by Al O’Neil

On the street, backpack laden and looking through 5:30 am eyes, one can feel Habana, its uniqueness reverberates off every wall down every street.

The once grand Estacion Central de Ferrocarriles appears to be trapped in a Sisyphean battle between repair and disrepair, inside overworked fluorescent lights offer a gloomy existence for waiting travellers. Seats for the 7:15 train to Cienfuegos are 11 pesos each, we take 4, 1 for each of us and 2 for our backpacks.

At 7:00 the platform opens and the small crowd makes it way to a three car train.

We pick the forward car, vintage in style dirty in colour. Within the car each bench seats offers enough room for one of us and a back pack. Minutes tick by, the car begins to fill. A quick pull on the horn and a sharp nudge works its way down car to car. Best wishes and kisses good- bye from loved ones signal departure, then we’re off.

From the station we exit into Habana’s industrial corridor, a boneyard of behemoth cement skeletons and long since dead enterprises. Our train quickens its pace, my seat’s comfort surprises me, I like my bench the way I like my women, straight back, strong legs, and not too much sag in the seat. The train exits the industrial and enters the residential and then gives way to the rural, Cuba opens up broad and beautiful. Our train eases into a Van Gogh of Bougainvillea and Hibiscus.


DSC_0695The train to Cienfuegos is a milk run, each stop brings on stage new characters, new stories. The stops provide an opportunity to purchase food or beverage, but here the currency is not the c.u.c., it’s the c.u.p., the national non-tourist currency. Getting change for the c.u.c. is difficult. Train rolls on, no town too small, no stop too long. Between stops the train unwinds, a fresh Cuban breeze flows easily through the car. Fellow passengers gossip, laugh, knit, or make polite inquiries regarding the two white faces on the train.

Alcohol would be a preferred beverage but the availability of bottled water to ward off dehydration, is slight and then there is ….El Banos… The banos is farther from a washroom and closer to a closet with a 1/2 inch of liquid on the floor, though the tankless, seatless toilet makes the hole in the floor somewhat redundant. We came prepared, packing a refillable spray water bottle, two rolls of toilet paper and dissolvable soap papers.

We knew going in it was a ten hour trip, the final duration… eleven. If your time budget is tight take the bus to Cienfuegos, it’s only four hours. But it’s still a bus.

About The Author

A local Portage la Prairian and his wife caught the travel bug early on in life and share some of the stories and recipes from their journeys.

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