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Showing posts from March, 2010

Renting a car in Cuba: So many, so few

Type in “Cuba car rental” and your search engine will respond with thousands of sites. The reality, however, is that Cuba has just a handful of rental agencies – Transtur/Cubacar, Rex, Havanautos and the smaller Via, Micar and Panautos – and connecting directly with any of them from outside can be difficult.
   So who operates those myriad sites? Travel firms and other companies that serve as commission-paid intermediaries. Some are open about their middleman status, but others masquerade as the actual Cuban agencies, which is how I found myself dealing with a French company and watching my Canadian dollars get converted first to U.S. currency and then to Euros (with fees both times, I believe). My credit company called to ask why my card number was suddenly popping up in Europe, and the French travel firm even demanded that I fax copies of the forms it sent me to the rental headquarters in Cuba. Guess it wanted to avoid long-distance charges.
   This year I got smart and booked thro…

Renting a car in Cuba: Keep the lead out

I guess if I reserve through the same agency, for pickup at the same rental office, I shouldn’t be surprised to get the same car. So there awaiting me was my old friend the Accent, still with some shine to its wedding dress-white paint, but bearing an extra year of scuffs, and a trunk badge that read H UNDAI – the missing letter no doubt a trophy for some Generation Y’er.
   Three years ago, this car was nearly new. Now, 65,000 Cuban rental kilometres later, its springs had some extra bounce, yet the ride, overall, remained reasonably smooth.
   The engine, unfortunately, hadn’t fared as well. It felt and sounded coarse, with less power than I remembered. One afternoon in Havana, it seemed so fuel-starved, I wondered if I would be joining the roadside legion of hitchhikers. Despite this, fuel consumption was up.
   My guess? By accident or intent, it’s had a few tankfuls of “regular” gas, instead of the pricier “special gasoline” (1.10 CUC a litre on my visit) mandated for rental cars.…

Ka-lunk!

The car in the new Caristas logo is a 1960 Buick — a delightful two-door hardtop. It could be a Le Sabre, an Invicta or even an Electra; there was no way for us to tell in the moments that we drove alongside it on the Via Blanca. No matter what model, it would have had that year's new "Mirrormagic" instrument cluster that allows the gauges to be viewed in a mirror that tilts to suit the driver's eye level. As we crossed a bridge we heard a “ca-chunk” and C., who was taking these photos, said: “I think something just fell off it.”

Redesigned, to serve you better!

Caristas, you may have noticed, has a new look. It's the result of many hours of study and debate by the Caristas design team — all with a goal of making this site more attractive and accessible for you, the reader. Well, it's actually the result of me fooling around with different website templates without remembering to first save the settings for the old design. But I do hope you like the new look, because there's no going back.

Two seats, three wheels, four gear ratios (even in reverse)

Isettas aren’t the only microcars still doing their micro thing in Cuba. Here’s a Messerschmitt three-wheeler I saw passing the Plaza de la Revolución. The tandem-seat Messerschmitt was built from 1953 through 1964 at a factory of the famous German aircraft manufacturer. This one looks like a post-1957 KR201 roadster model, though it might be an earlier (hard canopy) KR200 that’s been converted. A couple of neat things about the Messerschmitt: Its single-cylinder two-stroke engine came equipped with a second set of breaker points, allowing it to run backwards to reverse the little car. And because of that design, all four transmission gear ratios can be engaged when backing up!

This thing is not a Thing

SPENT A noon hour recently at the Plaza de la Revolución, waiting for my reseacher card to be approved at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí across the street. While other visitors took pictures of the square’s famous ironwork profile of Che Guevara and the newly added image of Camilo Cienfuegos, I aimed my camera outward, at the traffic buzzing by on the boulevards surrounding the plaza.
   Among my more interesting sightings was this little machine. For a moment I thought it was a Volkswagen Type 181 Kurierwagen, the military-style utility vehicle that was sold in North America as the Thing. But a closer look told me this was smaller and more detailed than the plain-sided Thing. (Interesting: A Thing appears in the background of a scene in The World’s Fastest Indian, which is based on events years before the Thing’s 1969 introduction. Given its mid-century looks, however, we can forgive the movie people for the anachronism.)
   So what is this? A Soviet dune buggy-Jeep cross? Whatever…