Saturday, July 23, 2016

Travel, Whatever the Cost

Travel, Whatever the Cost / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

The "last minute" terminal in Havana for the purchase of interprovincial
bus and train tickets. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 18 July 2016 – "Give me the
suitcase, I'm off to the countryside," says the chorus of a tune that
gets more popular during the school holidays. Many families visit their
relatives in rural areas, travel to tourist destinations in other
provinces, or spend some days camping far from home. Interprovincial
transport collapses with the high demand in July and August, while
customers' criticisms also intensify.

Under a roof of metal tiles that converts the place into a free sauna,
hundreds of people are waiting this weekend to travel "last minute" or
"on the waiting list" from the terminal on Puerto Avenue in Old Havana.
Some of them no longer remember when they got there, because the hours
have passed one after another, without hearing the good news that their
number in line can board the next bus.

The expansive hall is a place where people spend a lot of time.
Friendships are created there, some play cards and others take advantage
of no one looking to have a sip of alcohol to help them forget the
fatigue. The most impatient end up paying a private car to take them to
their destination at ten times the price of the official ticket.

Iliana has worked there since they opened the new "last minute" terminal
and knows that in these summer months the provinces most in demand are
those in the east of the country. A situation that is repeated "at the
end and beginning of the year, on some special dates such as Mother's
Day, school holiday weeks and summers."

Near Iliana a woman dozes on a suitcase, a little boy cries because he's
hot and a furtive peanut seller manages to sell some of his merchandise.
All are attentive to the monitors that announce the numbers on the
waiting list that can board the next bus, but for several hours no
vehicle "has seats."

A murmur of discontent spreads among the passengers with the first
numbers on the list of routes that are longest, to the east of the
island. "That's because the drivers themselves and the conductors resell
free spaces before they get here," complains a father with three kids.

The man asserts that the buses leave from the central Astro terminal,
near the Plaza of the Revolution, and between there and the waiting list
"the employees themselves sell the unoccupied seats, arriving at the
terminal with only one or two, to be consistent with the formalities."
No other passengers join in the customer's outraged complaint, some look
at the floor and others fan themselves mechanically, their eyes glazed over.

The most prudent travelers are not at this location. They bought their
tickets three months ago from the state interprovincial bus system, but
such a decision takes a lot of forethought and quite a bit of risk. "I
just had to be sure of getting to Morón after my wife confirmed she'd
have a vacation from work," said Raudel, who is from Ciego de Avila but
has been living in Havana for the last two decades and this weekend is
waiting at the "last minute" station.

Two young men in a corner of the hall decide not to wait any longer.
"I'll buy the ticket outside, because I have to be at my sister's
wedding in Palmarito del Cauto and if I don't leave now I won't get
there in time," one of them tells several customers who are seated
nearby. The young man will add to the 169 peso coast of a Santiago de
Cuba some 15 convertible pesos – for a total of more than three times
the official price – to get there.

"It won't fail me," he says, and he notes a connoisseur of the
"mechanism" that makes things appear even when the blackboard says
they're out. "I pay and I get on the bus a few blocks from here," he
explains. "No one sees me and it's just an agreement between the driver
and me."

Some have listened to the call to be careful. "The inspectors are
everywhere," warns a woman heading to Trinidad. There is a lot of
surveillance, but it doesn't fix the problems with transport, what they
have to do is import more cars and lower the prices of the tickets which
are too high," she says.

In the recently concluded session of the National Assembly, the deputies
criticized the constant violations in the itineraries in urban and
interprovincial transport in the country. Also figuring into the debate
were the corruption in the sale of tickets at some terminals,
irregularities in the vehicle control stations, and the poor maintenance
of the roads.

The deputies also mentioned the lack of comfort in the Yutong buses –
from China – which operate on the interprovincial routes of the state
company Astro, the lack of information for travelers, the disconnect
between ticket prices and service, the overuse of the equipment and the
poor cleaning standards. But this is only a distant echo for travelers
who, lately, suffer firsthand the rigors of getting around the island.

Night begins to fall in the "last minute" terminal and some get
comfortable in a corner planning to sleep on their luggage. "I do this
twice a month, so this place is like my second home," says a young woman
who studies at the Higher Institute of Art. The rain sounds on the metal
tiles and the loudspeaker emits the lucky numbers of those who will take
the next bus.

Source: Travel, Whatever the Cost / 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez –
Translating Cuba -

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