Saturday, February 4, 2017

Our Man in Havana 1: the Hershey Train

Dear Readers, this will the first of a series of articles about Cuba. This is a fascinating travel destination in every way - culture, music, architecture, nature and bird life, and art. And the people are friendly, gracious, and welcoming.

I borrowed the my title from Graham Green's 1958 novel, Our Man In Havana, which was set in Cuba before the 1959 Revolution. It is about a vacuum cleaner salesman, who may be a Mi6 British spy, or maybe he isn't. Who can be sure? It's a great read, like most of Graham Green's novels.
The Hershey Train was built in 1922 by the US Hershey Corporation to service its sugar mills and farms in central Cuba. The line runs from the east side of Havana Harbour, the area known as Casa Blanca, to the city of Matanzas, about 57 mi to the east. This is the only electric line in Cuba and now mostly serves commuters. According the the World Tram and Trolleybus web page, The Hershey train is one of the few interurban rail systems still in operation.

Because of Cuba's lack of infrastructure investment since the Revolution almost 6 decades ago, the line is essentially unchanged since it opened in 1922. The current rolling stock may be Spanish, replacing the 1920s American Brill electric cars. According to Lonely Planet, all rail service in Cuba is erratic because of frequent breakdowns and track bed failures. The trip to Matanzas takes at least four hours, and the return may or may not be possible on the same day. The day this picture was taken, January 21, 2017, this author was pleased to see the green car slowly trundle out of the Casa Blanca station, with chickens and pedestrians slowly moving off the track to make way.
The Casa Blanca Station is located on the east side of the harbor channel, not in Havana Vieja (Old Town Havana). It can be accessed by the harbor ferry. The Hershey train did not run into the main part of Havana because United Railways, the British company that ran Cuba's trains in the first part of the 20th century did not allow the Hershey train to use its rails into the city. The ferry boat is a fun ride across the harbor. Two tickets cost only 0.50 CUC, or about 50 cents US. There was surprising security presence and X-ray inspection because many years ago, someone commandeered the ferry and tried to sail it to Florida. We saw the local bicycle club in the waiting area.
This is the view of the east or Casa Blanca side of the harbor channel.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.

No comments:

Post a Comment