envious of Celi’s snow-white hair and pointed to mine, stating, that she just cannot bring herself to look like that.  She keeps dyeing her hair.  No, I did not take this as an insult. 🙂  She made us some wonderful coffee, a drink beloved by seemingly all Cubans.  They obviously are not into tea around here, so I have adapted to drinking coffee, too.   And if you are a tea drinker and want anything but Chamomile tea, you’d better bring your own tea bags.

It was getting late and we strolled up the main drag in town.  Stores here seem to be stacked more fully than in the other towns we have been to.  Camaguey (pronounced Cah-ma-way), is the third largest city in Cuba and throughout history has been known to produce rebels and rebellions.  To us the people were as friendly as everywhere.  Particularly when Celibeth comes along with her outgoing smile, greeting everyone cheerfully in Spanish, they all want to engage in conversation, and at times it is hard to move on. 

Just for the variety we picked a parallel street to the boulevard to head back.  Wow!  If Cuba would not be known to be safe, we should have been afraid.  No streetlights anywhere.  Small alleys and open doors emitted dim lights, exposing sparsely furnished living rooms, outdated furniture, crumbling fixtures, and desolate people.  This is how the other half of Cubans lives…  Some of these houses were lining the train tracks.  Others were just a few blocks away.  Only the poor would put up with this.  It took us almost 15 minutes until we reached civilization again — one of the restored plazas with public wifi, filled with young people and their smart phones.  The social stratification in Cuba is nowhere near that of the US but it is present.  It can be seen in the difference between urban and rural areas as well as in the various quarters of town.

Good night.