Rocío and I wanted to catch a train on our Cuban trip at least once. Unfortunately, the Santiago de Cuba to Holguín train times weren’t convenient. Instead, Rocío asked around how to get there and we went trucking.
We caught a passenger truck one third of the way (10 CUP/US$0.40 each) and then a second truck the remaining distance (2.50 CUC/US$2.50 each). Well, we thought it was taking us to Holguín. However, it dropped us off part way.
Slightly annoyed we got ripped off (in Cuban terms) for the second ride, I soon became glad we didn’t reach our destination. We were about to have a rare experience.
Moments after departing the second truck, an Ómnibus Nacionales (National Buses) bus heading in the correct direction stopped. It was going to Holguín. We followed the Cubans and were allowed to board for the princely sum of 10 CUP (US$0.40) each.
Ómnibus Nacionales versus Viazul
Buying Ómnibus Nacionales tickets at bus stations is impossible for foreigners. This company is strictly for locals and they even use different terminals to the foreigner-targeting Viazul service. For the same distance, Viazul tickets are 6 to 8 times more expensive than Ómnibus Nacionales and earn the Cuban government valuable revenue. For example, Santiago-Havana tickets cost 51 CUC (US$51) on Viazul but only 169 CUP (US$6.76) with Ómnibus Nacionales. Viazul provide no extra hospitality or services to justify the pricing. Both companies are state-run and serve separate purposes. There is no private intercity competition in totalitarian Cuba.
We walked down to the bus’ rear seat and hardly spoke. We preferred not to advertise our status despite all knowing we were foreigners by our appearance. Even still, Rocío said two people glared at us during the trip and she was relieved to exit in Holguín.
Holguin is Cuba’s fourth largest city but not a major tourist destination. By the time we arrived we were starving. Nearby the bus terminal were local food stands. We chose one stand and finished 3 cheap and delicious plates between us.
Roast pork, pork chop or roast chicken served with rice, beans, cassava and salad cost only 30 CUP (US$1.20). We enjoyed the food so much we returned the next day and on our final Holguín morning took roast pork sandwiches for the journey to Camagüey.
The restaurant also found us accommodation. One of the restaurant workers’ parents had a casa particular (bed and breakfast). For 15 CUC (US$15) a night the room was all ours.
In Holguín we needed to extend Rocío’s visa for another 30 days. She hadn’t extended hers in Santiago when I did as she didn’t have an insurance policy number. At the visa office I saw something for the first time – high-heeled basketball boots.
Holguín brews Cuba’s most popular beers and we took the opportunity to join the locals toasting Cerveza Cristal in the city it comes from.
Holguín has its share of classic US cars from the 1950s and earlier.
Tradition in Cuba like much of Latin America has a girl becoming a woman at the age of 15. In Cuba it’s a major event (and expense) and there are function centres that specialise in hosting La Quinceañera celebrations.
A popular activity in Holguín is going up the nearby hill Loma de la Cruz for the city views. We didn’t do this as after two nights here we decided to move onto Camagüey. This time we travelled via the normal Viazul bus, roast pork sandwiches in hand.