2017
04.07

Fog on the Mountain

SYNOPSIS:  TRANSIT SANTIAGO.  VIAZUL ONCE MORE.  ABOUT GOOD OLD FRIENDS AND OUR RIDE ON THE BUS; SHARING SNACKS AND STORIES.

The day started with the usual noises.  The rooster had been cockedideldooing since midnight.  He was joined by dogs fighting, feral cats meowing, kids crying around 7 AM competing with some street vendors, and lots of banging by 8 AM.  Baracoa had been hit by Hurricane Mathew a few months ago.  Surprisingly little of this can be seen in our street — two streets removed from the ocean.  Still, roof tops are being fixed, some upper level houses had railings knocked over and some wooden structures had crumbled completely.

It was overcast.  Mainly in Baracoa have we seen clouds.  It is the region with the most rainfall and the highest humidity.  I don’t mind, not for today.  Cooler weather makes travel that much easier.  We have another 5-hour bus trip ahead of us, if all goes well.

We have long passed the midpoint of our travels.  In fact, only 5 days remain and sadness is beginning to settle in.  Baracoa is the farthest point east we have gone.  From here on out it is retour via known paths.  We could have spent a few more days in this relaxing sea-side town.  There is not much of cultural value that can be seen.  But several excursions into nature would have been possible.  Some people come only for that as there are several protected biospheres accessible from here.

Packing takes more and more time as we have to be mindful of what to take, what to shed, what to give away.  I like the days when actual travel begins around mid-day.  And we have time for everything and then time to spare.  We can stick with our morning routine, which has baffled every host:  We take about 1/2 hour just to drink our coffee before we have the actual breakfast; just like we do at home, Celibeth and I.  She does it for health reasons, I do it for starting the day off easy.  A good start makes for a lot more energy down the road. 

By 11 AM we were done and I still had time to write for a while.  By noon, our friends Karin and Wulf, the German couple arrived; they were taking over our wonderful room as there had been some booking mixup at their old casa.  By now it rained heavily — just when it came time to get to the bus station.  Plan A, taking a bici-taxi, would have soaked our luggage, so we splurged and took a real taxi.  In plenty of time we arrived at the Viazul station.  Check-in was uneventful, luggage was checked properly and all looked good, except that the bus did not arrive.  Instead, three of our old friends from the broken-down bus that had brought us here three days ago, did.  Was that a bad omen? 

Ursula and Steve from Great Britain joined us, as well as Jakuv from Israel.  He was the hit of the trip.  After three weeks in Cuba he was able to produce one gorgeous snack “from the holy land” after another, sharing them with all of us: olive crackers, licorice, candy, and most of all, the juiciest, thickest dates you have ever seen!    Thanks, Jakuv!  You did not show up that night at the Casa de la Trova, the center for traditional music where all of us were going to have one last drink and one last dance.  We looked for you everywhere!  Sorry, we missed you.

With such good company in tow it almost didn’t matter that the bus was 1.5 hours late.  After we got going we noticed that the rain had loosened debris from the mountains. The road was littered with small rocks and branches.  The fog in the valley was so thick that at times you could not even see beyond the edge of the road.  It was scenic and beautiful, but the bus was inching along, losing another 1.5 hours in time.  But who cared.  What did matter was the cold!  Supposedly, the switch for the AC was broken and without exception we were shivering.  This could have posed a serious problem if Ursula had not come to the rescue.  Just as Jakuv produced snack after snack, she pulled scarf after shirt, after jacket out of her bag supplying all of us with some extra cover.  Ursula, you rescued us all from serious hardship.  Thanks!

And then the phone rang!  On the bus.  We foreigners, who make up most of the customers of Viazul, don’t have phones that work in Cuba.  But there was a guy who did.  And he spoke German.  And he was traveling by himself.  This was too intriguing to let go.   I asked if I could join him for a while.  That was Manfred, a retired professor of archaeology, a bio-chemical engineer by training, but also a “student” at the university in Baracoa.  That status had allowed him to be a resident in Cuba for the last three years.  Now he has to wing it, use health issues to extend his stay, or frequently leave to return and renew his visa.  We talked at length about how it is possible to live in Cuba as a foreigner, about restrictions, bureaucracy, life and why he chose this unusual option. 

What does he like the most?  The people.  I can second that and I think any traveler to Cuba will encounter the most cheerful, friendly, ready to drink and dance-kind of people.  What does he like the least?  The envy.  As a foreigner with access to a pension abroad he is privileged by default and will always have more than anyone around him.  That might feel good for a while, but I can see why it also can turn into a burden. 

It is a shame that Cuba’s current state of affairs is driven by CUC, driven by a two-tiered society.  Those who have CUCs, and those who don’t.  It has been like this for a while, but if this divide grows, a point of breakage might be reached that becomes irreparable.  Can Cuba survive this growing gap?  The strain that is put on by religious, racial, and social gaps elsewhere, is put on here by money.  That is a common line elsewhere too, but money here is not so much the typical divide between rich and poor that elsewhere goes along with hunger, homelessness, lack of education.  That is for the most part provided.  It is more a divide between minimum and luxury.  It’s the luck of the draw that determines who can cross over from one side to the other, relatives in the US, friends abroad, connections to tourists.  That’s why we as foreign visitors are so high in demand.  And that’s why so often a favor that seems to be extended in friendship and from the heart, or an interest in us as people still carries an underlying expectation of return, preferably in CUC.

This was our last ride.  We made it.  It was late, but not too late to join Ursula and Steve for a drink on the terrace of the Grand Hotel.  They were closing down, but that made the roof top even nicer.  We sat until way past midnight without even noticing.  Good bye Santiago.

Good night.

P.S.  Why on earth did I not take a single picture of Jakuv?!

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