Getting around Cuba one classic car ride at a time.
Cuba’s car culture is literally a classic one. Fishtail spoilers and two-toned paint jobs aren’t hard to find, and for visitors looking to take a spin in one, all you have to do is hold out your arm. That’s how we hitched a ride with Osmel, owner of a 1952 Cadillac, who gave us a glowing recommendation when asked where to eat. This may seem like a simple exchange where you’re from, but it’s quite the luxury around here. You see, with Cuba’s newfound capitalist twist on communism, citizens are opening all sorts of businesses dedicated to both earning a living and promoting tourism. Because this concept of legally stepping outside the shadow of the government is in its infant stages, there were few neon signs or online reviews to guide us along our way. But Osmel, like many other new entrepreneurs of the island, used the opportunity of running his own taxi service to become much more than a simple ride to a preconceived destination. He became our Yelp, Trip Advisor and Google maps all rolled into one. In this manner, and throughout our foray into the bustling byways of Havana, this theme held true. Every driver we had knew exactly what we needed to find the hot spot hangouts for Cubans who live in the area, and therein lies the beauty of Cuba’s taxi program.
“Whoever comes to the capital and hasn’t seen El Capitolio has not seen Cuba,” Yuri warns in a pink ’52 Chevy. Brilliant sunlight bounces off of the exterior, projecting a rose-colored lens on the objects it hit. We’re on our way to Malecón, but that doesn’t stop him from recommending we do Havana justice by seeing its prided Capitol building. The ride isn’t long, but along the way, we pick up a few passengers. It’s how the system works; why waste the space if you can capitalize on the route? Of course, we know that this isn’t a groundbreaking concept, but keep in mind there are no apps for this service. One just stands on the side of the road with a party, hold up the amount of fingers that corresponds to the riders present, and voila, someone with space enough to accommodate you will stop. This says a lot about Cuban culture as a whole. Cubans are big on hospitality, and though most of us view public transport as a simple medium for getting from point A to point Z, these taxi drivers take it a step further by making the trip an all-inclusive one. Having the ability to gain insight from drivers and passengers alike opened the road to many experiences found between the anonymity of shortest routes, and really, isn’t that what discovering a new place is all about?
While we were there, we rode in many cars classified as ‘local rides’, from drivers who commute passengers within neighborhoods. Don’t be afraid to take this route, as you can negotiate the best deals with them.