How to ride a bicycle without breaks

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One of the challenges you can face during a trip to Cuba is transportation. Infrastructure here is not working at all like anything we are used to. But as soon as you figure out how everything is put together you find that there is indeed a clear system for getting around on this island.

Playa Larga is a small town on the south coast that is known for good diving. We stay there three nights to have a break from all the cities, do some snorkeling and enjoy beach life for a bit. Upon our arrival, I ask our hostess Maria Elena where I can find internet connection and she tells me that I have to go to a small square in the town (we are staying a bit in the outskirts closer to the beach). “Don´t worry, you can lend a bicycle” she adds and points at her husband that immediately pins away to find one. He comes back with an ancient bike, way too low for my long Scandinavian legs and with a wobbly saddle that you have to constantly adjust while biking otherwise you fall of. And, on top of it – the bike has no breaks. “It´s a very good bicycle, the husband, who´s name is Omelio, says in a confident tone of voice. Oh well, you take what you get I suppose. Meanwhile, using the bike a few times during our stay I figure out a way to adjust my speed so that I don´t have to look like a moron with my feet stamping in the ground every time I have to take a turn or stop.

Don´t you worry ´bout a thing

After standing in line for an hour at the local telecommunications office (yes that is what they call it) to buy this special card with a code that gives me one hour of internet “Cubano style” (meaning fairly slow) I can finally go to the small square. Here I sit down with my phone and my sacred code together with somewhat 40 other people, Cubans and tourists that want to check their mails, connect with their friends on social media or skype or update blog posts about missing internet connection and infrastructure headache ;-).

On Sunday evening we are leaving Playa Larga to go back to Havanna. Since all the taxis are leaving the town in the morning and we want to have some time to enjoy the beach we decide to take the bus. There is one that leaves the town at 5 pm and takes two hours. This we´ve learned from several sources. We are told that it is not possible to book tickets in advance, but our hostess in our casa particular ensures us that this will not be a problem, the bus will not be full. “No te preocupes”, she says. “Don´t worry” it means and this is a sentence you hear a lot from the Cubans. You never have to worry according to the people we meet, so we try not to – also not this time.

Omelio drives us to the bus station and we wait. And wait. And wait. After half an hour in the sticky afternoon sun (getting crazy running after Olivia to keep her off the road) we ask a woman in the bus stop when the bus is supposed to arrive. “6-6.30 pm, or maybe later” she explains. When we tell her that we´ve been told that it arrives at 5 pm she just shakes her head and gives us a motherly smile.

The charm of waiting

Trying to take it piano and not get stressed by the waiting time we sit down on a bench in the shadow close to the bus stop together with a bunch of Cubans who are also waiting. When a car or a bus shows up they run to the road and stick their thumb out or wave around with a money note. Most of the time the buses and cars drive by full but sometimes someone gets lucky and a vehicle stops and pick them up. Around 6.40 pm our bus finally shows up and there´s exactly 4 seats left for us. The bus will arrive in Havana around 9.30 (1,5 hour after our estimates arrival time). We sit down, tired but happy that we are on the way and saved at least 15 euro by taking the bus instead of taxi (Haleluja!). And our kids were able to entertain themselves charming the Cubans waiting together with us.

Saved by the taxi and sleepy children

This is just two small examples on how things work in Cuba. Things you take for granted at home, like constant access to internet, availability 24 seven, an infrastructure that somewhat has a red thread and a reliable schedule are simply not existing here. As a tourist however, you can handle it somehow, with some exceptions (like the French guy standing in front of me in the queue for the internet-cards, who after 40 min of waiting grunts “Increible!” and tries to squeeze himself through the door, which only results in the fact that he gets sent out the door again with a furious red face), but I´m amazed how patient the Cubans always seem –  whether they are standing in the queue for internet cards, waiting for a bus that might/might not show up and might/might not have space for them, or waiting in line for their monthly hand out of something that we can go and buy whenever we want and wherever we want.

To sum it all up I have to point out that we´ve in the end mainly have had good experiences and only a few less convenient when it comes to transportation. We´ve mostly decided to go with the somewhat more expensive but much more chilled out taxi collectivos (shared taxi). They arrive to the door always on time (even a little bit before – early enough to impress my Swiss husband ;-)) and deliver you at the door. And to put some cream on the coffee we have been driving around in the coolest ancient cars, in all kinds of forms, brands and colors (from chock pink to neon green). Above it all kids love to be on the road. The more noise the vehicle makes the better they sleep. I´ve had Olivia passing out in my lap during the most crazy experiences. Even on a crowded and loud bus that make people jump 10 centimeter above their seat whenever the bus hits one of the many road bumps.

Who says it is hard to travel with children?

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