The Hershey train III

The engineer is more interesting to watch than the scenery.
   We clatter into motion, swaying from side to side like a tired guajiro. From below, steel wheels thump acknowledgement of the welds in the rails, the tempo picking up as we gain speed. Even as I begin to contemplate the challenges of Cuban railway maintenance, however, we've already begun to slow for the next station.
   It will be like this all the way to Havana. Never do we reach a pace that could seem imprudent for these rough old cars and the wavy tracks.
   The country stations are no more than concrete huts and narrow staircases. People get on, ride for a stop or two and disembark. It's very much a local service.

Well-fitted cars offer window into an earlier era of train travel.
   I'm not sure what they pay for their short trips, but it couldn't be much. I give the conductor a 2 CUC coin for my longer ride and he hands me 60 centavos in change, plus a Ferrocarriles de Cuba receipt with several inked notations and a ticket in which he has punched nine holes. I'm travelling segunda clase, I notice.
     There may not be a primara clase on the Hershey train, but there is a faded elegance in the cabin. Curved metal banding frames the windows. Dark wood panels separate facing rows of seats beneath the high, vaulted ceiling. Passenger spacing is generous.
   I sit at the front near the open door to the driver's cabin, where I can watch the engineer work the antique controls. This is more interesting than the scrubby pastures and occasional palms moving past our dusty windows.
   Around me, mothers with children on their laps chat quietly. Other passengers lean against the walls near the cabin doors, awaiting their stops. And still others, occupying no doubt the same seats they always occupy, surrender to the rhythm and routine, and close their eyes and doze.

Regular passengers take the opportunity to nap.


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