Going into the train station, I ask behind the counter how to get the Cayo Guillermo. The gentleman laughs and says nothing today. I look up at the board.
“How much to get to Santiago?” I inquire.
Not possible he explains. The bus is full as well.
Last ditch effort. “Havana?” I ask.
“No,” He says. “All full until 9 p.m. tomorrow.” I start to itch. I don’t want to stay in the expensive touristy all inclusive hotels. Enough all you drink mojitos and mass produced food on a buffet line. Pretty please I smile. There must be another way.
He says there is. A cab.
Gulp. If we just paid 8 CUC for a 10-minute cab ride, I can only imagine this will be expensive. The agent assures me that for $20 we could get a cab. Ok.
Justin looks at me endearingly as if I have this all under control. Grab the bags I snap.
Walking outside, the usual routine ensues. A guy who speaks English asks where I am going. “Mantzantas” I say referring to the scribbled notes from the ticket guy. I don’t want to get this wrong. He sighs and says wow, ok but it will cost $60. Feeling confident I smile and say thank you I will handle this on my own, thank you very much, I say to myself. Confidently walking past him, two more “coordinators” approach me. I say Mantzas for $20 CUC. One looks at me and laughs and says $30 per person. No, I say $20 for both. No, $30 he says. I say no. I’m not budging.
He walks away. I’m not worth the hassle apparently as a bus full of fresh tourists arrives. My bargaining position seems to be waning. Two other cabs approach and I figure I will go straight to the source. I don’t need a coordinator.
Both cabbies I approach say no. . . $40.
Finally, one of the coordinators returns. He says he has an option for me. $20. Phew. I anticipate riding in the snazzy antique yellow cab similar to our trip over. He motions down the way. Where? Over there. How precise.
I start walking motioning Justin to follow. I look defeated and figure my pride is on the line. We are shortly flagged down to a side street. The coordinator motions to a maroon van with two other Chinese tourists and instructs us to get in. I overhear that the tourists are paying $20 a piece to get to Havana, roughly a two plus hour drive at 120 Kilometers. Manzantras is on the way and about 35 kilometers. Progress. The coordinator assures me that 20 dollars will be our fare.
How do I describe the car? The driver doesn’t bother with the typical niceties of where are you from which is common in the touristy areas. The van has a cracked windshield, two stuffed animals fearing at us along the drive and a witch like figuring hanging from the rear view mirror. Blasting the radio to 1980’s beach tunes, at least we are moving.
So, Manzanitas. Hmm. I don’t know anything about it. I open my app to find that it is described as a less touristy area. No news there. I am relieved that they list a few restaurants and touristy things to do.
Change of plans. Again.
We arrived at the train station. Went to discuss with the ticket guy. Any buses to Cielo which would get us closer to Cayo Guillermo. No buses.
“How about tomorrow?” I inquire.
“No” the ticket booth attendant says dryly.
“The next day?” I ask.
“No” the attendant says.
How about a bus to Trinidad. No. It is full. Seriously? He said how about we stay the night here and take a bus to Verdera. No. That is just were we just to go. A lovely English fellow with much better Spanish offered to help. I said to the ticket man, how much would it be to get to Caya Guillermo. He said the only way to get there is by cab. It is $300 pesos. Augh.
Plus I look at the map and it is probably a 6-hour drive.
Glancing at my app again, I read through the description of Cayo Guillermo. Touristy. Very few Cubans actually live there.
Why did I want to go again? Although the bus station was run down, crossed with locals and sprinkled with only a few tourists here and there, I felt more at ease than I did with the hustle of the relatively glossy resorts. I use that term endearingly.
An older gentleman offers to take us to Cayo Guillermo for $300. I say $200 as the value of my desired destination lost value. Again looking at the map, I am dismayed because we must travel back the way we just came. I inquired how much would it be to take us to Trinidad, being a much more historical sight that would allow us a drive inland through the heart of central Cuba.
$120 CUP. At this point, I have three taxis around me. They seem to have joined forces seeing an opportunity. To play them against each other I say $100. No, $120.
I say $100 again. A third time they say $120.
I say no. $100. They could see me wearing down in my negotiations strategy. I succumb. It is mid-day, we have no place to stay, and I do not want to spend roughly $250 USD to just go to another beach.
“Si,” I say. Following the taxi driver, we approach a turquoise 1962, Buick. I feel like we totally redeemed ourselves. A private ride through the countryside styling in that vehicle.