Travel like a Cuban

5th of January 2014
On the road to Playa Larga

Next day, Miriam and I started heading towards bay of pigs, the spot where Castro’s army humiliated the US and its Cuban allies some 50 years ago. We said goodbye to Jorge who was heading in the other direction towards Varadero. We decided that we are not going to take any touristic buses but we will make it to Playa Larga using only local transportation. Our only piece of information was that we needed to head south so we started walking south of the city hoping that we can stop a car heading in that direction.

While walking, we stopped at a small shop to have a cup of coffee. The owner of the coffee place was Elio, he spoke English perfectly and he started chatting with us once we came in. With Elio in Matanzas He told us that he just got the permission to host foreigners in his casa particular and took me to see it and take photos of it. Elio gave us our first clue to start heading south from Matanzas, he told us we needed to go to the bus station and over there we can take a truck (máquina) that will take us to another city south of Matanzas.

We made it to the bus stop, and over there we couldn’t find the trucks we were looking for. When we asked the taxi drivers, they tried to convince us that the only way for us is to take a taxi, I answered them that we are short of money and we can’t afford a taxi. They immediately changed tone and led us to where the trucks were stopping. We got into the truck after a short wait amidst the curiosity of Cubans looking at the German girl accompanying the – supposedly – Cuban guy and clearly didn’t belong in that truck.

In the truck, we got to know a young family and started playing with their cute child. Miriam gave him a balloon to play with, but it exploded shortly. She wanted to get rid of it, but the mom took it and started sewing it to fix it. She reminded me of my aunts who have an incredible ability to fix and repair anything time after time before giving up on it. A culture of poverty that is the same whether you are in Cuba or in Sudan, and that it is understandably very foreign for Europeans for example.

The truck arrived to the next stop, Jovellano. We asked the passengers how we can get to the next city, Jagüey Grande. A passenger – a young man doing his military service – told us he is going there and that we can follow him to take a local taxi colectivo. We started walking with the guy towards the taxi stop in a city that seemed completely empty of tourists or tourist attractions. We reached the stop and I started chatting with a local man, our connection was that he was wearing a Barcelona shirt like me. We were then joined by a young kid who could easily be from Khartoum suburbs, we started looking at the photos on my mobile, he told me that he wishes to go to Italy one day and when he saw the photo of my friend’s daughter, he said he wouldn’t mind marrying her because she is beautiful. Cubans seem to develop a great taste for women from a very young age.

Finally, the taxi moved and everyone on board seemed to know each other and started a very loud chatter. My Barcelona friend got his bottle of rum out and started sharing it with everyone in the taxi especially me. He made sure though to ask for my permission every single time he wanted to pass the bottle to my German friend!

We finally reached Jagüey Grande, I said goodbye to my FCB friend and he made sure to get us a bicitaxi to take us to the main road where we can get our next transportation method towards our final destination. It seemed that – by this point – we were part of a local circle of trust and everyone were making sure to take good care of us.

The bicitaxi took us to the main road and then waited for us to find a taxi colectivo and made sure we knew the local price. We got into the car that seemed like an older version of Sudan’s 1978 trucks. In the car, there was a guy I assumed he is a fake Cuban like me, traveling with a tourist. We talked when the car stopped and Reynier turned out to be 100% Cuban from Centro Habana, a university student, who liked to travel and explore the beauty of his country. I assumed that he is not Cuban, simply because Cubans – like all other poor countries – don’t travel for the sake of traveling, it’s a luxury that people just don’t think about, although it’s quiet affordable even for local standards.

Anyhow, we made it to Playa Larga around mid day and we decided to spend the night there and started looking for a casa for the four of us. We found a casa, left our bags, then headed to the beach where we all went swimming, except Reynier who said it was too cold for a Cuban. After the quick swim, we went looking for a restaurant, whenever we found a restaurant, they brought us the “foreigners” menu which has prices that are at least 3 times what would Reynier pays if he was by himself.

We finally settled for a place to eat, and we had a delicious dinner talking listening to Rey. He taught me about Cuba and young Cubans in few hours more than what I learned in the whole past week. His talks were more than the typical complaints about the difficulty and complexity of life in Cuba, on the contrary, Rey was full of hope, optimism and love to this country. He doesn’t think about leaving it – maybe only a vacation if he ever gets the chance – but he realizes how unique and beautiful it is. He said that he started traveling around Cuba when he got frustrated of his Cuban friends complaining about not being able to travel outside “Why would they dream about Miami when most of them haven’t seen how beautiful Trinidad is for example?!”, he exclaimed. We didn’t talk about politics and this might be one of the few conversations with Cubans where we didn’t mention Castro or the embargo or the communist party. It was just a simple but fascinating look into his life as a young man. A life full of dreams, ambition and passion as any other young person … from Miami to Khartoum.

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