In my previous post, I wrote about all things cool in Havana, including the classic 1950s American cars that color every city road in hues of blue and green and rust all over. But what’s not so cool about those old cars? Well, they break down.
In my last week there, I met two Australian guys and a Belgian girl on a bus en route from the small colonial town of Trinidad to the old capital of Santiago de Chile. They were cool and invited me to tag along (sort of. That could have been the other way around :). One of my favorite things about traveling solo is that I can be alone when I want to be alone, and it’s never too hard to make friends when I don’t. It’s also much cheaper to travel in a group...which is how we got stranded on a highway in the middle of nowhere, Cuba.
With two or more people, renting a taxi is more economical than paying separate to ride the bus (not only are their two currencies in Cuba, but there are two bus lines: one for locals and one for foreigners at triple the price), and ideally it’s much quicker too, since the driver takes you direct instead of stopping every five minutes to pick up his buddies and drop them off. They do have the Yellow Cab variety in Cuba, but who wants to take one of those when you can negotiate a cheaper deal to ride in one of these?
Yeah, that’s what we thought too, until in the midst of crossing a railroad track the car sputtered, and stalled. Right smack in the middle of the train crossing. As if it were planned. As if it were Hollywood. But this wasn’t Hollywood, and I’m the only one who found it funny (I sometimes get myself in trouble for laughing at the wrong moments, like that time I hopped out of my raft during guide training and lost my boat full of people to the current. Oops!). Which is why we found ourselves crawling out of the sweaty can into the blistering heat and pushing the blue piece of tin down the highway and onto the shoulder.
Our driver looked around and told us the wheel shaft (or something like that) was broken. He said we would have to wait for help, and by the sound of things (or lack of sound) that was going to be a while. We settled into the shade of a nearby tree while he removed the tire and, eventually, the shattered part.
While the Australians took turns throwing rocks at a sign, I flagged down every passing camion (a truck taxi where people ride in the bed, often standing for hours), taxi and car passing by. There was an intersection up ahead and most were turning the opposite direction from our intended destination.
Two hours later, a truck hauling gravel invited us aboard. He was making his twice-weekly haul from Havana to Santiago (a 20-hour trip) and said he’d like the company in his air conditioned sleeper cab.
We didn’t hesitate.
Four people and four large backpacks stuffed inside a cab made for a (not-so) cozy ride, but we had air conditioning, a front-row view and our driver turned out to be a pretty good singer as he karaoked our way into town. We made it to Baracoa, a sleepy little oceanside town just over the mountains from Santiago, and he dropped us off at what turned out to be my favorite stay in Cuba, for both the accommodation and the city.
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Tell me, have you ever hitchhiked? If so, how did it turn out? Why did you do it? Are you glad you did?