Five minutes into the drive, we were at our first stop - the gas station. As Javier filled the tank, Juan looked at me awkwardly and seemed to be working up the courage to say something. I knew what he was getting at and told him not to worry, I'd pay for the gas. We'd discussed money before I arrived, after I told him that I wanted to travel to Havana. He'd been honest and told me he couldn't afford to go. Though he worked at the resort most days it wasn't actually his real job. He worked for a national sports organization as a baseball coach and umpire and occasional soccer pro which paid about $25 a month. The resort filled up the rest of the time and paid nothing, except for the presents and tips he received from the guests which usually worked out to more than his real salary. All of this combined did not add up to much though. Most of the time he kept a little bit for himself and gave the rest to his mom. No matter which way you sliced it, he was poor. Yet I wanted to go to Havana and I wanted to go with him. I accepted that fact that I would have to pay for the trip and simply asked him to try and help me keep it as cheap as possible.
When we arrived at the Camaguey bus-stop an hour and a half later, a couple tough looking characters in brightly coloured La Puta Madre tanks tops and glittery belt buckles sidled over to our car and started talking to Juan and Javier. The four of them grimaced and glared as the conversation became increasingly louder and more intense. I started to get nervous, thinking something serious was about to go down. I tried to get Juan's attention as quietly and unobtrusively as possible to avoid upsetting the balance even further.
'What's wrong?', I whispered, 'What do they want?'
He looked confused, 'Nothing's wrong. They're just asking if we want a ride to Havana.'
Now it was my turn to be confused, 'Then why are you all so serious and angry?'
'Angry? What? Nobody's angry, we're just talking,' he said and re-joined the negotiations.
After about twenty minutes of this angry-looking non-fight about travel options it was settled...we'd be paying them 50CUC a person (just over $100 total) for a ride to Havana. Or rather I'd be paying. I knew the bus would be cheaper and I didn't want to immediately take up the role of sugar momma but I felt that the comfort of a car would be worth it. I didn't want to splash too much cash around with Juan but I also didn't want to suffer.
We went to grab a quick lunch before hitting the road once again. We also swung by Javier's girlfriend's house to see his baby daughter. I've never been much of a baby person but even ended up holding her for a couple minutes in an attempt to not look like some strange, cold, baby-hating foreigner in front of the extended family. Finally we were back at the bus stop, the tank-topped toughs sidled up to us again and another heated conversation ensued.
After another half hour of intense negotiations, Juan let me in on what was happening. While we'd been away a new group of travelers had arrived at the bus stop looking for an immediate ride to Havana. They, and our ride, were long gone. However, a bus was leaving in ten minutes just down the road and if we hurried, they could get us on the bus.
I wasn't sure why exactly why there needed to be so many people involved in getting us on a bus when we were already at a bus station, not to mention the long, drawn-out discussions about it, but I was eager to get moving and they'd dropped their fee to nearly half of their initial offer. I recognized that I really had no idea what was going on...but also recognized that I really didn't care. Juan and Javier and the two negotiators seemed to have it under control, I told Juan to agree to whatever it took to get us on the road to Havana.
Five minutes later we were waiting on a corner a few blocks down the street from the bus stop. An Astro bus belching out black smoke screeched to a halt beside us, the driver hurried me inside and then went back out to help Juan put our bags under the bus. The bus was almost full but we found two seats together near the back. As I looked around I noticed that I was the only non-Cuban on the bus and, more importantly to my small bladder, that there was no bathroom. This clearly was not a bus intended for foreign tourists. I started to worry that it was possibly illegal for me to be on this bus. But then decided if the folks overcharging me for tickets and the driver getting a cut of it didn't care, I didn't care either.
We were finally on our way to Havana, that was all that mattered.
|For the right price, I'm pretty sure we could have gotten a ride to Havana from one of these guys|