Time 10:36 Am and its time to leave house and make some decisions. As I always travel with no plans so I never know where I will end up in. At bus station in Vinales I found out that I have 2 choices (There is only one bus station)
- Head back to Havana and stay there for a night or maybe catch a night bus and go to next unknown destination.
- Head to main cave in Vinales area that’s amazing, but if I stay for the cave I must stay another night in Vinales and now I’m not sure I want to spent another night in this town.
I decided to go back to Havana and hope for some ideas down the road. I thought it could be great if I managed to catch some night bus to somewhere and get to save money instead of staying at casa particular.
Bus station had one tiny room with only 1 staff member. I walked in and sat down next to the big tall man in his 50 ties who could speak a small amount of English. He had old computer in front and after asking about buses I found out that there is bus to Camaguey that I could catch. Bus seems that in Cuba its not an option to buy tickets from for other location for buses. He tried buying them online using something that looked like coding from his laptop. Then tried calling to Havana, but of course no luck. He sold me tickets to Havana and wished luck to get tickets.
I got a bus ticket for 12 CUC from Vinales to Havana. Before the road it was time to fill up with food and then wait for the bus. Yellow rice, coffee and omelet at little restaurant down the road from bus station . I was the only person in the whole restaurant for my lunch. It was awkward. I ate my meal and staff member of establishment seemed to hover near by all the time that did annoy me a lot.
After I sat down on the sidewalk and watched people pass by.
Jos (A taxi driver from next door city –Pinar Del Rio) started chatting with . He seemed a little tired. He sat next to me relaxing his hands over knees and pulled down his hat as to cover eyes from sun. Jos brought down customers from Pinar Del Rio to Vinales and now was trying to catch a new batch to bring back.
Jos is not a real name for taxi driver I met , because I would not want for him to get in trouble for saying anything, as I Cuba complaining about government can lead to serious troubles. So just to be on safe side I would always change everyone’s name.
Jos started telling me a bit more about himself. He is 40 years old, divorced with 2 children. Physics teacher by trade, but taxi driver by choice to make more money. He was sad to tell me about salary of Physics teacher and how many are in the same boat. Salary is about 20 CUC a month for a fully qualified teacher. He said that he has to pay 12000 cuc a year to government for being a taxi driver and rest he can keep for earning, maintenance and fuel. Sounds like not such a bad deal, but it’s not amazing .
But at the end of the day its much better than to be a teacher. I left Jos at the bus station wishing him luck (By the way all we talked about was in Spanish. And my Spanish knowledge is limited).
Bus was on time and I arrived in Havana at 6 PM. And this is where fun starts!!!
I decided that I will go to Camaguey city that’s about 9 hours away. . After chatting with incredibly disinterested staff at the bus station I found out that there are no more tickets available, but I can step in the Cuban system que. So I set to wait until 7:30 when everyone will start boarding and any left spaces on bus will be filled from Cuban que system (The special one where you say I’m in que and then disappear, all you need to remember is who is in front of you).I found out I’m number 6 in que.
I came back to bus station at 7:40 and went to get ticket hoping for the best . All Cuban que was already in front of ticket stand. And from nowhere some foreigners appeared in front of ticket stand and started arguing in Spanish with 5 people in front of me that they were first. These guys clearly had no idea of Cuban que system and the fact they tried to block locals felt rude to me. As they never asked if there is any que system. Ticket for a bus was about 30 CUC
My turn came and there was still space on bus, I pushed Spanish speaking foreigners aside and got my ticket. There was no way I’m missing that bus after 2 hours wait. After me was a lovely lady, but foreigner did not let her buy ticket and pushed her out of que. So she waited 1,5 hours for foreigner who does not understand system and to push her aside. She did not fight about it at all. It’s a shame.
Bus hours were from 8 pm un 4 Am. Next to me a male in his 50ties who’s from Germany and lives in Cuba for 15 years and is married with Cuban lady.
First few hours we both did not speak, after that we started speaking and playing chess on my iPad. And turns out he lives in Camaguey area.My seat was last one on the back and i had incredibly limited leg space so my legs were becoming numb after 2 hours. Every time we stopped i had to get out and to some walking to gain movement back. We stopped every 2-3 hours.
Roads are amazing in Cuban country side , feels like there is no asphalt at all and you drive through forest, as there is no light or any other cars. Car passes about once every hour.
During the drive me and German man kept chatting and told me few fun facts :
Fun Fact number 1: letters never leave Cuba. He used to send letters and in 15 years’ letter have never reached anyone. Turns out that stamps are expensive and when people put stamp on the letter, some people steal stamps to sell them and letter goes in the trash. He also mentioned that there is a new system where stamp is printed on postcard and that way letter can be sent as no one will have benefit of stealing already filled postcard. German man real name will stay only in my notes too, as you never know who might read this.
I arrived in Camaguey at 3:30 Am. German man offered to bring me into town with taxi he just got. He brought me down to the main hotel in town and left me there. I sat down and ordered coffee from night guard who seemed very interested in my travel plans. German man left me his contact details to meet him later in the day.
Fun fact number 2 : If your home is not registered in Casa particular system and foreigner stays at your home, government can take away your home or give you a quite big fine. So for all those who stayed in someone house that`s not a Casa particular- You put a family home in danger without even realizing it. In Cuba this is not a joke. German man did say this and sadly could not offer me his home as its not a Casa particular yet. I did hear this many time trough out my trip and even heard few cases where car or house have been taken away from families.
So far Camaguey looks amazing and people are kind, friendly and real! City seems almost magical with its tiny streets, colorful buildings and sun shining between them. Only few people working at 6 Am sweeping streets or watering flowers. All so simple and not touristic.
Around 7 Am I saw a Casa particular sign on the door (There is a sign that means its casa particular (In blue ) and in red is a casa particular for locals.
A very lady like woman in her 40ties came to balcony and shouted out questions. She pulled a rope from second story and opened door lock with it to let me in. Her house was beautiful with painting over walls and ceiling. Big open spaces with old furniture and family photos. She had no free room, but she offered to walk down to other location. Her friend showed me a dark and dirty looking room with no windows. Of course I did not agree, but for excuse I used fact that I smoke and would like to have a balcony. She walked me down to other location. Tiny entrance with tunnel type staircase leading to second story and there little family apartment. Room was very long started with huge bathroom, old metal bed and balcony. Room was not amazing but I could work with. It had bed, shower and balcony. All I requested.
At this point I was incredibly tired so I decided to skip exciting morning and just sleep in with balcony breeze on my damp skin after shower.