Both of our guides in Cuba have said that the answer to any difficult question is “It’s complicated”. Why is there so little toilet paper in the stores? – It’s complicated. Why are there so few cars on the road? – It’s complicated. The first thing we noticed on setting out on our tour to Trinidad, Cuba was how few cars were on the road. In the few villages we saw, there were typically less than five cars parked and no cars moving in a street block. Even driving to Havana on six and eight lane highways the next day, there were often no other cars visible. There were certainly more cars in Havana, but you also certainly didn’t have to worry about traffic jams.
So why are there so few cars on the road? Only the government can import cars. You can readily tell a government owned car by the license plate. A government car will have the word “Cuba” on a blue background while it will be on a white background on the plate of a private car. Any newer car you saw on the road, invariably had the blue color. A private citizen must either buy a car from the government or from another private individual. Car dealers as we know them do not exist. The government has shops which sell cars at prices the overwhelming majority of citizens cannot afford – think somewhere over $100,000! This has led to an abundance of 1950’s era cars in the hands of the private citizens. They are kept running with spare parts from China and Russia and most have been converted to Diesel engines.Most of the old cars are brightly painted and well polished.This Thunderbird had an engine with Thunderbird cast on it, so I am guessing it is an original engine or else China copied that in their replacement engine.
This is a fleet of convertibles arriving to take our group to Havana’s famed Tropicana night club.We went in style in a 1958 Dodge with flashing lights around the windshield and hip hop music blaring from the radio. I felt like a celebrity that should be waving to the people on the street.
Without cars how do people get around? It’s complicated. At intersections in the country, there are always people attempting to hitchhike. I watched these two for over five minutes as they tried to entice the four cars that were heading their way to pick them up. Hitchhikers usually hold some money in their hands to improve their chances. At popular intersections, there is a government employee dressed in yellow to match hitchhikers up with passing government cars, which are required to take hitchhikers. There is a detailed form government cars must carry to show that they are not shirking their responsibility.
There are also public busses that are affordable for most, but they run infrequently and don’t seem very popular. Many people drove horse drawn wagons and some people rode horses in the country. Motorbikes were also uncommon and are very expensive. Bicycles don’t seem very popular. There were fewer trucks on the highways than horse drawn carriages. We saw five gas stations in our eight hours of driving. It is a mystery to me how you get around if you live outside of a city.The city of Trinidad is a UNESCO Heritage site because of its colorful architecture.
The next blog will cover Havana. We are back on the ship and headed for Jamaica.