You know the saying ‘polishing a turd’, when you can’t possibly make something good out of something so bad. Well Cuba has had a good go at reversing the saying. Where this first night and a day has been dripping in amazement and wonder, a somewhat frustrating side of Cuba has shown itself. It seems the grab for tourist money which has been intent but respectful thus far isn’t always as restrained.
We’re getting used to the constant smooth introductions and also getting good at pushing them aside, but we’ve avoided quite blatant conning so far, or has it avoided us? We need a taxi to the bus station as we’re heading out into the countryside to Viñales, this is where the fun begins.
We’re looking for a cab but a bike taxi grabs us and says it’s 10minutes for him and $10, as opposed to $7 for a car so we settle on $8 and off we go. We get about half way and he comes to a hill and says that the station is just ahead so we’re finished. A bit shitty we resolve to walk but it soon becomes clear he only took us about half the way, never intending to make the trip. A car cab costs us another $5 and although we’re not notably out of pocket it’s a bad taste. True to form the taxi driver offers to take us the whole way to Viñales (two hours) but we just can’t trust the commitment so we firmly fight off his offers. It’s a bit sad but we’re beginning to feel like cash cow prey.
Then the bus station. We wait in a short queue for about half an hour to be told that we need to get tickets at another ticket booth, hmmm. That ticket booth is unmanned as the staff are at lunch, hmmm. We were told we need to be there an hour prior to departure and it’s 30 minutes to go and no success yet. With about 25 minutes on the panic clock the staff come back but on buying the tickets we’re told “sit down’ with no explanation to our exasperation. Many people buy tickets and I try again… ‘sit down’, hmmm. 10 minutes till departure and the boarding is called, shit! With less than 10 minutes we, and two other pairs of travellers are barrelled onto the bus. Safe to say that getting to the bus has been a tad more stressful that it needed to be.
The three or so hours on the bus calm us down somewhat, and we descend into Viñales to picturesque mountains, a relaxing exhale encompasses us both. Until the bus stops. I didn’t realise we had recorded a single and definitely didn’t realise that it went to number one with a bullet in Cuba. The frenzied crush getting out of the bus is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, we feel like star witnesses in a celebrity trial bashing our way through a throng of protesters. It’s pretty fierce and after this day the polite denials are out the window, no shame in telling a lovely looking woman where to go, laws of the jungle here, there’s only one way to play. Wow, it really appears today that we might need to keep a bubbling aggression at hand nearly all the time, this has a genuine chance of tarnishing what is so obviously an amazing place to be.
So we take a breath, safe in our Casa, no other word comes to mind but intense. Taking stock, it’s important to remember that the tourism dollar is not only extremely lucrative but a fairly new market for many people here. With Cuba so long detached from any meaningful tourism this new found bounty is indeed a frenzy. It can’t be scoffed at, it’s really just people in a hugely competitive market with no formal way to reach their audience. So the only option is to get out there and sell, and to do that you have to get your voice to the front. So with a basic market concept we are very familiar with it’s now up to us to be ‘good travellers’ and get on board with the features of a new place. We always say we want to see and do different things, this challenge is a clear spin off of the tumultuous history that makes Cuba what it is. We now have to walk our own talk, even though it’s a bit tricky at the moment.