Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

Cuba Railway May 2013

Cuba is one of those countries which just seems too much like hard work but you know you’ve “got” to do it. The MLW’s had been on their last legs for years and were now confined to only Pinar Del Rio & Matanzas, the last turn based at Havana, the Artemisa commuter, having finished approx 2 years previous and was now in the hands of other traction.

With regular reports from Pinar confirming that MLW’s were working the Guane, Los Palacios & Havana trains a plan was hatched. Other reports suggested that “if” Matanzas had any of their MLW’s in service then they’d be used on the Los Arabos and/or Agramonte commuter trains so with nothing to lose a trip to Matanzas was factored into the plan.

Thursday 9th May 2013

 As this trip was only the two of us and Si lived near to Gatwick, I spent the night at his before we were driven to the airport the following morning for our 1010 flight.

It was my first time flying with Air Europa, a Spanish based firm, but they were by far the cheapest option to get to Havana and it made perfect sense to use them, especially as the flight times worked quite well with our train arriving/departing Havana.

I’d checked in online the previous day at work and managed to get the boarding cards printed too, so there was no messing about at check-in desks. The usual fiasco of getting through security took a matter of minutes and breakfast was sitting on the table at Wetherspoons within 30 minutes of arriving at the airport’s front door!

The flight to Madrid was harmless, it was only a short flight anyway. Our connecting flight and its gate was announced as we came in to land so we knew where we were heading the moment we got off. From that point on we’d entered the world of Spanish speaking people; not many of whom spoke a great deal of English and we were very much in the minority.

I’d picked seats at the front of our Madrid – Havana flight to help with a quick getaway when we arrived in Cuba. The in flight entertainment wasn’t up to much, despite the plane’s interior looking quite new, it was still fitted with TV screens that folded down from the roof and there was none of the in flight entertainment in the back of the seat stuff. I spent most of the 9h45m flight trying to sleep anyway. Whilst two meals were served en-route, the first hardly touched the sides and the second barely topped the first up. Sweets were what topped me up en-route!

Arrival into Havana was at 1930, just as the electronic display had been saying, since we’d departed Madrid. We were 30 late at that and thought it might make our getting for our 2300 departure from Havana to Pinar Del Rio a little dodgy. We needn’t have been concerned at as we were standing outside Havana Central station by 2030!

Sitting near the front of the plane paid of, big time. We were almost first into the almost empty immigration area, where there were no queues at all. Immigration was simple, hand over passport, get photographed, don’t show comprehensive medical insurance certificate (wasn’t asked to), get visitor permit stamped then exit through the closed door once the immigration girl presses the buzzer. Then that’s it, you’re into Cuba…..

Money changing was quite straight forward too. Again there was no queue and we just rolled up, handed over our money, and were in possession of £150 worth of Convertible Peso’s; the exchange rate being 1.49 CUC to the £1. Unfortunately they wouldn’t allow us to change any money into normal Peso’s at the airport. However we did eventually manage to get some changed and we got 240 Pesos for 10 CUC which equates to 24 Peso’s per 1 CUC and then approx 36 Peso’s to £1.

There wasn’t even a queue for taxi’s outside the airport and we’d been expecting the worst in having to haggle our way to town; but no, that wasn’t to happen either. Some woman came up to us, asked us where we were going and then told us it would cost 25 CUC, which was the fare we were going to haggle for anyway. Moments later we were on our way to Havana Central station and being introduced to the most iconic thing Havana has to offer, in my opinion, the old American cars that are still going strong, throughout Cuba to this day. Apparently in 2011 there were approx 35,000 still in use throughout the country!

Havana Central station has quite an imposing façade but it was unfortunately too dull to even contemplate getting photos of it. Inside it on the station concourse there were quite a lot of people hanging about round the central column where the ticket office windows are. Most it turns out where checking their reservations for whatever train happened to be preparing to head out east somewhere. I say somewhere as no matter what day of the week it was all the booked departures should have gone by that time, other than the Sancti Spiritus and it wasn’t that as it should run the following day.

There were a few vendors just outside the station and the restaurant on the concourse had just closed, as had the mini supermarket type so off we set in search of water, and to find the MLW that should have been sat on the rake of German coaches sat in the far right hand platform (as you look at the platforms) with the stock for our 2300 Havana – Pinar Del Rio. We found water but not the MLW; there was nothing on the stock at all. There was an engine sitting in the station area, outside the platform area though, and it certainly wasn’t an MLW so as we walked back to the concourse to await the ticket window opening to buy our tickets to Pinar, we did so feeling a little less easy about the night’s move. Everything had gone so swimmingly in getting to the place, the last thing we needed was for it to go completely down the pan with the first train of the trip; and the only train Si had returned to do!

The timetable of departures is displayed about the ticket office windows, although it doesn’t show their days of departure. This info can be gained by asking at the ticket windows. The Havana – Pinar ran every other day but we knew the dates it would depart courtesy of a contact in Cuba who confirmed it back in January. The days were then recently confirmed again thanks to another trip report in March.

The ticket widow where tickets are purchased for the Pinar train is immediately below, and one to the left, of the departure display board. Although it should open at 2100 it opened at 2115. Tickets cost 6.50 Peso’s but of course being tourists we had to pay 6.50 CUC’s. So the locals pay about 18p for their 192km journey and tourists pay about £4.36p………

Once tickets were bought we got chatting to a German speaking couple who were taking their bikes to Pinar on the train and then riding forward to Vinales. Once back they’d be catching a train to Santa Clara and riding to Cienfuegos as well. And they call cranks mad? It was forecast to be above 30 degrees every day!

Of course we couldn’t wait for the loco to get itself onto the train and our hearts sank the first time something backed onto the set as it definitely wasn’t an MLW. Thankfully it had just deposited a van onto the train and then done one. The next time an engine crept onto the train it was coupled to it. Whilst we had this air of doubt in our mind as to whether it was an MLW or not, that little glimmer of the doubt kept our hopes that it was alive. Although it didn’t quite sound like an Alco we put it down to the fact that it may have been in ill health or that its compressors were running almost constantly. When it had backed down onto the train it had been obscured by posts and masked by the darkness so we’d not been able to see what colour it was either.

We were allowed onto the platform at 2250. It had sounded as though the crew had being having difficulties in getting a brake with how many times it had been dropped. We’d been right to cling on to our glimmer of hope for as long as possible but of course we’d not wanted to accept all the aforementioned signs that clearly pointed to the fact that the loco on the front of the train was undoubtedly a bag of spanners and our eyes soon confirmed it as out of the gloom the orangey-pink colour of a “Chino”, as the Chinese DF7K-C’s are known throughout Cuba, came into vision, our brains then processing the fact that we had been well and truly bowled out by 51406. Not once had either the Havana – Pinar, or the Pinar – Havana ever been seen with anything other than an MLW; until the time I arrived on the scene. We were not happy I can tell you; f***ing thing!!!!!

Although our tickets had coaches and seat reservations written on them we chose to sit at the front anyway, mainly because it was empty, not for the thrash of course. We were moved into another coach by the gripper almost immediately; for reasons only known to him as we couldn’t understand his Spanish of course. The stock was in a bit of a state, but only a bit. I’d been on worse many times so hadn’t been expecting anything less than broken seats, windows not working, doors not closing and of course, no toilets. Lighting was provided by a bulb hanging down from the wires that it had been attached to on the ceiling so at least that was something.

As we were quite tired from our lengthy flight, our body clocks thinking it was almost 6am UK time, our threshold for noise and general rancidity went down a little and we cat napped for a while; not really processing the fact that the folk in the bay behind us seemed to be having a mini party, clapping, laughing and being generally jovial. That ended when we got moved on by people who were actually reserved in the seats we’d been deposited in by the guard. We were then moved on a second time when the next set of folk took a liking to our seats; of course they were reserved in them too so were entitled to them, and as were we to ours. Our reservation scenarios had given us an idea of the way the coaches are numbered, coach 5 (ours) being the rear one ex Havana, which would explain why most people got into it back at Havana of course.

Some bert was sat in our booked seats but he didn’t even resist when we asked him to move and that was us, in our booked seats, all content with the fact that we’d been shit out and were having to endure the shit out on a packed overnight train with no bogs and missing windows…… And with some idiot youth deciding the three other people in his bay were the judges for Cuba’s Got Talent; while he sang to them for 20 minutes non-stop! I have heard worse mind.

Whilst we might have nodded for a bit we didn’t get much sleep at all but it did take the edge off our tiredness, enough for us to pay attention to our surroundings and figure out that we should really be getting off at Los Palacios, if there was a set there with MLW attached, for the 0510 Los Palacios – Guane; which we’d be doing forward from Pinar anyway.

Gen for Thursday 9th May

51406 (CNR DF7K-C)

71 2300 Havana – Pinar Del Rio

51409 (CNR DF7K-C)

Arrived into Havana Light Engine at approx 2130

Friday 10th May 2013

The lack of bogs on the train had been an issue, for us anyway, and we ended up pissing up against the wall in some bushes while the train waited at some station or other in the middle of the night. We’d managed to keep a track of where we were and as we arrived into Los Palacios we found a set of stock in the sidings which thankfully had MLW MX624 52425 attached to the front. This MLW had just been overhauled at Camaguey and had been seen by some Cuban cranks on test round there. The guy I’d been in contact with prior to arriving in the country had suspected it had gone to Matanzas; of course it hadn’t and was now one of the Pinar fleet. Hopefully this overhaul would be the first of many on the Cuban MLW fleet.

We watched 51406 burble its way out of Los Palacios then admired 52425; wishing it had been that we’d just got off mind. Quite a few other folk had got off too, all of whom seemed to be doing the 0510 to Guane forward. The train was formed of: Baggage van, 1 x coach & 5 x converted wagon coaches. Tickets for the train were on sale just after 4am, costing 2.75 Peso’s each; there was none of that CUC stuff being used in Los Palacios. The loco was soon started and I have to say it was music to the ears just starting.

Most people had boarded the train before it was shunted out of the sidings so we followed suit after obtaining our tickets. Inside the stock was still shrouded in darkness and it was just as well Si had his torch out as some considerate person had taken a crap on the floor in the first bay we were going to sit in. Everyone that came along after that had to be shown said pile of crap to prevent them either covering themselves or their luggage in it, until the guy came round wiring bulbs in to light the place up a bit.

As we departed on time 52425 burst into life. I’d been expecting a totter along with the consist having old freight vehicles in it but no, that’s not what happened and 52425 was given what for from the off and it sounded just he part. It was loud, made a crisp 12 cylinder noise and had a cracking transition, after which it filled the air with good old Alco clag; just the job it was. Whether its recent overhaul had made it as good as it was would obviously depend on us sampling some others to compare it against.

By the time we arrived into Pinar, only a few minutes late, the train was full and standing with even the bay full of crap having occupants, all turning their nose up at the smell I might add. While quite a lot got off, quite a lot also stayed on board for the journey towards Guane; the train having 37 minutes to wait until its booked 0730 departure from Pinar.

That damn “Chino” thing was sat in the middle with the set off the Havana. I did end up photting it in the end, more to prove to people that we had been shit out than anything else. When I then attempted to phot 52425 I was accosted by one of the Pinar security guards who told me I couldn’t take photos, he couldn’t explain why but was adamant I wasn’t taking anymore, which was a shame as MLW MX624 52407 arrived moments later with 178 – 0450 Guane – Pinar, which was also well loaded.

While at Pinar we managed to find some guy selling ham sandwiches and cold pop, which sufficed for breakfast and some cleaner came and dealt with the crap in the next bay, which at least meant we could eat them without the smell of crap filling our nostrils as we did.

Once 52425 was started up again it was removed from the train. We were anticipating another engine being put on but it certainly wasn’t the one we’d hoped for. It shunted 51406, and its baggage van off the Havana overnight, onto the front of our train. Thankfully though it put 51406 back where it got it from, once the baggage van had been attached, and reattached itself to the front before taking us forward to Guane.

We departed about 20 late as none of the passengers from Pinar Del Rio were allowed onto the platform to board the train until the van had been shunted onto the front. They were all hoarded into the booking hall to wait boarding; why is anyone’s guess as the train left late as a result when it actually didn’t need to.

The run to Guane doesn’t have a great deal of scenery going for it, its generally green and flat-ish. The bit that stands out from the rest is the final few kilometres into Guane where there are some hills, streams and a small lake to complement each other. The clear skies with white fluffy clouds adding to the scene even more.

We were later into Guane than we had been departing Pinar Del Rio due to the shunting that took place at Isabel Rubio, just outside Guane. Whereby the van at the front used to be shunted round the train at Guane it was now done at Isabel Rubio to save the shunting at Guane, apparently.

The run to Guane had been a decent one, not a totter, plenty of thrash from 52425 and fresh air stock; what more could you ask for? Some reports say the Guane run is boring and not up to much; I’d been expecting a totter with no thrash as a result. I was pleasantly surprised by both the line speed and the thrash.

Guane doesn’t have a deal to offer. Outside the station is the bus station for local buses to various places, the timetable for which is in the hut where you presumably by tickets from. There aren’t any back to Pinar I might add. There are a couple of vending shacks selling pop, beer, pizzas, freshly cooked crisps and other bits and bobs. We loaded up on some nice cold pop to take the edge of the afternoon heat; which we were now starting to feel, then got more photos of 52425 after it had run round its train, to lead back to Pinar Del Rio long hood first.

My first experience of travelling in a make-shift wagon that had been converted to a passenger carrying one wasn’t as bad as I’d expected it to be. Some doors had been put into the sides of the wagons, along with windows and even some electrical connections for lighting. Down the sides of each one were seats, from end to end, though some, if not most, had clearly seen better days. Still the journey was pleasant enough and air circulated quite well when the train was on the move but it got stifling when it wasn’t; it could have been worse…..

Once back at Pinar we were glad to be on our way to our hotel, although we did change 10 CUC into Peso’s, getting 24 Peso’s to the 1 Convertible, before getting there as all the banks in Pinar close at 1500.

The Hotel Vueltabajo is a very distinctive, pink colonial building, on a street that has many more buildings of a similar ilk. Those on the front desk were expecting us and all spoke good English. The hotel had been booked through Cuba Travel Network before leaving the UK; this being one of the only places you can book hotels in Cuba before arriving in the country. It had cost us about £18 per night, for single rooms, through the agency and the rate on the wall was CUC 35 for a single and CUC 55 for a twin, so not much different.

We were initially given rooms on the front of the hotel, above the busy road below, but were soon changed to rooms away from the road upon asking. We’d actually asked for quiet rooms beforehand anyway and the hotel didn’t seem that busy; if indeed there were any other guests staying there at all.

The rooms are big with high ceilings, air con, fridge, bathroom and hot water. Mine had a rather distinctive big canvas on the wall with a massive eye staring out from it, which I guess could be quite unnerving for some?

A cold shower was very welcome, as were the couple of hours relaxing afterwards. It had turned out to be a very hot day and the weather takes it out of you, even when you’re doing nothing and of course its worse when you haven’t slept in a bed for a while……

As food places seem to close in Pinar from about 1500-1900 we only found one place open, which only had us in it, but it served a decent grilled pork steak with a selection of side dishes for CUC 10.

Our evening plans took us down to the station and round to the Havana end of it, where you can access the tracks to see what’s going on at the shed. MLW MX624’s on shed were 52405 shut down behind 52407 which was being serviced, 52425 was running on a different road and 52432/52434 were both shut down, effectively stabled in the carriage sidings so as not to block shed roads. “Chino” 51406 was stabled over the back of the shed, seemingly where servicing was carried out.

Unfortunately 52425 was soon off shed and onto the stock for the 1743 to Los Palacios, which was in the platform back to back with the stock for the 1830 to Guane. The latter soon having 52407 backed on to it. As 52425 was on the Los Palacios we decided not to even bother with photting it as the sun was all wrong for trains departing departing east. Instead we walked off down the track at the west end of the station to find somewhere to phot the 1830 Guane leaving as the sun is perfect. Just through the small housing area there is a crossing where the line opens up and curves away from Pinar Del Rio; which is as nice a spot as any for photting. In the end though my conscience got the better of me and I ended up back at the station purchasing a ticket to Distancia, the first station out towards Guane, costing CUC 0.40. I was wary of the fact that people had been to Pinar and the same engines had stuck to the same trains day in day out and also that with so many engines on shed there was the possibility that 52407 could be swapped out and not work again while we were there. Either way I was on the platform at departure time and made sure the driver was aware I was getting off at Distancia, just in case he had any ideas of not stopping if there was nobody waiting.

Si had gone back to where we’d chosen to phot the train and I waved at him as we crept past, then the driver opened 52407 up and away we went. Whilst it wasn’t as good as 52425, 52407 was sill a decent engine and its transition was as good as 52425’s. Unfortunately my run came to an end all too soon and I was off at Distancia, much to the bemusement of all in the front vestibule of the train and the crew waving it away; who couldn’t quite understand what I was going to do at Distancia by the look on their faces.

Walk back down the track to Pinar was what I did. It took me about 20 minutes. The station was all locked up, all the people had disappeared, having departed on their trains; the only person about being Si, waiting patiently in the shade for me to return. I was dripping with sweat after the 2km walk in the evening sunshine but thankfully it had been nowhere near as warm as it had been earlier in the afternoon.

A quick pizza in the pizzeria over the road from the hotel filled a gap, it having re-opened by the time we’d returned from the station. It was a popular place, serving pizza & pasta but don’t expect the pizzas to be anything like what you’d expect back home. I’d liken them to something you’d probably get from a frozen food place, somewhere like Iceland back home.

After another shower to wash off all the fresh sweat it took no time at all for me to get to sleep that night, earplugs in to mask the drone of the air-con unit.

Gen for Friday 10th May 2013

37020 (TGM4)

Seen in the early hours heading towards Havana with a freight

52425 (MLW MX624)

175 0510 Los Palacios – Guane

180 1130 Guane – Pinar Del Rio

176 1743 Pinar Del Rio – Los Palacios

52407 (MLW MX624)

178 0450 Guane – Pinar Del Rio

179 1830 Pinar Del Rio – Guane

52544 (CNR DF7G-C)

Freight at Pinar Del Rio at approx 1715 towards Havana

52405, 52432, 52434 & 52449 (MLW MX624’s) all at Pinar Del Rio

Saturday 11th May 2013

Although breakfast is included in the Hotel rate we had to depart before the 0715 start time. We were at the station for just before 0700, standing at the access gate at the Havana end of the station. This gate is always open but does have a security guard at it. It’s the access gate that folk with bikes us to get on/off the platform.

Nothing had changed on shed, 52425 was sat with the stock for the 0730 to Guane, having arrived from Los Palacios and 52407 arrived with the 0450 ex Guane. We did manage to get talking to a group of railway employees, one of which looked like a fitter. We’d assumed that our bad experience with the “Chino” on the Havana the previous night had been just that, and a one off. As a result we’d made our minds up that as 52407/425 were on the passengers that we “must” be able to have a new one to Havana on the 0900 that day. We were so wrong. The fitter told us that it would be the “Chino” that worked to Havana, as he pointed to it on shed, and that it was always “Chino” that worked to Havana! So not only had we been bowled by having the damn thing, we were bowled for getting the track in with an MLW to Havana now as well; this being the only thing Si had actually returned to the country to do!

Our decision had been made for us and we managed to just sneak up the platform, unnoticed by the security guard who was too busy socialising and drinking coffee, and board the Guane set in the rear coach before the hoards were let onto the platform to fill the train up. As we did so the guy selling ham rolls and pop was just walking into the coach and breakfast was served.

As we’d not actually got the room in the Hotel Vuelatbajo booked for that night we would have to deal with that situation when we got back that afternoon as our bags were still in the room. We’d been planning to return for breakfast before doing the Havana; oooops! The guy on reception was aware of the fact that we might need the room that night so we were hoping he’d figure it all out for himself anyway. Check-out wasn’t until 1400 and we’d hopefully be back around that time if nothing went wrong.

We were away late again, after 52407 had arrived with the Guane and the masses had boarded. The train was full and standing when the grippers came through shortly after departure. We were chung 2.70 Peso’s which is more than the 1.85 Peso’s we’d been chung the previous day back from Guane. He tried to gibber something back in Spanish when challenged about it, the gist of which was something about it costing more to pay on the train. At the end of the day it had been cheaper paying 2.70 Peso’s on board than CUC1.85 at the ticket office so it wasn’t that bad. The ticket dude walked away smiling as he moved on to the next person. I was trying to figure out how he could actually scam us when the fare he’d gripped into the ticket was that which he charged us; I gave up in the end.

En-route a security grip was done, where random people’s ID was checked. Some guy was given a ticket for sitting on the footsteps near the door and had all his details logged, which did seem a bit unfair. Quite what the ticket represented I don’t know. Shortly after that followed a full ticket inspection by what could only have been senior ticket inspectors as the ticket guys were following humbly behind as it went on. They were quite thorough too, checking that the holes on the tickets were punched in the right place and they didn’t miss a trick; quite a few people were chung up for onward journeys, their tickets having been valid to stations we’d passed already. Even the locals know all the tricks to make their very cheap journey even cheaper! All the while the same vendors were up and down the train selling the same stuff they had been the previous day.

At Guane we had a bit of time to wander out onto the street after photting. There’s a good painting of Che Guevara on a building just beyond the bus station worth a phot and there were plenty of old cars knocking about, picking up and dropping off at the station, assumed to be taxi’s.

Unfortunately the pizza man had sold out by the time I got to him so freshly made crisps and a can of pop had to suffice. The woman serving us the pop tried to scam us though as she only gave us 2 Peso’s change from 40 when our bill was 28! The cheeky cow had it in her hand all along and produced it in second when challenged.

To avoid the ticket fiasco on the way back we bought one from the booking office, which was in Peso’s anyway so not an issue. The return journey to Pinar was rammed and even the locals were feeling the heat as they tried to doss out, looking as knackered as we felt.

The run back with 52425 was nothing short of cracking. The driver absolutely caned it, giving it full power straight from the off and the transition was fantastic. We sat waiting time at most stations and were bang on time into Pinar.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a stall, basically in someone’s garden, which was selling fresh pizzas for 6 Peso’s and fresh smoothies for 2 Peso’s. Everything was that fresh that we watched it being made and there was a constant queue.

Back at the hotel it was a woman on the desk, not the guy we’d seen that morning as we’d departed. She was surprised to see us but knew about out plans to go to Havana. We explained what had gone on and why we’d not made it back to the hotel, which she was fine about. She was more concerned that we’d gone to Guane on a train! All was well after we’d handed over CUC35 for the room that night and we had it pre-booked again for the following night so we were all sorted.

After a bit of a siesta we were back down at the Havana end of the station to see what was going off with the evening trains. 52405 had moved and was nowhere to be seen. 52425 was just shunting some stock and then dumped itself onto the set for the 1743 to Los Palacios again and 52407 was on the 1830 to Guane, again.  

Whilst I was photting 52425 doing its shunting Si managed to get talking to a fitter from the shed who was going to take us over to get some photos, until unfortunately he spotted a security guard and that put an end to that. We had a good chat with him though and he confirmed that the Havana – Pinar – Havana was always worked by “Chino” now and that 51406 was now a Pinar based loco. It had been working the train since March he told us and it was under direction from Havana Control. He also told us that 52434 was knackered, indicated by a slashing gesture across his throat, he couldn’t tell us why though. When asked he also told us that 52449, which had been there in March, had gone away when 52425 had arrived. Finally he told us that 52432 would be working the Guane the following evening, this without any asking at all. It was in the same spot 52425 had been the previous evening, being serviced. At least it would be a change, even if we could in theory do it to Distancia.

Unfortunately the sun wasn’t playing ball so the phot of 52407 departing with the 1830 Guane wasn’t as good as the previous night but we got one of it creeping through the housing area anyway, before returning to the hotel for a meal in the adjoining restaurant, which opened at 1900.  

Again don’t expect anything grandeur but the food was ok, our spaghetti with chorizo, omelette, rice and 4 soft drinks coming to less than CUC10 for the lot, which was a lot better than we’d paid the previous afternoon.

A couple of beers were welcome in the hotel bar that night, outside on the balcony admiring the old passing cars. Again it didn’t take much getting off to sleep that night, especially after the beers……

Gen for Saturday 11th May 2013

52425 (MLW MX624)

175 0510 Los Palacios – Guane

180 1130 Guane – Pinar Del Rio

176 1743 Pinar Del Rio – Los Palacios

52407 (MLW MX624)

178 0450 Guane – Pinar Del Rio

179 1830 Pinar Del Rio – Guane

51406 (CNR DF7K-C)

72 0900 Pinar Del Rio – Havana

71 2300 Havana – Pinar Del Rio (arrived over 3 hours late Sunday morning)

52405, 52432, 52434 & 52449 (MLW MX624’s) all at Pinar Del Rio

Sunday 12th May 2013

Having spotted 52425 on the Guane again we by chance came across an MLW round the back of Pinar shed. We’d actually been trying to locate the Chino and the stock ex the Havana, which was nowhere to be seen; and ultimately wasn’t when we departed for Guane at 0803! It was 52449 behind the shed, and behind that was another one, which we found out later that day was 52405, which made sense, it having disappeared from view the previous day.

Rather than risk a telling off on the train for not having a ticket, a second day in a row, we opted to get them from the ticket office. You’d have thought we’d asked for it to be gold plated with the complete lack of response and attitude we got. Tickets were eventually written out though, once the woman serving us had found the CUC ticket book and some Convertibles for our change. It was our third trip to Guane and for the third day running we’d paid a different price; 1.85 Peso’s, 2.70 Peso’s and 1.85 CUC’s!

Despite the fact that we had a ticket for the train the security guard wouldn’t let us on at the gate where the bikes are let onto the platform so we had to make do with queuing in the booking hall with the rest of the rabble.

The driver of 52425 didn’t look too happy about something and was using his hands to show his dissatisfaction at something. It turned out that the 3 converted wagons off the inbound 0450 from Guane, which of course 52407 had worked, were being shunted onto the rear of the train to create extra capacity and thus causing some delay. It was a good move on the railway’s behalf though as it was Mothers Day and the train was already wedged with folk before they let us onto the platform; with the extra three though it wasn’t as much of a wedge out as I’d expected. We departed 33 late though, at 0803, with load 9 including the baggage van and front coach.

It was a bit of a stagger really due to the fact that there were loads of bikes to get on board and the driver was having to be careful where he positioned the van. This of course cost us time. Further to that we had to leave the rear three converted wagon coaches behind at Isabel Rubio as the train was too long to fit in clear at Guane; the result being we didn’t arrive Guane until 1100, well over an hour late.

As we walked down to the front of the train for a photo one of the crew beckoned us into the cab and we ended up having a ride during the run round; of course they wanted some money before we got out and 1 CUC was handed over…..

We had enough time to get a couple of cold pops and get back on to make sure we got a seat. The booking office was closed though so we had to get tickets on the train; this time costing us 2 Peso’s, even though the stamps in the tickets only showed 1.70; work that one out!

Isabel Rubio was nothing short of a farce on the way back. 52425 and baggage van we detached immediately, we assumed to attach to the three coaches we’d left behind and shunt them over to the front of the train, so we made a quick dash onto the other coaches to make sure we’d be at the front for the journey back to Pinar. What a wrong move that turned out to be as 52425 & van sat for 10 minutes at the other side of the points while the crew stood scratching their heads. It turned out the points were clipped and nobody knew where the key was so the three coaches were simply left behind and everyone shoe-horned back into the already wedged other 4!

We stood for one station and then moved into the baggage van to stand right behind 52425 for some very disappointing thrash. It seemed we’d been treated to some extraordinary driving the previous day; this run didn’t even qualify as ordinary…..

Every stop en-route back to Pinar had its little platform wedged with people and the van ultimately became wedged with bikes; thankfully the 4 rocking chairs that were originally in there had got off early in the journey. We had to be careful to mind the pile of crap in the corner of the van while standing at the front and were treated to a bizarre case of some guy giving one of his chickens the kiss of life in the vain hope of keeping it alive until it met its maker in Pinar. He had 4 in a bag, it was 35 degrees plus and even I was tiring a bit, so god only knows what the poor chickens were feeling like. Their necks were just limp and their heads resting on the floor. One local offered his water at first, which was forced down the chicken’s necks and the kiss of life followed, even though the worst of the bunch wasn’t quite dead. They all seemed to make it to Pinar alive, whether the price on their head would be affected by the fact that they were all nearly dead would remain to be seen. One thing that was for certain was the fact that our siesta that afternoon was much needed; after a couple of nice fresh smoothies and a pizza on the way back to the hotel.

As we’d been told the previous day that 52432 would be on the 1830 to Guane we were quite pleased to find the darker blue colour, that 52432 carried, on the long hood of the MLW that was already on the stock. That joy was short lived though as we spotted the number 52407 on its hood, and not 52432! Bowled by dud gen, which meant our 2km trip to Distancia was no longer needed.

We walked round to the opposite end of the station to find 52425 already bolted firmly to “its” train as well and then got talking to a guy who spoke decent English, who’d seen us on the station that morning. He was staff and told us that 52449 was knackered, 52434 was waiting fuel injectors, 52405 was also waiting parts and 52432 had problems with its motors. The latter possibly explaining why it wasn’t on the Guane that evening?

Having photted both Chino DF7G-C 52562 depart Pinar light in the Guane direction, and then 52407 depart with “its” train we hightailed it back to the hotel before the darkness on the horizon reached Pinar and dumped a load of wet stuff from the sky; it was a cracking skyline though with the odd lightening bolt emanating from it every now and again.

A final beer at the Hotel Vueltabajo, followed by a final meal and then our last night’s doss, in a room where the towels had been made into swans and a nice note left by the cleaner thanking us for our stay; in Spanish.

Gen for Sunday 12th May 2013

52425 (MLW MX624)

175 0510 Los Palacios – Guane

180 1130 Guane – Pinar Del Rio

176 1743 Pinar Del Rio – Los Palacios

52407 (MLW MX624)

178 0450 Guane – Pinar Del Rio

179 1830 Pinar Del Rio – Guane

52578 & 52562 (CNR DF7G-C’s) freights at Pinar Del Rio, morning and evening respectively

52405, 52432, 52434 & 52449 (MLW MX624’s) all at Pinar Del Rio

Monday 13th May 2013

We were still up in time to get down to go down to the station and view the Guane, just in case by some freak miracle 52425 had been replaced on arrival. As if eh……? It was already sat in, shut down, when we arrived and with there being no sign of 52407 coming in from Guane. 15 minutes after it should have arrived we made our way to the bus station for the 0820 Viazul bus to Havana; as opposed to doing Chino 51406 back on the 0900 Pinar – Havana. The bus taking 2h15m, the train taking 5h55m. The bus costing 11 CUC and the train 6.5 CUC, from a non cranking perspective there isn’t really a decision to be made as to which you should do is there?

Before we’d even entered the bus station we’d been offered about half a dozen taxi’s to Havana, which while it isn’t worth it if there’s only a couple of you and you’re only going to Havana, it is worth considering if going direct to the airport and there’s more than a couple of you. The standard 25 CUC from Havana to the airport is swallowed up in the overall price. Their persistence even followed us upstairs to the ticket counters until a very firm “go away” ended it once and for all.

The Viazul ticket window is clearly marked, it being the furthest window to the left as you look at the counters. There was nobody there when we turned up and still nobody there 10 minutes before the bus was due. Our efforts to try and get someone to find a member of Viazul staff sometimes going on deaf ears but eventually one guy marched us downstairs and took us past the security guard, into the waiting area. We were told to buy tickets on the bus when it arrived and no sooner had it done so did some guy come up to us with two tickets and our 11 CUC each was handed over. It was all very strange, highly annoying and a little bit Indian-like for my liking! Luckily there were a few seats left on the bus and at least we got a couple together.

The journey was fine and there was even a toilet break en-route, the bus having come from Vinales and it continued to Trinidad, 6 hours further from Havana. It was only 5 late into Havana Viazul bus station and we were straight out into taxi to Muelle Luz ferry jetty, which cost a flat 10 CUC. We were aiming for the 1221 Casablanca – Matanzas Hershey train and made it with ease. There ferries are every 15 minutes or so but be prepared for a lengthy security check on your bag; like I had. The ferries only cost 0.25 CUC or 1 Peso and the Casablanca ones depart from the left hand side of the jetty, this being clearly signposted as you queue to await the next ferry arriving.

There are some nice views of the City as you cross to Casablanca and the old docks area, which seems to be having a bit of money spent on it to prevent the old buildings from crumbling away. As you approach Casablanca the Statue of Christ is clearly visible up on the hilltop, which was exactly where I went, with plenty of time to spare before the 1221 train.

The cracking views of Havana make it well worth the walk up the steep windy road to get there and there are plenty of vendors to buy refreshments from once there too. The walk back down to the bottom is slightly easier on the old legs but as I approached the Casablanca Hershey station, which is immediately left out of the ferry jetty, I could see Si gesturing that our 1221 train was cancelled. Apparently due to it being broken. The 1635 service was running though so we ended up back on the ferry to Meulle Luz and doing a bit of sightseeing to pass the afternoon.

Plaza Vieja was very pleasant in the afternoon sun as was a quick look round a nearby indoor market (Almacenes San Jose Artisans Market, Havana), clearly aimed at tourists with plenty of locally made gubbins on offer, outside which are a load of steam locos on display.

Lined up outside Almacenes San Jose Artisans Market, Havana:

1204 – 2-4-2T Rogers #5009, 1894

1181 – 0-6-0 Baldwin #6456, 1882

1501 – 2-6-0 Rogers #5000, 1894

1403 – 2-6-0 Rogers #4647, 1892

E1334 – 2-8-0 Baldwin #53655, 1927

A link to more information on these locos can be found on the International Steam Cuba pages.

While queuing for the ferry back across to Casablanca, for the second time that day, we found out we’d been paying more than we need to be doing for our ferry crossings. We’d been handing over 1 CUC when in fact it should have been 1 Peso. A quick scan in the guide book revealed it should be 0.25 CUC. Thanks to the guy in the queue who’d spotted me counting out my CUC’s we actually paid the correct fare at the third attempt!

Just to the right of the ferry dock at Casablanca is a restaurant, right on the waters edge, which served up a decent grilled pork to fill the hole inside after our afternoon on the go in Havana.

Thankfully the Hershey EMU for the afternoon 1635 departure rolled in from Matanzas about 20 late. Once it passed by the restaurant it was our cue to pay the bill and walk the 30 yards to the station.

It was single power car #703 as opposed to it being a power car dragging a non-powered coach, which we’d been expecting. The thing just looked old and it was about as primitive as it comes seating wise with black plastic bays of 4. When we set off I was surprised to find that the doors were actually closed by the conductor; in fact I was surprised the thing could actually move at all!

The train wasn’t full and we handed over 2.80 CUC, the conductor was having none of our Peso’s. The tickets actually have CUC’s on them for him to stamp his price into and he also wrote CUC on his copy of the ticket, which he keeps.

While the run out of Casablanca was quite fast, courtesy of some newly laid rails and TLC applied to the ballast, the run beyond Hershey was quite the opposite. The tracks were in a right state, far from straight and far from flat to the ground. The overhead wires are held up by wooden masts, which themselves are held in their upright position by metal support wires to prevent them toppling over. Some have rotted completely through at their bottom and just look like they could topple over at any moment. Still the little train kept going, amazingly, and we reached Matanzas 6 minutes early and that was despite various random stops for the crew to have a rum and provide a pick-up/drop-off service to various locals.

En-route we had 15 minutes at Hershey, waiting time! Plinthed at the station is an old GE 7230B electric #21203. The break also allowed for a toilet stop as there aren’t any on board. The ones at the station aren’t great but when you have to go, you have to go.

As we departed Hershey all we could see on the shed was a couple of stripped out EMU cars dumped on the floor. Strangely we did actually pass another train en-route, at Canasi. It was formed of two power cars #’s 401/501. We could only assume it was train 808 1720 Matanzas – Casablanca running about 100 late. This would be the return working of the cancelled 1221 from Casablanca so maybe the train had failed coming across at Hershey and had to be battered there before being sent on its way to Matanzas again?

Matanzas Hershey station just appears out of nowhere and is only one platform. The crew were off the train before most of the passengers, the EMU being screwed down for the night it seemed. Outside the station just leads into a housing estate and the crew had spotted us trying to get our bearings, map in hand. Whilst they spoke no English they managed to give us directions to the Hotel Velasco in town.

The walk only took us 10-15 minutes and was pretty straight forward with only two right turns involved. The Hotel Velasco is very grand indeed, with its colonial appearance both inside and out. It had undergone some restoration recently so maybe it had been given quite a facelift? Either way it was very well presented indeed. The hotel staff spoke fluent English and were very helpful and cheerful. A twin room cost 58 CUC and a single costs 41 CUC.

Once processed in we were give room 7, away from the road at the front of the hotel. All the hotel’s rooms are situated around the edge of the place with them overlooking the dining area below. There appeared to only be one other room occupied in the place that night, which was bizarrely the one next door to ours!

The rooms are spacious and toiletries are provided free of charge. Again they were well presented but a bit dusty around the edges; probably due to them not seeing much use as it was out of season. The mini-bar is well stocked and a price list is provided. This for me was the only letdown the hotel had; it was way to pricey! For example a 1.5L bottle of water cost 4 CUC, whereas it only cost 0.75 CUC in the shop up the road. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the shop up the road before it closed that night…….

Food that evening ended up being a cold ham & cheese sandwich as apparently there was a problem with the gas in the kitchen; more likely the chef had done one early. They did make up for it though when we were presented with an excellent milkshake……..

Gen for Monday 13th May 2013

52425 (MLW MX624)

175 0510 Los Palacios – Guane

52407 (MLW MX624)

178 0450 Guane – PinarDelRio

52405, 52432, 52434 & 52449 (MLW MX624’s) all at Pinar Del Rio

Hershey EMU’s


806 1209 Matanzas – Casablanca

809 1635 Casablanca – Matanzas (arrived Matanzas early!)

#’s 401/501

808 1720 Matanzas – Casablanca (running approx 1h40m late)

Outward working 807 1221 Casablanca – Matanzas was cancelled ex Casablanca

21203 (GE 7230B Electric of 1920)

Plinthed at Hershey station

Tuesday 14th May 2013

A lay-in without alarm was welcomed and we even managed to have the inclusive breakfast too; and a decent one it was. Fresh fruit, fruit juice, coffee & scrambled eggs with toasted bread.

Back to trains it was after breakfast. Our quest for the morning being to confirm if an MLW MX624 would work one of the evening commuter trains from Matanzas to either Agramonte or Los Arabos. That was of course if Matanzas still had any working MLW’s to pick from.

It wasn’t long before it was confirmed that they had at least one working MLW as one went tottering past the bottom of Calle 79 as we were walking down it. By the time we got to the end of the road the MLW could be seen skirting the sea as it headed for Matanzas Docks, light engine. As it was light engine we decided to hang around for a bit to see if it came straight back. To fill the time we pointed our lenses at the many old American cars that were running around the busy junction in Matanzas, in all directions and of all shapes, sizes and colours. It was tremendous.

The MLW didn’t return but just as we were about to head off to the depot Chino DF7G-C 52564 came reversing down from the shed direction with a couple of vans, also heading towards the Docks. After photting that we headed off in the direction it had come from, reaching the depot about 15 minutes later, after a steady walk down the roadway which runs parallel to the railway. If you actually walk over the railway bridge from the road junctions and follow the line you’ll come across the yard and depot soon enough.

In the yard we found TGM4 37016, attached to a brake van, and just inside the shed was MLW MX624 52443. Also on shed were two rakes of stock, a load 2 Tino set and a load 5 ex German set.

Nobody seemed to be bothered by us walking about the yard area but we never ventured into the shed area. Eventually we engaged someone in a Spanglish conversation and found out that MLW MX624 52436, which had been the one we’d seen en-route to the docks, was doing the 1640 Matanzas – Los Arabos and TGM4 37016 was doing the 1700 Matanzas – Agramonte. Both 52436 & 52443 were serviceable and were now the only two MLW’s allocated to Matanzas, 52401 & 52402 both having been sent to Camaguey. Whether for overhaul or not we couldn’t confirm due to the language barrier.

Made up with the fact that we’d be having an MLW that evening we walked a little further round the corner from the depot, to the old Matanzas railway station, which is now a bus/taxi station. There were old cars lined up everywhere, of all colours, shapes and sizes; again! I didn’t know where to point the camera first……..

Just over the road from the old station is an ice-cream parlour which serves just that, nothing else. We had a 30 minute wait for ours to be served but it was worth it. The wait simply being due to everyone in the place ordering about 20 plates between a table of four, the majority of which then ended up in tubs and taken away with them.

Just as we were about to turn back up Calle 79, towards the hotel on our way back from the shed, we heard a horn emanating from the docks area and sure enough 52436 could be seen in the distance making its way back towards Matanzas; what a bonus that was. We had time to position ourselves for photos of it coming over the bridge as it curves into town, across the water. It was clagging a bit as it got its train over the humps that the bridges made.

We’d agreed a 1400 check-out with the hotel, vice the usual 1200. This allowed us to return for a shower and have a bit of a rest before heading back out into the heat again. The gas burners were surprisingly working again in the kitchen and this time we had a hot ham & cheese sandwich, accompanied by fries. This being the first time we’d actually seen fries on the menu in Cuba.

The hotel also agreed to look after our bags for us while we headed out to Colon that night, to be picked up the following morning. Both staff on the front desk were intrigued by our visit to Colon but still managed to give us a bit of information on the place, like where buses went from, where the taxi’s back to Matanzas went from and where the Santiago Hotel was situated on the main road through the place.

Back down at the shed 52436 was just being prepared for its evening out. By the side of it were three buckets full of oil. I’m surmising that this was oil that had drained out of it while it stood as it had left a trail of oil through town after it had passed through, in both directions. I’m also surmising that the same oil was probably put back into its system on a daily basis?

52436 shunted its stock, the load 5 ex German coaches, off the depot and 37016 was poised to do the same with its two Tino coaches. Once off shed the MLW had to shunt its coaches into the yard and then run round. During the run round we got talking to the guard, who we told we were travelling to Colon on the train. Run round complete we were sat in the front coach waiting to head out to the “New” Matanzas station on the outskirts of town; which saved us a taxi ride if nothing else.

It seemed as though we had to wait for Chino 52564 to clear the section in front before we headed off, which had passed through the depot while we’d been waiting, with a loaded train. We then ran to R. Sambanilla Junction, onto the main line, where we then reversed and propelled our train into Matanzas station. As we did so TGM4 37057 ran past us with a breakdown crane.

Si went to get the tickets once we arrived and returned 5 minutes before departure asking for my passport. He’d been made to wait by the booking office staff, only to be then told they needed both passports to be able to issue two tickets! He managed to board with 60 seconds to go; the tickets actually saying “Primera” on them and having allocated coach and seats.

TGM4 37016 had shunted through the station while Si had been in the booking office and was sat outside, not in a platform, presumably waiting for us to depart so it could use the same platform we’d departed from.

It’s quite a climb away from Matanzas and the views over the bay, towards where we’d photted 52436 coming round earlier in the day, are excellent. The train wasn’t very well loaded at all so there weren’t any issues with seating and the compartment we’d rode into Matanzas on the empties in only had one further addition from Matanzas.

It became immediately apparent that 52436 was not in its prime, it was constantly spewing black clag out, not thick black clag, but thick enough to create a trail behind the train and to fill the front coach with it also. It stank, didn’t sound at all well, in fact we could hardly hear it in the front coach, and it could barely pull the train, making a right meal of it going up the hill away from Matanzas. If 52401 & 52402 had been sent away from Matanzas to Camaguey for overhaul first, assuming they were in a worse state, god only knows what kind of a mess they’d been in? Not only was it covering the coach in clag and making our clothes stink, it was also chucking out oil, quite a lot of which ended up on my shirt and it was the first time I’d worn it!

The poor thing was like it throughout the whole journey, it must have been on its last legs. The train never got any fuller to Colon, a few more folk got on en-route and a few got off but the loadings were nothing like the Pinar – Guane line at all.

Arrival at Colon was about 20 late, all due to 52436’s inability to pull the load 5 train; it was debatable if it could actually be called a loco! Upon arrival some bird in a short skirt went running up to the cab but the crew wouldn’t let her in; by the time we left the station she was sat on the driver’s lap bouncing up and down…….

The staff at the Hotel Velasco had told us we’d probably be as well getting a horse & cart to take us to the Hotel Santiago; that wasn’t going to happen as there weren’t any, so the old legs had to do the work instead.

There was still plenty of daylight left and it was a pleasant evening, just what we needed for our stroll into central Colon; map in hand.

We found the Hotel Santiago, by mistake, on the main road through town. We’d turned the opposite way to what the hotel staff had told us to go in search of something to drink and came across the Santiago as we investigated its hulk. The place was open and of course didn’t look up to much but at least it had a restaurant, evident by the price list at its entrance; what it didn’t have though was rooms! Unfortunately neither of the women behind the desk spoke English but we could fully understand the fact when they told us there were no rooms available and suggested we try for a Casa Particulares somewhere down the next road.

Whether they wouldn’t take foreigners (as the hotel Velasco staff had hinted they might not), were full or actually didn’t act as a hotel anymore is anyone’s guess. Either way we were back out on the street, literally, now looking for somewhere to stay for the night.

The Hotel Nuevo Continental was just up the road; that was well and truly closed down though. A little further up the road again was another hotel which wasn’t just closed down it had a whole floor missing, evident by the massive hole in the side of the building, so a Casa Particulares it had to be then?

By the time we’d got to the main square in Colon, having walked up and down two other streets, we’d not actually seen any building advertising it was a Casa. What we did find though was a steam engine plinthed, #110 – 2-6-2T which had Ferrocarriles De Cuba, Colon 1851 on its side, at one end of the square. Once we’d walked round the square, still not coming up with anything we were left scratching our heads as to what to do. It didn’t take us any time at all to hail the taxi down that was just passing by us. We’d only managed to stop one of the only taxi drivers in Colon that spoke English! The result being him agreeing to take us back to Matanzas, in his 1948 Blue Ford, for 40 CUC. We’d well and truly spoilt his evening meal though and he had to stop off on the way out of town to tell his wife, who’d been expecting him home any moment, he was going back to Matanzas; of course it would be well worth it for them.

The journey took a little over an hour, the driver being very friendly and a pleasant chap to talk to en-route. He told us it was quite dangerous to drive down the Colon – Matanzas road at night due to the amount of animals that roamed around freely in the dark being a potential accident in the making. Once their cars were totalled, that was their income out of the window. So nobody did the route after dark.

We got our 1948 Ford driver to drop us at the bottom of Calle 79 so he could make a quick getaway back to Colon and we only had a short walk up the road back to the Hotel Velasco. We’d actually tentatively made sure there was room before we left, just in case we ended up back there that night. The staff didn’t seem surprised to see us either and actually told us they’d been discussing our little adventure after we’d left. They’d not wanted to spoil our trip out by telling us that it could end in disaster as they could see we were looking forward to it.

We were back in room 7 within minutes, having ordered food before we went up; the gas burners still being on that night to make my grilled pork. By the time we’d finished food our bags had been left at the room door and we could have a shower to wash away any signs of 52436 from our hair and face. Its oil was never going to come out of my shirt though………

Gen for Tuesday 14th May 2013

52436 (MLW MX 624)

Light engine Matanzas Shed – Matanzas Docks (approx 0930)

Freight Matanzas Docks – Matanzas Yard (approx 1300)

ECS Matanzas Yard – Matanzas New Station (approx 1600 dep)

117 1640 Matanzas – Los Arabos

52564 (CNR DF7G-C)

Propel van Matanzas Yard – Matanzas Docks (approx 0945)

Return with freight from Matanzas Docks (passed through Matanzas Yard approx 1530)

37016 (TGM4)

ECS Matanzas Yard – Matanzas New Station (approx 1610 dep)

133 1700 Matanzas – Agramonte

37057 (TGM4)

Breakdown crane through Matanzas (approx 1630)

Attached to rear of infrastructure train at Coliseo (see 38119 below)

38119 (TGM8)

Top and tail an infrastructure train at Coliseo with TGM4 37057

38259 (TGM8)

Sat on a branch line just outside Quintana with a freight

52443 (MLW MX624)

On Matanzas Shed under maintenance

Steam Loco #110 – 2-6-2T with Ferrocarriles De Cuba, 1851, Colon on its side

Plinthed in the main square at Colon

Wednesday 15th May 2013

Breakfast for the second day in a row, the same couple that had been there the previous morning also eating at the same time as us. We’d decided to call it a day on the Matanzas front and any grand plans we may have had of returning to Colon for a second night were well and truly in the bin. We’d be in Havana off the 1240 Viazul bus before either evening commuter had left the shed ecs.

We did have a walk down to the shed though just to see what was going on. We took the short route, over the railway bridge, which kids were using to jump into the water below. As we approached bottom end of the yard 52436 was just shunting out with a couple of wagons, which it then attached to a longer train in the yard, as though ready to make run down the docks; so it was about turn.

Si remained at the big intersection at the end of Calle 79 while I carried on over the next railway bridge, where the line then curves round 90 degrees. At which point the sun was perfect for the train coming round it. I’d barely made it as 52436 made its way over the intersection, heading in my direction.

Bonus photting over we headed straight back to shed where we found 38114 in the yard, where 37016 had been the previous day, with a breakdown train. Both 37016 & 52443 were on the shed, 52443 now outside in the open. We managed to sneak a photo, flanked by the stock, before being told we couldn’t go any further. The same guy then told us, upon being asked, that 52436 would work the 1640 Matanzas – Los Arabos again and that 52443 was on maintenance.

We checked out of the Hotel Velasco just before 1200, thanking the staff for their hospitality, and headed down to the bus station (old railway station). We’d been expecting the Viazul bus to be 1240, as their website had listed, but there was a sign in the ticket office saying it was 1220. How old that was we had no idea but it turned up moments later. The woman in the ticket office telling us that we must buy our tickets off the driver, once the bus arrived.

We were let on without tickets and 7 CUC taken from each of us when the bus pulled over for a refreshment stop. Although the bus terminated at Havana Viazul bus station it does stop just outside the road tunnel as it reaches the outskirts of the city, by the statue of General Maximo Gomez on Tacon (road name). This allowed us to get off and walk to our hotel of choice rather than have to get a taxi back across the City to it.

The Hotel Deauville was only a 10 minute walk round the coast, its tall blue hulk rising above anything else around it on the seafront. It had been built by the mafia way back in the day and was used as their haunt until they had to make a quick exit once the revolution took hold. A taxi driver actually told us that eye witness accounts tell of the guys walking across the road with bags of money, loading them onto speedboats and disappearing off to the US, never to be seen again. There is no sign of the hotels seedy past in the lobby though.

We were soon checked in to room 1208 which had a cracking view up the coast and a balcony to admire it from. The room cost 96 CUC. Other rooms without balconies cost 86 CUC. Checkout time is 1200 but they offer late checkouts until 1800 for 10 CUC more.

After a bit of sightseeing that afternoon we got a Lada taxi across to Havana 19th November station, costing 5 CUC, to do the evening commuters. The moment we walked into the waiting area of the station some guy came up to us and started gibbering at us in Spanish. We eventually figured out that the 1625 to San Antonio & the 1745 to Artemisa were “cancelado”, the trains being broken apparently. That left the 1700 to Batabano, which may or may not depart at 1700, which we eventually found out, from someone who spoke a bit of English, was a “Gas Cart” as he put it, only a small train. Which basically meant it was a DMU.

We’d still toyed with the idea of doing it anyway to see what was on shed at Havana but the station we thought was a station on our map, Calle 26, was actually a bus stop and not a railway station at all, according to the guy that spoke a bit of English, so we didn’t bother in the end. It took us ages to get that out of him too as he was more interested in telling us about Batabano and the route buses took from the Calle 26 stop!

At 1730 we gave it all up as a bad job, walked down to the main road and got in the first taxi that turned up to take us back to the hotel. Its driver being as honest as they come and putting the meter on; it was him that told us about the mafia with their money bags and speedboats.

The remainder of the evening was spent in the Café Neruda, just down the road from the Hotel Deauville, drinking a few beers and chewing the cud while waiting for our food; a very good grilled chicken it was too.

After sunset some washing was done and hung out on chairs on the balcony to dry overnight; some being dry before we event went to bed courtesy of the hot air the AC unit was putting out.

Gen for Wednesday 15th May 2013

52436 (MLW MX624)

118 0440 Los Arabos – Matanzas (assumed as it was back in Matanzas)

Freight Matanzas Yard – Matanzas Docks (approx 1000)

52443 (MLW MX624) & 37016 (TGM4)

Both on Matanzas Shed

38114 (TGM8)

Sat in Matanzas Yard with breakdown train

Thursday 16th May 2013

Our last day in Cuba, which would be the second in a row without any trains. Breakfast was ok at the Deauville but not as good or well presented as at the Velasco in Matanzas. It sufficed though.

The morning was spent sightseeing in Havana, all on foot from the Hotel. Firstly the very upmarket Hotel Sevilla, which has a lot of historical pictures on its walls in the lobby, including one of Al Capone during his stay way back when. Then we walked by the Capitolio Nacional, which was closed for renovation work and had scaffolding all round its dome, before heading off to the Havana Central Station to get some photos of its impressive façade. Chino 52580 was on the blocks, having brought an empty stock in and 52576 was stabled in the yard by the station.

The following Steam Loco’s are inside a compound just outside the side entrance to Havana Central Station:

1122 – 0-4-0T H K Porter #4437, 1909

1138 – 2-6-0 Baldwin #33067, 1908

1205 – 0-4-4T H K Porter #3356, 1905

1308 – 2-8-0 Baldwin #18371, 1900

1311 – 2-6-2T Baldwin #24839, 1904

???? – 0-4-0T No number visible

A link to more information on these locos can be found on the International Steam Cuba pages.

Finally we walked the short distance round the corner to the tourist shopping arcade to get ourselves some souvenirs to take back home. A lot of the stuff is same, same but if you walk round long enough one of the stall owners will give you a better deal than all the rest, even though everything is priced up. Bizarrely we both walked out with a wooden model of a 1948 Ford, which even had 1948 on its bumper and we managed to get a smaller car thrown in for free.

We’d paid 10 CUC for a late check-out at the Hotel and used the time to relax while waiting for our shirts to dry out on the balcony; which had been washed again after the amount of sweating we’d done walking round Havana. It was a hot day; again!

At 1500 we were on the seafront road and soon hailed down a Lada Taxi, which took us to the airport for 20 CUC. Check-in for our 1821 flight to Panama City, with Copa Airlines, was easy. We then paid our 25 CUC departure tax, to allow us to leave the country. This can’t be paid until you have a boarding card though as its stamped to confirm payment. Then it was through immigration, which is exactly the same as coming into the country. Once through the door after being processed that’s it.

There are a few places airside to get a bite to eat and drinks and all the gates are close together so there’s no walking for ages to get there. Our Copa Airlines flight boarded early and then sat waiting its slot on the tarmac. It wasn’t a full flight and the on board meal was very good; all the staff also spoke English.

And that was us Brazil bound; for round two of our trip…….

Gen for Thursday 16th May 2013

52576 (CNR DF7G-C)

Stabled in yard adjacent to Havana Central

52580 (CNR DF7G-C)

On the blocks at Havana Central having brought in an ECS

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