Sierra del Purial


The day started rough enough with us having to be up and out the door by 7 AM.  No breakfast, no juice — but we managed.  Hurry up and wait.  The Viazul Station in Santiago is big and clean and shares the terminal with the national buses.  All went smoothly, but the bus did not show up.  Finally, the word came: there was a flat tire.  Another 1/2 hour and we would be rolling.  1.5 hours late, we were rolling indeed.

We were hurried on to the bus, left the station and made one circle, dropping off a man, picking up a local lady — the bus drivers on these overland trips seem to like a mistress or two on board — whose horrible perfume permeated the entire bus and then, we made another strange circle onto a dirt road and waited… The reason for this final delay became apparent soon enough: One of the bumbling tourists had missed the bus and been hurried after us in a taxi.  OK, we finally were all here and off we went for good. 

Celi and I are now experts in getting on the bus early to snatch one of the front row seats.  Soon after we left town, we noticed a loud banging right beneath our seats.  Was anything wrong?  Was this anything to worry about?  We kept going, but a mere 35 km into the ride we stopped at a crappy looking little house with a window out of which a guy was selling overpriced juice.  And we were told it would be yet another 30-minute stop! What the hell? There were no banjos, no food, no reason. This was not a planned stop, especially when taken in comparison the 6-hour trip we took the other day, where we did not even get a single food stop the entire trip.  This was highly unusual. 

Two guys who had been riding in the front, miraculously turned into mechanics.  A ventilator cooling down the motor seemed to be the problem.  They unhinged it and some belts with it, and were working away. Before long, they were soiled in black oil.  It all looked good until they started stoking around in the oil puddle they had created draining who knows what.  They had lost a screw…

Fan in hand, the bus driver, his understudy and the mechanic disappeared and we, the crowd were left standing in the dust.  They told us nothing.  We began to settle in for the long haul.  Some people got out their books, or games, I grabbed my computer, Celi and a few others bought beer — there was little else to be had.  And so we waited for a screw to materialize and the ride to continue.  Or, could there possibly be another bus be sent our way?  In Cuba; not likely.  As time went on, we made some friends meeting the rest of the bus crew.  Old and young; we came from everywhere:  Turkey, Israel, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Great Britain, the US. 

Hail to the mechanics.  Two hours later, a screw had been obtained, the ventilator was fixed and we were rolling on to our first stop, Guantanamo.   It has such a ring back home.  Here, it is just another little town looking like any other Cuban town.  Quite independent from it — we did not see any indication of its existence; no sign, no fence, no flag – there is Guantanamo Bay.  It’s a city within a city housing and employing quite a few locals and Americans according to the guidebook.  It goes way beyond its infamous prison and has quite a history.  It’s a thorn in the Cuban’s eyes perhaps a little bit like Israel to some is a thorn in the Middle East.  But Cuba can’t end Guantanamo Bay’s existence.  By contract, both states, Cuba and the US have to agree that the US will leave and I doubt that this will ever happen.  Even Obama had no intentions to close the entire base.  So, Cuba goes about its ways trying to ignore the bay as best as possible.  From what I read, neither Fidel nor Raoul has cashed the “rent” check of a few thousand dollars the US is supposed to pay each year.  It’s a small statement of defiance that says it all.

Four hours late the bus rolled into the station at Baracoa.  Against all the odds, a tricycle taxi driver was waiting for us, sign in hand.  The chain of reliable AirBnBs and pickups was holding and we were delivered into our best accommodation yet. 

We had a huge room, triple the size of the last ones, two roof terraces, cross-ventilation, a mini-balcony for laundry, a large refrigerator.  We were in heaven.  And the meal our new host prepared was by far the best, too.  We are in Baracoa, known for its unique local cuisine based on lots of fish, coconut and cacao products, all locally produced.    

We will like it here.  As crazy as the day had started, it ended perfectly.  Thanks, pantheon. 

Good night.