End of the radio silence. We are back in Santiago. We are still looking for a solution to publish a nice blog with pictures again, hopefully that won't take long. Unfortunately, we learned that Jamaica is still closed. So we're looking for other destinations and maybe come up with a surprise. But now to our trip to Havana.
First of all: I will never again make a complaint about Deutsche Bahn. Never again in my life, I swore to myself here in Cuba.
The timetable is a dream. There is a train between Santiago and Havana that runs every four days. He leaves Santiago on the first day and arrives in Havana the following day. There it goes back a day later, on the fourth day the train is back in Santiago. The first adventure is buying the ticket. The ticket is available with the associated seat reservation in special agencies or at the train station. Unfortunately, I was unable to get to the relevant counter. Probably because I'm not a local. But Norbert was able to help me get the ticket for the connection to Havana. We just couldn't get the ticket back in Santiago, because there are new fares in the new year and nobody knew about them at the end of December.
So Jens and I go on December 31st. around noon to the train station in Santiago. Before we go to the taxi, Norbert asks us if we have also packed warm things. He's reserved first class for us, the wagons there are air-conditioned and really, really cold. We ask him to get us a second class ticket for the return trip and to get some warm clothes out of the boat.
The train is supposed to leave at 4:30 p.m., so we're at the station at 1 p.m. Why? Because that is imperative. The reservation must now be converted into a registration. You have to go to the appropriate counter. There you show your passport and the reservation is checked on the computer. The ticket is then stamped on the back.
Now we can leave the station again and buy a few more sandwiches for the trip. The small snack bar opposite the train station has everything a traveler needs for the journey. However, there is no beer, like almost everywhere in Cuba. The turn of the year casts its shadow ahead, the Cubans have bought all the beer supplies on the island for their own purposes, so no cans are left on the shelf. Okay, that's a minor problem, there is enough rum after all.
At 3:30 p.m. we were sitting in the shade in front of the train station when suddenly the doors of the waiting hall were closed. Besides us, there are several dozen other travelers at the door, and there is almost a riot. We can see from outside how the temperature is measured for all those waiting. When the temperature measurement official has checked all the travelers, the doors are opened again. Now we can also go to the waiting hall, when we enter the tickets are checked for the first time, our hands are disinfected and our temperature is measured.
The gates to the platform open around 4 p.m. The tickets are checked a second time, we are sent to the first car. There the conductress is at the door, checking our tickets a third time. A ticket check also meant that we had to show our passport every time. The conductress notes our names on a clipboard, the seats printed on our tickets are assigned to us and we can finally sit down. The air conditioning hums violently, it is already quite fresh in the car, but the sun is still coming in from outside. Televisions are mounted on the ceiling and play a kind of western. In Spanish. Nobody can avoid it, the sound comes through the car speakers.
The wagons are only a few years old and come from China. There is nothing wrong with that, China has a huge rail network and they can build trains. The seats are very comfortable and the legroom is exorbitant. There isn't that much space on German trains. The wagons are also very clean and they have two (!) Working toilets per wagon. Deutsche Bahn has long since abandoned this concept. Only the TV and the air conditioning are annoying.
On departure, the conductress stands in the middle of the car and makes the announcement, as you know her from our trains. We're going to Havana, we stop here and there on the way, and and and ... Meanwhile the western continues to play on the TV, only the sound has been turned down a little.
Then there is the fourth ticket inspection. The conductress checks that everyone is seated in the right place. Whoever sat in the wrong place is now sent to the right place. Slowly the train rumbled out of Santiago over somewhat worn tracks. The landscape changes quickly, it's wonderfully green outside. We drive through banana plantations and jungles. Great. In addition to the conductor, there are two policemen in each car. And the head conductor. Four people are responsible for around 50 travelers.
After just under an hour, the train stops at the first station. I forgot the name again. But it looks a lot like at German railway stations in the country. A platform for passenger traffic and next to it a dozen freight tracks with rusty and rotten freight cars. However, they are all in use. That is the difference. In Cuba, many goods are still transported by rail.
After the first stop, the conductress comes running through the car with a trolley, as is common in airplanes. She sells a sandwich and a small bottle of soda for 5 pesos. Five pesos is about 20 cents. However, the bun is not worth more. It's dry and topped with gristly ham and tasteless cheese. The soda is sweet as a card. The offer is widely used, you can buy as much as you want. Our sandwiches from the shop across the street are better. We also baked bread for the trip, which beats local bread by a long way.
At the fifth and final ticket inspection, we no longer need to show the passport, the ticket is torn off and the conductor collects the torn off sections. Since the paper is not perforated, she meticulously folds the tickets and then tears them off with a practiced movement.
Around 10 p.m. we had to endure several music videos, propaganda videos for tourism in Cuba, a pirated copy of a Steve Martin film (English with Spanish subtitles) and a Spanish romance film. The film terror comes from a DVD player that begins to jump on switches or heavy rail joints. There is a DVD player in each car, which is apparently started one after the other by the DVD officer and then plays the same program with a slight time lag of around 30 seconds. From where I know this? I could hear it when the doors between the cars were open. At 10 p.m. they turn off the film program and the lights in the car are also turned off. We can finally try to sleep.
The lights on the train come on again punctually at midnight. The train boss himself runs from seat to seat and wishes every passenger a happy new year. Then the lights go out again and we try to sleep while our feet slowly freeze into chunks of ice in the no-sock sandals.
After little sleep, we arrive in Havana the next day at around 10 a.m. with a delay of only two hours. We take a taxi to our quarters and have to warm up first.
We received second class tickets for the return trip. The number of controls is exactly the same. Even the spacing of the seats is the same in second class as in first class. The new second class fare is identical to the old first class fare. A trip costs 95 pesos per person, around four dollars.
The advantage in the second class is the absence of video screens, the absence of air conditioning and the ability to open the windows while driving. This is real train travel. I can listen to the clacking of the wheels over the rail joints, the people talking and I can enjoy the smell of Cuba. It always smells kind of burnt. Somewhere people burn their garbage, the locomotive burns sulphurous diesel, somewhere there is always a factory that is sooty and spreads its black smoke over high chimneys in the country. Sometimes it smells of the jungle, of a lot of green.
In addition to the ticket control, there is also the Covid control on the way. Each passenger must write down their name, ID number and the destination of the trip. Why? We have fixed seats, the ID numbers are also stored in the system. On the other hand, it doesn't matter, we're still on this train for hours and have nothing better to do.
The rolls now have new prices. What was available for five pesos on the outward journey now costs 50 pesos. What luck that we looked after each other again before the trip. We also got our stomachs really full again in a restaurant. The travelers protested loudly about the new prices on the train. Not only there, everywhere in Cuba there is ranting about the new food prices. Prices have risen massively, but salaries have not. Our landlord said that people would eat each other if it continued like this. I am curious to see how the situation in Cuba will develop over the next few months. Meat prices have risen over 150 percent and bread prices by 500 percent.
After our arrival in Santiago we first have to wait on the train. When we are finally allowed to get out and walk along the platform, we first pass a passenger disinfector. He stands there with a kind of syringe, like the one we use here for weed killers in the garden, and disinfects all passengers and their luggage. Then we pass a station where fever is measured. Now we are finally released from the train station and can take a taxi to the marina.
Norbert is pretty happy that our trip went so well. He tried to contact us in our quarters several times. Unfortunately, our landlady was always out and about at night and partied, but she didn't hear her phone during the day. We are also pretty tired after the night drive and go to bed early. I still had to write this blog. So much time has to be. I will never again complain about Deutsche Bahn, about the possibility of buying a ticket at the train station and then getting on a train, which usually leaves once an hour.