During Rocío and my visit to Cuba we saw multiple old and modern artefacts from other communist or former communist countries. Considering Cuba’s post-revolution political alignment and the United States embargo this should not have been a surprise.
A tip for those visiting Cuba: at your guest house check under the china for its origin. With limited access to goods, Cubans often keep items for decades, including their stoneware. We noticed this at our first meal in Cuba with crockery made in Czechoslovakia, a European country last existing in 1992.
Crockery made in Czechoslovakia at our first Havana guest house
At Santiago de Cuba we used a porcelain coffee set produced in Bulgaria, most likely from its pre-1990 communist period. Continue reading →
Tourist couple in classic convertible hire car driving past El Capitolio
It maybe stereotypical but it’s true, Havana is full of classic United States cars from the 1950s and earlier. Historic economic and political anomalies led to Havana (and Cuba as a whole) being the best place in the world for such vehicles. Cubans can’t import auto-mobiles privately so they do everything they can to keep their old cars running.
Cuba is known for its classic American cars from the 1950s. The country’s streets also carry Soviet vehicles from the 1960s to the 1980s along with modern Chinese auto-mobiles. However, old Japanese cars are a rarity.
The Havana man driving his old right-hand drive Toyota
On Rocío and my second full day in Havana we saw this ancient Toyota sedan. The sighting piqued Rocío’s interest as a previous long-term resident of Japan.
Rocío with the old Toyota in Havana’s street
The car’s proud owner told us he got his Toyota while visiting Japan with the Cuban military in 1985.
The Toyota owner proudly standing next to his car; note his right arm tattoo sleeve
In typical Cuban fashion, the car is still running decades after manufacture. It is also right-hand-drive, another point of difference to other Cuban vehicles. The owner wore a tattoo sleeve on his right arm, probably for sun protection as opposed to fashion.
160 kilometres west of Havana is the intriguing city of Pinar del Río. Not a major tourist destination itself, south-west of Pinar del Río is the famous Robaina cigar tobacco farm Finca El Pinar and to the north, Viñales’ wonderful landscapes.
After the new year in Havana Rocío and I were ready to go west. From Parque de la Fraternidad we caught the local P-12 bus to near the National Bus Terminal (Terminal de Ómnibus Nacionales). On 19 de Mayo Avenue we took an old Chevrolet van colectivo to Pinar del Río. Part way there the vehicle experienced a flat tyre.
Our classic Chevrolet van parked under a tree on the roadside between Havana and Pinar del Río
While changing the tyre, the driver used a rock to support the axle. The van’s lights contained images of Che Guevara.
Driver changing tyre on way to Pinar del Río; note the rock and the Che Guevara image
Camagüey Province’s Río Máximo Wildlife Reserve (Refugio de Fauna Río Máximo) contains not only Cuba’s but the Western Hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site. After not getting to Cayo Sabinal, Rocío was determined to see the flamingos at Río Máximo.
Flamingos at Río Máximo Wildlife Reserve
In Camagüey City we asked people and agencies how to get the reserve. No one seemed to know. State tour company Ecotur hadn’t organised tours there for two years due to the track there requiring a truck and the lack of on site hygiene facilities. An official tourist guide, who also didn’t know the way, recommended we hire a large US car (with driver) that had been converted to diesel to maximise our chances of reaching the reserve. In the city centre while looking for such car, we met an old man who reckoned he knew a way there. Then we met a younger guy who was willing to take us and had a friend with a car.
Instead of a hulking diesel-fueled US classic we had the opposite: a small Soviet petrol sedan! But our Lada had character, including huge windscreen cracks and no internal rear door handles. Time for another crazy Cuban adventure. Continue reading →