Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http://www.cubafreepress.org

April 28, 1999, Cuba Free Press.

TO GET TO KNOW SANTIAGO, TAKE THE ANIMAL-DRAWN COACH By José Ramón Gabriel Castillo, Special for Cuba Free Press (as translated by a volunteer).

SANTIAGO - If you want to get to know the idiosyncracies of Santiago, the best approach is to take an excursion by way of the unequaled method of local transportation: The animal-powered coach, which began to replace the motor bus at the beginning of the so-called Special Austerity Period.

You can't find such a coach on every corner because of the unusual topography of this city, but it's easy enough to find and it satisfies an enormous demand. Such coaches are found at La Alameda, at Barca de Oro and in the areas around the Antonio Maceo Plaza, where you will find a wide variety of transport.

Coach after coach leaves and arrives, full of passengers. Whatever direction you take will be out of the ordinary: The Santiagueros (Santiagans) are conversationalists without mercy; it matters not with whom they converse. They have the delightful trait of being affable with anyone. Talking with their fellow Cubans, they will discuss anything, from the couple who changed their minds at the last minute and decided not to marry to the lucky guy who won the lottery for visas to the United States, and speculations of every type: That maybe such and such was a member of the communist party or the Ministry of Interior and suddenly quit, or how the street festivals were reborn after the night clubs were closed.

It is best to travel during a weekend, when the level of noise decibels in the air reaches the critical point. One warning note: The greatest number of heart attacks or cerebral strokes occur here from Friday to Sunday. And the level of intake of alcoholic tbeverages also reaches its peak over the weekend, something which didn't happen to any extent before this current era and which has reached proportions that are worrisome.

Aboard a coach you may find every kind of person, from the absent-minded who doesn't know anything for sure to the fundamental ideologue who spreads panic by defending the wonders of the communist system and who is refuted without a word by the body language of all his listeners. This is a proof of the inefficacy of those who hold power. But, for sure, there is nobody more blind than he who doesn't want to see.

On those trips by coach you can find a linguistic arsenal big enough to publish a dictionary of localisms. And you may find dissidents who seem not to be concerned if some strangers hear them talking about the miseries of the Cuban society and proposing solutions of a great variety.

One recent afternoon I had such an experience. Two youths who happened to be passing my way were deep in conversation about the possible roads to more democracy in Cuba. Each had many ideas which each explained to the other with great patience.

I was about to interrupt their conversation to tell them, "That's right!" But just then I arrived at my stop.

José Ramón Gabriel Castillo.


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