The Camello

The Celebrated “Camel” Bus of Havana

To take a Camello bus and move around Havana is an incredible experience, just comparable to a Saturday night film seasoned with horror, violence, adult talk and sex. It is a real psychological and physical torture.

Apart from other disadvantages, the Camello offers sluggish speed and poor ventilation. Considering the fact that the first buses were made without roof windows and that the public transport is overcrowded, the trips with Camellos are far from being enjoyable. In this tremendous vehicle, passengers suffer for most of the journey and they are more than relieved when they arrive at their destination and achieve to get out.

These trips are a kind of never-ending uncomfortable nightmare which begins right at the Camello bus stop where almost always waits an indefinite number of people who are eager to travel and who immediately apply a kind of helter skelter jungle rule of getting on. And there is no way for this chaos to calm down until the “camelbreaker” (the inspector) appears and tames it a little.

You may be lucky to get a seat, but you will not have a comfortable journey anyway. The seats are too narrow and hard, then there is a woman whose huge handbag swings to and fro beating everybody around her, there is also “a wrestler” with a sack stuffed with God knows what, screaming children… People bump into one another as the driver abruptly brakes or runs into the potholes, and it is extremely hot because fresh air is reluctant to come in through the windows…

Yet those who have to stand are worse off, since they suffer right from the moment they are lucky to get on. However, on the other hand, they can actually appreciate the fact that they do not have to survive part of the journey hanging from the door. It is crucial for them to “make their way” otherwise they will be crushed by others. They have to follow their instinct of self-preservation, they have to pass through the crowd in whatever direction and to search for their small little place, preferably by the first or the third door where people get off.

Apart from that, there is always someone ready to make your trip even more enjoyable. Women, beware men who really have no intentions at all, because it is all but an accident….! And there are also insolent pickpockets who are keen to touch everything within their reach that might be an easy haul or who are eager to operate on handbags leaving behind 20-stitch scars on “luggage” and poor robbed victims.

In this crowd of people, who smell somewhat worse than one may dare expect, the magic phrase is “Excuse me”. However, it is not the “excuse me” in the traditional sense of the word, it is more of a warning that people are going to push and you are advised to hold tight to something stable. Yet where and how is one supposed to move to make way for the person who asks for permission in such a euphemistic way?

To get off the Camello, too, is a heroic success; especially for those seated, because they have to stand up and get ready at least one stop before their destination. Otherwise, they have no chance of working their way to the door which is but a few metres away.

This task is much easier to perform for those who are standing, yet that does not necessarily mean that these passengers are exempt from overcoming certain obstacles. Even those who stand right at the first or the third door are not spared of facing some difficulties.

In that case they have to confront not only “the privileged” who are getting on and off at every stop, but also those passengers whom the driver tells to get on by the back door. If there is no inspector, people try to get on by hook or crook, disregarding the fact that there might be others willing to get off.

In more than ten years of its existence, the Camello or the Metrobus has not achieved to effectively improve the perpetual problems of public transport in Havana, which is actually getting worse and worse.

The Camellos have been running through the streets of Havana, experiencing more fall than glory. They have not resolved almost anything; on the contrary, they have brought many problems more. There is chaos, noise and pollution on the streets and people are annoyed and vexed, since there is no other way for them to move around the town.

Perhaps one day, people in Cuba will be lucky and the Camello will disappear once and for all from their lives. I am not exaggerating if I say that no one or only very few will remember these buses with nostalgia.