20 - 22 February 2013
Up at 6am, packing the last few things and walking to the terminal where the bus to Santa Clara left on time at 7am. I was surprised we had to go back to Cienfeugos on the way - it added 1½ hour to the journey. Though nothing to do about ït except relax and enjoy the ride – and anyway I had been talking to the Danish couple from Cienfuegos to Trinidad so I hadn't really anjoyed the views on the way. We arrived in Santa Clara at 11 and the first thing was to book an onward ticket to Camaguey, which took more than ½ hour because everything here is so inefficeint. Only one guy to answer phones, coordinate passenger lists with the bus drivers, make reservations, sell tickets, etc. - reservations can be made days in advance but buying the ticket has to be done 10-30 minutes before departure!
I walked the 2½k into town expecting it to be easy to find good and cheap accommodation but that was not the case. Most places were fully booked or charged CUC 20-25 pesos. I tried to walk further north and west from the centre but there were few options. South of town I finally found a place for CUC 15 without breakfast – expensive but obviously not here and with only ½ day in town and having walked around for 1½ hour it was an easy decision to accept. Santa Clara is “Che town” so I first headed out to the Che Guevara Monument at the outskirts of town – big but less pompous than many other Cuban monuments. Based on my precious experience with Cuban museums (random pictures and artifacts) I skipped the Che museum which Paul later confirmed was the right decision. It's very popular to bicycle around Cuba so I took the opportunity to talk to a youngish Canadian couple bicycling around Cuba for some month - interestingly enough he had also bicycled many places around the world.... Back in town I walked around observing buildings, churches, plazas and people – most foreigners seem to like Santa Clara but for me it was nothing special - narrow streets, heavy traffic and very polluted, relatively few nice buildings and only Parque Vidal is a cosy square. Here I re-united with Paul and Helena that I had met a couple of days before at Playa Ancon. We spent some cosy hours together before parting again – they wanted to do a bit more sightseeing while I was tired after a long day (and still a bit ill) and went back to my casa.
After a rough night where I had to leave the a/c on to drown the street noise, I tried to sleep late but it was still too noisy and the a/c had made my throat worse. I also started being doubtful how easy it would be to get a bus from Camaguey to Havana (to catch my flight to Cayman Islands) so I considered alternative places to go. However, they all required shifting buses on the way back to Havana and so I stuck to my initial plan and hoped for the best. On the way to the bus station I had time to do internet and again the speed was fairly okay. The bus left only 15 minutes late at noon – nice views of the Cuban countryside; hills and valleys, forest and rivers, lots of sugar cane, cattle farms, small villages and a few bigger cities. I'm amazed by the long detours on small roads to let people off at their doorsteps – they must be good friends or pay extra for that service. I was pretty cold most of the trip – I got on the bus last and ended under the a/c and as always it was full power witout discussion. We arrived in Camaguey at 5pm and I had no trouble getting a night bus back to Havana the next evening. As it was 5k into the centre and a bit late I decided to take a bicycle taxi to have time to find a casa before it got dark - it turned out to be easy. I got off at a big square and walked a few minutes asking at the first casa I found – it was occupied but she called a friend who offered a good price and even to pick me up. Very nice people (even a bit of English) and a great room – however I couldn't really enjoy it. I was still coughing from all the smoke and now I got fever from the a/c as well as a terrible headache. Not much too do – drink a lot of water, wrap myself up in clothes and sheets and sweat it out during the night.
It was not a great night but with 12 hours in bed I did get some sleep and I felt much better in the morning. I could have rested in the room all morning and done the sightseeing in the afternoon, but I was pretty sure it would get clouded around noon, so I pulled myself together and got up. The centre of Camaguey is not very big so it only took some hours to see all the squares, parks, monuments and not least churches – Camaguey must be the “church capital” of Cuba. As always the pollution was terrible but fortunately there was a nice breeze dissolving the worst fumes. Early afternoon I took a break in a big park - around 200 benches and only two used but that didn't prevent one of a dozen women park officers from telling me I couldn't rest lying down – a good example of what happens when for decades people have been educated to stop thinking and do what they're told.... rules are rules and must be obeyed.
Later I wanted to do more internet at the national provider Etecsa (I was still searching for accommodation in Cayman Islands cheaper than USD 150 per night), but the shop was out of cards, so a woman told me to go to another branch nearby and try there – she couldn't explain to me why all the customers had to go somewhere else in stead of one employee collecting new cards at the other shop. Another typical example of only doing what you're told – no independent thinking and no sense of responsibility... and why should they; there is no incentive to “overachieve”. This explains why it's such an inefficient system/country where everybody spends most of their day waiting for the bus, in shops, in public offices,etc. And inefficiency creates corruption - to do something extra (or sometimes just their jobs) people often expect a tip i.e. a bribe.
On the way back to the casa I had a couple of pizzas – the first was prepared in a microwave ...and yes you guessed right: a lump of dow... the second was acceptable. At the casa I picked up my luggage and said goodbye. I walked to the main street to find a bicycle taxi but had to walk a bit before I was offered the right price. I was 4 hours early at the bus station but working on text and pictures for my homepage and doing some reading time passed quickly. During the 4 hours approx. 200 men walked into the women's toilet – I'm pretty sure it happens everyday and still the toilet lady (or others) doesn't suggest changing the sign….. maybe she's even pleased that she can guide thousands of men to the right toilet everyday...?!