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Public Transportation in Cuba

Before coming to Cuba I had never used public transportation, and to be honest I didn’t think I would use it here. After spending d@^^ near $100 on cab fare in one week’s time, I decided to give Cuba’s public transportation system a try. My professors at the Center for Marine Investigation (CIM) were kind enough to explain the rather confusing public transportation system to me in no time and highly recommended that I use the P-1 (an overcrowded monstrous Chinese made bus), which is commonly known by the Cubans as the Guagua. My professors at CIM informed me that I could use the Guagua for only 45 centavos, and cautioned me to watch my things while on the bus.

After asking around and gathering various bits of information about the Guagua, I mustered up enough courage to give it a shot. As my luck would have it, the bus stop was crawling with people and I couldn’t tell where the line ended or began. Me being the calm collected and patient young American that I am, I maneuvered my way through the crowd of people and found a small place on the curb to sit down. It wasn’t long before I spotted the red monstrosity barreling towards the bus stop as people crossing the street dashed for their lives to get out of its way. As soon as the bus stopped, the doors blew open and a heard of people scurried off while at the same time, 45 on-comers tried to squeeze through an entrance designed for admitting no more than about three people at a time.  To no surprise, not all of them got on and after watching this chaos go on for about thirty minutes, I quickly learned that it was each man for himself.  If I wanted to get on that bus I was going to have fight my way through the crowd and jump on or bust.

I can’t even begin to explain the shame that I felt each time I tried to get on the bus only to have the doors slammed in my face. After being pushed off of the 4th bus that day I decided to swallow my pride and catch the bus the Cuban way. Low and behold it worked! As the fifth Guagua barreled up to the bus stop, I noticed that it was packed so full of people that I couldn’t even see daylight pass through its grease coated windows. Never the less, I took a deep breath, held tight to my book bag and pushed my way onto the bus. Success at last; I’d finally made it onto the infamous Guagua. However, my story doesn’t end here. It was while standing on the dangerously overcrowded bus that I first realized what it felt like to be a Cuban in an impoverished, indigent, and destitute Socialist country. As I shyly looked around, trying my best not to make prolonged eye contact with people who were practically wrapping their arms around me to keep from falling over, I saw doctors, armed police officers, military officers, and various other people all patiently standing on the bus not the least but concerned about the fact that they were crammed in a bus like sardines in a sardine can, suffocating from the combination of intense body heat, toxic exhaust fumes, and tropical heat.  Judging by their facial expressions I came to conclude that there was no reason for the Cuban people to be bothered by standing in a crowded bus. Their nonchalant demeanor led me to understand that it is a way of life for them, and that they are ok with it.

The bus made routine stops after every 5 or so blocks to let people off and to give only the fittest individuals a chance to get on. During each stop, the people inside the Guagua would clammy migrate towards the rear end of the bus to allow newcomers a spot near the font to unofficially assure that others could get on. At one point I accidentally dropped by book bag as I tried to move towards the rear of the Guagua, sending my spanish note cards flying allover the floor. At that very instant a Cuban doctor, along with a military officer, noticed that that I was having a difficult time trying to gather my things. The two of them got up from their seats and politely pushed their way towards me and helped my gather my things. The military officer gently took my book bag from my hands and held it open as the doctor helped me put my things back into my bag. Not saying a word they returned to their seats and sat down. The doctor was even kind enough to hold my book bag in his lap for me so that I wouldn’t have to worry about repositioning it every time someone tried to pass by me. I couldn’t believe it.

There I was a complete stranger to these men completely oblivious as to what was going on around me and they took it upon themselves to help me in my brief (and not to mention embarrassing) time of need. It was then and there that I let go of all the negative preconceived notions that I held against the Cuban people, freeing my mind to experience Cuba for all that it was worth. I have since tried to use the Guagua everyday, and I have encouraged the rest of my colleagues to do the same. We now use the Guagua to do everything from going to Copellia in Vedado to get ice cream and hotdogs, to going to the University of Havana. Using public transportation in Cuba has defiantly been an eye-opening experience, and I would highly recommend that other Americans make use of the system when relations between the US and Cuba strengthen and the embargo is lifted in the near future.