What would Cuba be without its classic cars? They shape the streets and give the country a unique flair – and smell… The classic 1950s American cars give the city an elegance from another era. The cars held together by duct tape and the ones with rusting coating have just as much character as the polished bright cars with flashy fins and loads of chrome in the tourist centre, if not more.
I’ll never forget that moment we stepped out of José Martí International Airport into a humid and hot summer’s night and into a car park that led us straight into a different world. The black smoke surrounding us made it difficult to figure out which car it was coming from. Every second car we walked by, we hoped was ours for the night until our driver stopped at a deteriorating grey car. He started fiddling underneath the car, while we were left wondering what he was possibly doing until he mysteriously opened the boot that way. We didn’t see much of Havana that night but learned that the traffic there is organised by a range of honking sounds.
We couldn’t resist but travel by (sometimes shared) taxi over the long-distances between our destinations instead of using coaches that looked just like they do everywhere else. It was our treat as we thought where else in the world would we possibly get the chance to travel in such a range of classic cars? And what shall I say, it was amazing! We had a 1950 shiny Chevrolet bee completely coated in black and yellow plastic covers taking us from Havana to Viñales. Another time we shared a ride with 7 other people in a long, big and incredibly bouncy car that broke down 3 times on the so-called motorway because a cable connecting the accelerator to the engine broke. But the driver was prepared and tied it back together with electrical wiring and string – it would have been more worrying if it was the breaks and not the accelerator…
Besides the classic cars, there’s a bit of a different memorable ride you can hail in Havana: Coco Taxis. They look like yellow coconut shells rattling between the classics and do well for a refreshing breeze on a hot summers night.
Wherever we went in Cuba, the classic cars framed the landscape and we slowly but surely got used to seeing them everywhere, until we got back home and actually really missed the view and ‘scent’.