The Hershey Train, Cuba’s Slowest Moving Form of Transport

I ended up on the Hershey Train, kind of by accident.  A good accident, but still. Riding the Hershey Train was a true highlight of travelling in in Cuba.  It was cheap, inefficient, and scenic, some of my favourite things! Oh, and the seats were epically uncomfortable, but that’s the fun!

So I took a bus from [intlink id=”1520″ type=”post”]Vinales[/intlink] to [intlink id=”1255″ type=”post”]Havana[/intlink], arriving at around 1pm. This was the day, at 2pm, I had been told by the man at the Isla de la Juventud ferry ticket office to return to buy a ticket for the next day boat.

Now this sentence is fraught with disaster for several reasons. One, the man told me this two weeks previous, and judging by his lack of concern I doubt he remembered he said it 10 minutes later, much less two weeks. Two, they only sell tickets from 9-12pm. Even though they are there all day, doing nothing. They will only sell tickets in the morning. Three, buying a ticket the day before will probably not fly as boats have a way of filling up. They actually sink if you put too many people on them.

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So I went to the ticket booth for the fourth time, yes, FOURTH!! The man was there. Easily recognizable, and seeing me, he called over some dude from somewhere who spoke English well enough to translate. Not that translation was necessary, since from the first second this man was not selling me a ticket, it didn’t matter what my story was. He told me to come back the next day in the morning. He said the boat was full the next day. He said he never told me to come back. LYING LIAR WHO LIES!!!!!!!!

A Lesson in Flexibility while Backpacking

To put it mildly, I was choked, even though I didn’t have a ton of faith in this guys word from the get go. Regardless, he was on the receiving end of a death glare of religious proportion, as well as so much in my head profanity it’s lucky he wasn’t a psychic. I don’t think he was anyways. If he did hear my thoughts, he clearly didn’t care. I hope he steps on a piece of Lego, once a day, every day, forever.

Steaming, I exited the station, without ticket, for the fourth time. I head to a Chinese restaurant, since really, food solves all problems, and Chinese sounded great! I tucked into a giant plate of sweet and sour pork, which was more just deep friend pork with some little cups of pineapple sauce on the side. Whatever. it was delicious, if not reminiscent of the sweet and sour chicken ball mound I ate at the Weyburn Chinese place. Nothing beats Chinese food in Saskatchewan. 

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To regroup, I spent the night in Havana, in a really cool colonial casa, with high ceilings and a great rooftop! The next morning, I set out to figure out what I was going to do with my remaining few days in Cuba.

Riding the Hershey Train in Cuba

After several hopeful directions, and more people at desks telling me going certain places was ‘impossible’, I aimed for the Hershey Train, an electric train line that goes East from Havana to Matanzas, and comes close to a really good beach area, Playa Jibacoa. So that was the plan: beach via Hershey Train.

The Hershey train was built back in 1921 by Mr. Hershey, of Hershey Chocolate fame and fortune to get the sugar from along the line into Havana for shipping to sweeten the chocolate. It still runs basically the same way it did in 1921, meaning it is slow and pretty uncomfortable, though very cool in the vinty way.

The train was scheduled to leave at 12:21pm, which I, in my most cynical of Cynical Cindy moment scoffed at, yeah right, 12:21 probably means 3:07 Cuba time. Surprisingly, and thankfully, I was proven wrong and the train pulled out of the station at about 12:25. Impressive!!! I love it when I’m wrong in the right kind of way! Thanks Hershey Train!  

Because it is electric, the Hershey Train runs pretty quietly and smoothly, though not altogether quickly. It took about 2 hours to go 50km, with many stops. But, it was gorgeous countryside, and really, I had nowhere to be, so I thoroughly enjoyed my Hershey Train experience.

Seats in the one car train were like those of an old school desk, and half the passengers were smoking or drinking rum. That means the people watching was en pointe! There was no toilet, good thing I skipped the hydration that morning.

Taking the Hershey Train to Playa Jibacoa

Some of the stops along the way were at stations in small villages, others were just GPS coordinates in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere. One stop was simply named “Hershey”, one can merely guess why.  I told the ticket guy I wanted to get off at Jibacoa, the small village 5km from Playa Jibacoa, my goal. He warned me when we were close.

And then we were ‘there’… But where was there?

We were just on the train track, surrounded by trees. Then I saw a raised concrete platform, with stairs leading down to ground level, I guess I was there.  Here? Where?

If you liked this post, you may also like: Soroa – Hiking and Eco-Tourism in Cuba

The Hershey Train Station in Playa Jibacoa

Ticket guy told me to walk back up the tracks about 200 metres and then turn right up a road and walk to the beach. Ok! Nothing like a little blind faith. As the Hershey Train chugged very slowly away, I walk up that road for a bit and then met a 4 way crossroads, with no signs in any direction. Hmm, I keep going straight, that feels like it will end in ocean.

A Truly Awkward Travel Tale

About 5 minutes later, two teenaged boys in a buggy pulled by a horse come up behind me. They asked where I’m going, I said “la playa”. They said I was supposed to turn left back at the crossroads. Well, it was a 1 in 3 shot. Then they told me to hop into the buggy, they would drive me! Ok!

May I just say, riding in a two wheeled horse and buggy along a road so potholed it could be classified as war torn is quite the ride. I almost fell out several times, but I did manage to maintain my seat. Barely. It was like riding that camel named [intlink id=”807″ type=”post”]Romeo in India[/intlink], constantly on the edge of that knife…

Take the Hershey Train from Havana to Playa Jibacoa for a ride from another century. Once you get to the beach, bask in the power of that mighty Caribbean!

Speaking of camels named Romeo, after the requisite get to know you with limited Spanish questions, Cesar, the older of the two boys (one was 15 and the other was 19), started asking me about me travelling solo and me having a boyfriend. Despite our age difference and clear linguistic divide, he thought that since I was going to the beach, by myself, with nothing to do, I should be his girlfriend.

Question mark?

I laughed it off, as I normally do, but he kept asking why not? Why not?  Slowing the horse down to look at me. Why not? Por que non? Seriously? Finally, I just said “No, no, Gracias. No”. Things got real quiet, awkwardness knows no linguistic divide.  The horse slowed to a plodding pace, and then Cesar stopped the buggy entirely, and said he couldn’t take me any further.

So to recap, I was sexually harassed by a 19 year old Cuban kid with a neck tattoo named Cesar, in a buggy, and then after I rejected him, I was tossed out of said buggy. How cliche. And then…he wanted money for the ride!!  I gave him a dollar. He whined. He was lucky he didn’t get a knee in the coconuts.

Unfortunately my Spanish is not fine tuned quite enough to explain that to him.

He followed me a few more minutes in the buggy whining for more money until he got the picture and gave up. I walked another kilometre in peace. I’m still really glad I took that ride, because a horse and buggy is a great way to get around!

1000 metres away from yet another broken heart, a passing car stopped and I was once again asked what I was doing. This man, spoke English, and was in the drivers seat of a Bubblegum pink ’58 Ford. Ok, I’m liking this day. I say I need a casa at the beach, and wouldn’t you know, he owns a casa at the beach! Great, let’s go!

This car means I am in my sixth form of transport of the day: Havana city bus, Havana taxi, Hershey electric train, my own sleds, horse and buggy, and now vintage car.

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We get to his casa, and I realize how lucky I am, there are no other casas at Playa Jibacoa. None. The only places to stay are the 2 resorts, a cabin camp place that seems to only be for Cubans, and some house rentals that are also only for Cubans. I realized how close I was to having to follow some buggy tracks backwards and be someone’s girlfriend.  #worsecasescenario

And with that, I triumphantly entered Playa Jibacoa! Thank you Hershey Train, it was a hoot!

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5 thoughts on “The Hershey Train, Cuba’s Slowest Moving Form of Transport

  1. Loved this trek through parts of Cuba via 6 means of transportation. You know I was pleased with your horse and cart ride but not necessarily the girlfriend request. Loving the pictures, glorious, and history lesson. Keep them coming. Love you. Aunt Joan

  2. Oh god…I’ve been in this predicament on many forms of public transportation. Luckily because it’s public, the dudes can’t actually kick me off but they can get angry. Anyway, I asked this on the other Jibacoa post but am unclear if it’s in the approval queue or just lost, but do you know how I can find that beach casa other than, uh, by random chance? And how much was it? My guidebook (Moon) just vaguely says there are casas (plural!) within walking distance of the resort but not much more info. I’d like to be close to the resort though, for the better reef.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      My casa was not that close to the resorts, it was definitely at the far other end of Jibacoa. When I went to the resorts to steal their wifi I borrowed a bike and it was a solid 25 minute cycle. There were what looked like some vacation rentals closer to that end, and a campsite, but they told me they were booked out.

      Cheers,
      Emily

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