On the road from Havana to Remedios "a lo Cubano" 
 by Alex Mene
Maybe it was simply too good to be true, a private bus for CUC 8 per person from Havana to Remedios, leaving 9am sharp for the 6hr journey on Christmas Eve. This is Cuba where everyone always says yes, everything is doable but then reality sets in and the hours go by as the bus goes AWOL, the coordinator sinks into a bottle of rum and time ticks by. Alternatives explored until eventually the group of artistic twenty-somethings arrange to jump on the back of a lorry for the 350-kilometer journey.

This is grimy and uncomfortable, annoying and frustrating. A long way from an air-conditioned Viazul tourist bus but it works and since there are more than two people, it is an excuse for a party, for conversation, song, drinking, flirting. This is life on the road ‘a lo Cubano.’


I needed to get to Remedios for 6pm on Christmas Eve to photograph the famous Parrandas. Only arriving back from Pinar del Rio the night before, I needed to sort out transport. The thought of hitchhiking filled me with despair and would in any case surely be an exercise in futility. The regular buses were long since occupied and so I started placing calls, and as luck would have it, found a friend, (Adriana, a fabulous glass artist) who loving the Parrandas was planning to travel to Remedios on a private bus for 40 people the next day for 200 pesos. I quickly signed up, problem solved, sorted. Resuelto.

I arrived the next morning at 8:45 am at the park on 23rd and F Streets, where the bus was scheduled to leave at 9 am. As I had more or less expected, at 9:15 am not even half of the day-trippers had arrived, including the driver and the bus! At 10 am, all of my fellow travelers had arrived but there was no sign of the driver or bus.

I found out that only four people there actually knew the bus driver: three students including one “gentleman” who had spent the whole time doing his best to empty a bottle of rum. We learned that he—the coordinator—was the sole link between us and the driver. He had received half of the fare money for several days now and his job was to guarantee the trip, collecting the other half of the money when we boarded the bus. When the worried crowd rebuked him, he claimed he had no idea of what was happening, but that he would phone the driver and find out. At 11 am he informed us that the bus had broken down the day before. That he, though, could “arrange” another bus for noon.

It was 12:40 pm and the bus was nowhere in sight. Needless to say, it never showed up. A young guy who had been watching and listening to our tribulations all the time approached us and said he had a truck he made trips with to Matanzas. He added that he could take us to Remedios for 150 pesos per head for the round trip. We still had one detail to solve: recovering the money in the hands of the other guy. Travelers and “coordinator” discussed the matter which was finally resolved just before things came to blows!

We were now ready to embark on our journey. It was 1:30 pm. Everybody chipped in and we bought rum, wine and vodka, prepared to have a good time despite the discomforts we knew that riding on the back of a truck implied. I soon learned who my companions were. There were the creators of the Cuban photography website Quinqué; the 2011 UNEAC fiction prizewinner; the designer and programmer of the restaurant directory www.alamesa.com; visual artists; film students, a robotics engineer and programmer, and a not-so-young TV director who had a hard time trying to keep his balance as the truck jolted along. An interesting group, we bonded, talked, joked, sung, drunk and flirted. What are you going to do on a six-hour journey in the back of a truck?

There were slight hitches and complications with the trip. We had to get off when we were leaving the province of La Habana for the driver to fill up the tank at a workshop-cum-clandestine gas station. He got lost not once but twice and the suspension had clearly seen better days.

Yet, we when we finally arrived in Remedios at 8 pm, our throats sore from singing and rum, it was with sense of a good journey, of a community of young people who are moving, motivated, doing interesting stuff. My story is not about the Parrandas de Remedios but about the many mishaps before we reached our destination. It’s a story about the Cuban reality, which we try to settle into and make better for the future. It’s about wanting to know every inch of our island, enjoy and love it despite any contingencies. Friendship a lo Cubano.

And Las Parrandas…they were fabulous, but that is another story.
On the road from Vi?ales to Remedios 'a lo Cubano'
March 2013
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