Remember how I told you about buying bus tickets in Cuba, how we lucked out on our way to Vinales but it wouldn’t always be that way? Well today is the day I find out just how screwy Cuban transportation can be. And this is only the first of three times we deal with this headache. You’d think we’d learn our lesson.

Back in Havana, I made sure to purchase our return tickets before leaving the bus station. I feel quite relieved when we arrive in Vinales and I hear about a couple who had to wait six hours for a taxi back to Havana. But what I don’t know until I arrive at the bus station in Vinales is that I apparently bought tickets for January 31, not December 31. WHAT?! Rookie move! How did I not double check that? Of course the bus is full, and there’s nothing anyone can do for us. On top of that, I can’t even return the ticket. I’m told I have to do it in Havana, but every time I ask, I’m given some reason why they can’t process the refund right then. Because of course. So what to do now?

Outside on the sidewalk in front of the station, we join the massive crowds who are also out of luck on the bus. Several men are offering shared taxi services for $25 per person (the bus is only $12). Since we really have no choice, we agree and fork over the money. Then we’re told to wait while they find a car. Excuse me, what? I just gave you money to take me to Havana and you don’t even have a car? How does this work? Turns out, these guys are simply middlemen – they pair tourists with taxis. But today, taxis are in short supply. What else can we do? So we sit down to wait.

And wait.

No joke, everyone in the pictures below are waiting for a bus/taxi/horse carriage to take them to their next destination. All those people in the background, too. I’ve never seen such mayhem over a lack of taxis.

The blonde guy in the photo below is already drunk. At 10am. I guess it’s New Year’s Eve? And both guys develop quite an attraction to Maggie, buying her a beer while we wait. They’re a couple of the middlemen looking for taxis, though I think blondie must be off work today.

After three hours of waiting and a bit of nagging at the guy who’s supposed to be finding us a taxi, he gives us all our money back and tells us there are no more taxis. At this point, I don’t even know what to do. Are we going to be staying an extra unscheduled night in Vinales? It’s certainly starting to look that way.

Just as I’m resigning myself to staying, another guy comes up and says he has room for four more people to Havana, $25 each. We jump up and walk a couple blocks around the corner to find a big truck with about 20 people crammed in the back. It’s not comfortable, but it will do. At this point, I don’t even care. We get to leave!

We’re all so happy to have found a ride out of Vinales that a couple people pass around bottles of rum to celebrate. Despite the stressful morning, it’s moments like these I love most about traveling – sharing a bit of joy with people from around the world. Regardless of beliefs, culture or language, we are all brought together at this point in time over shared (albeit frustrating) circumstances.

The journey back to Havana takes roughly four hours. I put in my headphones and zone out for awhile, decompressing from the hectic morning. At some point, I’m told we have to stop at a checkpoint to pay off the police to continue. Our vehicle isn’t legally allowed to make the trip to Havana. This is a new experience for me. Check ‘bribe a police officer’ off my bucket list? Don’t worry mom – I obviously didn’t get arrested and am fine.

About halfway into our journey, we pull over to the side of the road for a bathroom break. There are no toilets, only bushes. Everyone gets out to stretch their legs for a bit. Fortunately there are few other cars on the road.

Finally at long last, we make it back to Havana. When we arrive at our Airbnb, we’re informed that our hosts’ daughter just had a baby and we won’t be able to stay there. Her sister shows us to another place down the road and it turns out to be where I get the best sleep of the entire trip. Our room is located in the center of the house, surrounded by other rooms, so there’s no noise or light from outside. It’s heaven on earth. Payment for the chaos and confusion of today, I say.

So if I could give you one major tip for visiting Cuba it’s this – if you plan to travel outside of Havana, book all your bus tickets as soon as you can. Especially if you are traveling during high season and/or holidays. Don’t wait until the morning of, and definitely double check all your ticket information before you leave the desk. You’ll avoid a lot of headaches and save a lot of money, making your trip much smoother.

New Year's in Havana
Horseback Riding Through Vinales National Park