Showing posts from January, 2009

My parents went to Cuba and all I got was this ’58 Chevy

   Another souvenir that I couldn’t pass up was this wooden replica of a, well, I’m not sure. I see some Chevrolet there, but also some Dodge. Doesn’t matter – I think it's quite handsome.    The beach vendor had a fleet of 1950s models – including some I could even identify as Cadillacs – plus some 1930s-era cars. He told me his family carves and assembles these models at home. I’ve since seen many more of these cars offered elsewhere in Cuba, so I guess there are a lot of families just a whittlin’ and glueing.    I also learned later it’s a good idea to leave wooden items like this out in the cold garage for a week or two when you get back, just to ensure you aren’t bringing any wood-boring insects into your home. I didn’t. Fortunately, my Chevy-Dodge didn’t seem to have held any passengers.

Call me a cab

    Cuba this month encouraged owners of private cars to apply for the first new taxi licences to become available since 1999. Recipients will be allowed to set their own rates up to maximums determined by a state commission, according to an Associated Press report .    This latest small step to a free-market system is meant to improve transportation, particularly in rural areas, the government says. Of course, with many (most?) private car owners already offering rides to their countrymen for payment, it’s also an attempt to regulate this sector of Cuba’s mercado negro .    Probably because few of the AP’s American readers will ever visit Cuba, the report doesn’t mention that these new cabs, like most existing taxis, will be officially off-limits to foreigners. Only a few, higher-priced taxis (including Havana’s coco taxis) are allowed to pick up tourists.    But if you are looking for a better deal, you might be able to find an, er, unofficial taxi. Ask around.

How to rent a car in Cuba (or, there will be paperwork)

I’m arranging a rental for my pending visit to Cuba. I hope the booking – and the car – will move along as smoothly as last year. The process involves several steps but is pretty straightforward. I go to the Vacionar website (Cuba has a number of rental agencies, but I think they are all the same state organization) and put in my desired dates. For a car in what Cuba calls the intermediate category – but which North Americans would consider compact – it’s a minimum three-day rental for $255 U.S. Then I log into the account I’ve opened at the site and submit my booking. After I receive an e-mail confirmation I return to the site, click various boxes and end up at the website of a French travel company that works with Vacacionar. There, I pay by credit card the sum of 200 Euros ($10 too much by my calculation, but exchange rate fluctuations could be a factor ... maybe) and am directed back yet again to Vacacionar, where I print off various vouchers and receipts. Strangely, I’m now asked

Cars and Cuba: A detailed list of links

(Updated: Nov. 20, 2011 ) Blogspot’s doohickey for recommending links doesn’t permit annotation, so here’s a more detailed list of sites about Cuba’s cars and related topics. I welcome your nominations for additions to this collection  and please let me know if any of the links here aren't working. Facebook Cars of Cuba: This group boasts nearly 650 photographs submitted by Facebook members, with a great range of locales, photographic styles and, most important, Cuban automotive subjects. Many vehicles are identified as to make, model and year, and the general discussion can be interesting. Books by Baker: Award-winning writer Christopher P. Baker is the author of the “literary” work Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro’s Cuba , the coffee-table heavyweight Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles , and numerous travel guides to Cuba and other destinations. His prose is elegant and entertaining, and the photography is spectacular. Flickr: Thi

Of caste and colour

      In North America, the colour of your licence plate helps others know what state or province you are from. In Cuba, it can denote your occupation and status.    Yellow means you own your vehicle, most likely one of preRevolution vintage. Black discloses that you are a diplomat, red, that you are a visitor driving a rental car (if the plate begins with T, for turisto), or have been granted a provisional licence because your plate has worn out or become lost (lighter red, ends in P).    Blue proclaims that you are allowed to bring your state vehicle home after work. Brown indicates you are an “authorized civil servant,” while white signifies you are a government minister or some other mucky-muck.    Light green is reserved for the army; dark green for the Interior ministry. Finally, orange is issued to religious institutions, non-Cuban journalists and foreign companies and joint venture firms.    The letters on your plate will further identify your place of residence and category

He had my number

   The vendors offered the usual schlock: stringed-shell necklaces; assembly-line abstract paintings; those elongated African figurines you see back home in thrift shops and garage sales.    A couple, though, were displaying something different: papier-mâché reproductio ns of Cuba licence plates. These replicas were nice, but reminded me that I wanted an example of the real thing.    I mentioned this interest to the Cuban fellow I was with, even as I wondered to myself how difficult it might be to find a plate for sale in a country where the state owns even your donkey. Not difficult at all, it turned out.    Within minutes a vendor was gesturing for me to sit beside him in his stall. From a cardboard box under the table he drew out a plastic bag, which he held low and opened enough for me to see a yellow “particular” (private vehicle) plate within.    How much? I wondered. He took a pen and wrote “14” on his palm. At the time 14 convertible pesos was the equivalent of maybe $17

A multi-coloured past

   My guess, given the interior colour, is that this 1953 Dodge being readied for a respray (Matanzas, 2008) was originally the light blue seen on the rear door and other panels. Each subsequent hue in the 50 years (exactly, today) since the Castro government took power might have been an owner’s choice, or a matter of available paint.   This is an export-model Dodge, probably Canadian-built. In the U.S., this body style belonged to Chrysler’s Plymouth brand.