29 May Braving the Cold: Via Azul to Trinidad, Cuba
Via Azul to Trinidad
We left Baracoa at 2:15 p.m. on the Via Azul for Trinidad. After our Cuban train experience, we hoped the bus would be better. They required that we reserve our place between 8:00 – 12:00, but they wouldn’t accept pay until 1:15. The bus station was packed with crying babies and irritated faces. While we waited at the counter, I overheard one woman ask another where we were from. “Oh them?” she answered knowingly, “They’re from Spain.”
The bus followed the most curvaceous path imaginable, weaving through lush mountains and valleys and nearly making me lose my lunch. Since our bus stopped every forty minutes or so, and we arrived late, only after several passengers began asking the bus driver if they would miss their connection in Santiago de Cuba. We did make it though (just in time) to board the 8:00 p.m. Via Azul to Trinidad. Arrival time? 6:30 a.m.
This came as a total surprise to us since the woman who’d sold us our tickets had said our arrival time would be 2:00 a.m. This made our trip 16 hours in total, but we didn’t mind. We were leaving behind the small, beautiful community where we had been ravaged by fever and survived. We were ready to move on.
The bus was freezing. We were wearing street clothes from the beach and thought we would turn into ice cubes. We asked if they could turn the air-conditioner down, but they said the rule was it must be running at all times. The driver telling this was wearing a puffy down coat, wool beanie and had a blanket over his legs …in Cuba!
By 4 a.m. they gave Sean permission to get more clothes from our packs which were stored underneath the bus. Other passengers had taken the seat covers off the seats to warm them. We followed suit even with the extra layer of clothes on. We fell asleep for the remaining couple of hours, exhausted. We understood then their local nickname: Fria Azul.
When we arrived in Trinidad we were ushered to Maytee’s house, a casa particular that had been recommended to us by Casa Marina. The house was lovely, enormous, and in a fascinating state of decay. We stumbled in and woofed down a breakfast of eggs, chorizo, guava smoothie, coffee and toast. We rested for a bit and went out to explore.
We found the beautiful, Caribbean colonial downtown mobbed by busloads of tourists. I must admit here that I am hyper-sensitive to group tours. Quite frankly, they frighten me. Ironically, we overheard locals talking about how few tourists were there and how we’d stumbled into the off-season. Lucky for us, however, at 5 p.m. every day the buses clear out leaving the quiet anticipation of the night to come.
Next we had coffee and lunch in Mar y Monte; Cuban coffee is so amazing that pulling an all-nighter on a freezing bus is a great excuse for an extra afternoon pick me up. We also split a delicious seafood pizza with lobster, shrimp and veggies. The view from the terrace was perfect, and we craned over to people watch will we sipped our iced java.
When we walked out few tourists were left and the scene was far more picturesque, locals mulling around, passing through spaces the authorities keep them out of during the tourist’s afternoon visits. While Sean shot the plaza I had a fascinating conversation with some locals who’s been fined 400 CUP (about a month’s wages) for talking to a tourist. If he couldn’t pay it in 3 days, it doubled. Next, he’d be thrown in jail. He wasn’t asking me for money, on the contrary, he told me that because I’m a writer and people in the outside world needed to know what’s behind “the façade of Cuba.” His father, a man in his seventies had just been sent to jail for not paying a similar fine.
Another man confessed (in a whisper) that he hated Cuban politics, but he was afraid because people “disappear.” A relative of his had been involved in an uprising in which seventy-five people disappeared. They were terrified to speak out against what they considered to be injustices.