Sunday, February 08, 2009

Riding to the rhythm in Havana

Riding to the rhythm in Havana
Ray Sanchez/Direct from Havana | Direct from Havana
February 3, 2009

The driver of the spanking new Chinese-made Yutong bus blasted the
pounding rhythms of Daddy Yankee's reggaeton hit "Dame mas gasolina" at
a stop near the Foreign Relations ministry. More than two-dozen people
were left waiting to board when the blaring bus pulled away.

Almost immediately, another bus arrived.

Aside from their on-time performance, the flashy new buses in the
capital are popular for their old-fashioned cassette players and
speakers, which are giving public transportation a uniquely Cuban flavor.

The new red-and-white buses – actually two buses joined together with
accordion-like sections – have replaced the dreaded buses known as
"camels," which were a pair of bus shells welded together on an 18-wheel
base. The ride costs less than five cents and now includes earsplitting
music, whether you want it or not.

"This is Cuba," said a bus dispatcher in Vedado. "We invent ways to
enjoy life."

Since taking over Cuba, President Raul Castro has made public
transportation one of his priorities, spending hundreds of millions of
dollars on thousands of new Chinese buses. The buses run 10 to 15
minutes apart and lines at Havana bus stops are now much shorter.

"This is a limo compared to the old camels," said a woman traveling with
her granddaughter.

Depending on the driver's tastes, the packed ride through the grand
streets of the city could include raunchy reggaeton, saucy rumbas or, a
local favorite, the wrist-slashing ballads of Mexican crooner Marco
Antonio Solis. Many passengers -- like actors in a tropical musical --
sing along.

"If you don't like it," said Eva, an auditor for the state who was
heading home early. "I guess you have to walk or hope you approve of the
music on the next bus.",0,6416898.column

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