A huge fascination for many outside of Cuba are the 1950s American built classic cars. If you know your Cuban history (thank you, my year 11 high school history teacher Mr Owen) you will know about the American embargo with Cuba. If you don’t know and putting it simply, the Americans “officially” don’t export into Cuba. Besides food and essential medicines that also means new cars and spare parts can’t get in from the USA. So many of these classic cars are cannibalized from others.
Havana has a majority of these wonderful cars. Many look like they have rolled off the production line yesterday but others, well, perhaps they will be fodder very soon. I’ve written about our cab ride in Havana back from the fort. But more about taxis in a little while.
The more we travelled around Cuba, the less we saw of these Classic cars outside of the cities. But more Russian 1980s boxes, Jawa and MZ motorcycles, motorcycle with side cars, tractor, truck, horse and cart. Lots of hitchhikers who would get peeved because we never picked anyone them up. They couldn’t see we had the kids in the back and not enough room.
More recent car imports into Cuba, that we could see came from Korea. We hired a Kia ‘something’ and thank goodness it had conditioning. We self-drove around Cuba and started in Havana to Trinidad, then Playa Santa Lucia then to Santiago de Cuba. We organised for the car to be dropped off at the end and flew back to Havana. Highly recommend saving the time driving back on the same roads.
Most of our driving was on Cuba’s main highway south. The highway looked like it was constructed in 1950s along with many of the buildings. One of the problems we could see with the three lanes either side and mainly straight highway was they hadn’t been resurfaced in years. But they had nice, pruned and well maintain hibiscus bushes growing in the middle. A bumpy road but the flowers were colourful.
We ate at many of the Paladar eating rest stops along the way. They had this tell tale sign of a thatched style roof with wooden posts which reminded me of buildings we found in Fiji as kids. See the photo below. Food, drinks, snacks and ice creams all good. My only suggestion, BYO toilet paper.
Our hire car via Cuba Junky (which was good) said we’d get a map on picking up our hire car. No map was offered. Actually the man just laughed. Asking at other hotels tourist office in Havana only provided a map with lines but no road names. Not that would have been an issue as I explain below. I have been advised post holiday (via the Lonely Planet forums) you can pick a good map one up at Havana’s airport. Also some towns like Santiago de Cuba have two names for each street. Old and new names.
Have I mentioned the lack of signs in many of the towns? Like their maps no street names and no signs. Maybe I need to repeat it a little if you are planning to self-drive Cuba. There is a LACK of SIGNS in many of the towns.
We were finally able to pick up a reasonable printed map in Cienfuegos. We used it plus a few iPhone apps Havana Good Time, Cuba Maps and iCuba and highly recommend them. We both had iPhone 4+ without reliable cellular data in Cuba via our AU travel SIMS. Unfortunately the Cuban only telco do not (at the time of our travel) sell small SIMS for our mobiles. Luckily the GPS dot could always find us, so using Cuba Maps mentioned above we could find out if we had taken the wrong road. It happened often but we survived.
I was more the navigator than driver and I think I am reasonable with a map. That is, I don’t turn it around to align with the direction we are driving. I took to navigating more because I fear there is still one poor family in Santa Clara (Che’s mausoleum) that is suffering the effects of me driving right towards them head on. Nigel and I were both sure that the road we drove down was two way and when we went back it amazingly turned one way. The wrong way. Nigel is yelling stop, stop, STOP. When all of a sudden adrenalin pumping me turned the wheel and over the median strip to the other side which for some reason had a small side lane I could take up the road to rejoin the correct road. No other traffic was about. I was happy there was a clean toilet at the mausoleum with my BYO toilet paper.
Traveling around Trinidad we saw a lot of fences that used growing trees in it’s construction. To see one such construction see the image below. I didn’t get a close enough look to see how the fence wire was attached to the tree. I assume it would be supportive enough for the plant to fatten as it grew bigger. Nice idea.
I just loved seeing that truck (pictured below) broken down in Santiago de Cuba. Yes the men are trying to push a full laden truck with cabbage past the lights. I wasn’t happy about them having to push, it just meant we might not have cabbage in our dinner that night. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Cabbage was served on the side of many of our dinners.
Driving across Cuba we saw crops of tobacco, coffee, sugar cane (reminded me of North Queensland) and heaps of corn. But did we get any corn in our stay in Cuba? No. I thought with the heaps of avocados, corn and the Caribbean influence we’d get a corn/avocado salsa. No. I might have to go back and teach them that recipe, just don’t tell Nigel.
Back to taxis. There was one taxi where we spent more time inside the taxi that the driver. No we didn’t drive it either. The rotten thing ran out of petrol on the way to the airport in Santiago de Cuba. It has ran out of petrol because we were driving up a large hill and his plastic tank in the boot had the petrol slosh to the other side away from the pipe to the engine. So he got a cap full of fuel from the tank and put it directly into the carburetor. He had to perform this action a few time before he got the cab working enough for him to do turn the wheel pointing the taxi down the hill. We then rolled down the hill to a petrol station. Luckily, we were way early for our flight so it only took up some of this extra time. When we got to the airport our funky dressed Cuban taxi driver who was smooth and cool to get us into the Cab originally was now looking down and ashamed. We gave him a very good tip that made him smile.
Oh and yes, I did get back into the drivers seat and mastered the road, the wipers and blinkers too. The husband for most of the journey got the wipers and blinkers mixed up. Not I! At least I mastered that on the road :-)
To view a larger picture and photo gallery, click on any image below.