10.02.2014 - 12.02.2014 30 °C
Before going to Cuba, I had planned to take the train linking Havana and Santiago de Cuba, the second biggest city. I read some advices from the Seat61 site, but when I finally tried to purchase the ticket, all my efforts were useless. I went to the ticket office Saturday afternoon in order to buy tickets for next night's train. The ticket office was closed and it would only open on Monday, they told me. I thought "well, I'll stay an extra day in Havana and go on Monday". So I went there on Monday to find that the train wasn't running that day. Viazul, the bus option, proved to be as hard to book as the train, because being high season, everything was already booked.
" - Well, you can try to do it the way Cubans do" advised me one of the men working at casa particular.
"- And how is that?" - At this point, I just wanted to find an alternative.
"- Take a camión. You can go to Bayamo or Santiago for a fraction of the price."
So I went to check it out. A camión is a truck which has seats like an old school bus. It only departs when its full. It seamed ok to me and I thought "well, this shouldn't take much time to get full". I was wrong. I waited about 3 hours until it got completely full. And it was hot. But I tell you, the money you save is worth it, if you don't mind having a little less comfort.
Resuming: the trip took 11 hours, we got stopped 3 times by the police (2 of them probably for speeding, as the driver was driving really fast and the other the police went on the truck to check the contents of the bags), and stopped at the oddest places (including a stop to eat dinner at a private restaurant with excellent food for 30 Cuban Pesos - approx. 1€) and arrived to Bayamo (which I didn't know where it was until after I got to Santiago) at 3am. The next challenge would be to get from Bayamo to Santiago de Cuba. After waiting for a while and being offered as much as 3 taxis, I just took the normal Viazul bus that stopped there 30 minutes later (and this 130km segment was more expensive than the 740km from Havana to Bayamo by camión).
I finally arrived to Santiago de Cuba. A city that shares so few things with Havana. For starters, the tall buildings are almost inexistent. It's not touristy at all, although you can find some touristy places. Secondly, the prices are way cheaper than Havana. You should have moneda nacional, though, as the shops are mainly directed to Cubans. "Normal" restaurants are harder to find, but you can find good street food. And ice creams for the price of a bubble gum in Europe.
After checking in at the Casa and resting a bit, I went to visit the city center, which isn't very big. I started chatting with a local musician, who took me to the main musical venues, such as the Casa de la Trova, and explained many things about the musical traditions and the popular events such as the Carnival and the religious traditions. His Rumba group was recording a clip next day as well as commemorating its birthday, so he invited me to come along, invitation which I gladly accepted.
Next day, there I was early morning, ready to go to the party, that was being held at the beach, about 30 km from the city. The venue, a camping park for Cubans was a great place and it had a natural pool and plenty of shade to picnic or rest. There was a religious Santeria ceremony followed by lunch and after that, the Rumba show by the group, called "Rumba Aché". Everybody had a good time and the weather was really nice.
The evening was approaching was it was time to pack things up and get back to Santiago. This time I had booked a ticket for Viazul to Trinidad, so I would traveling "in style" overnight. I went to get my backpack that I had left at the Casa and went to bus station to catch the bus.
Next stop: Trinidad