How are people in Cuba able to maintain their decades, many from the 1950s old cars, was my question when I was in Cuba last year (june 2016).
My driver, Juanchito, had a very simple answer, “ by pure ingenuity” (“puro invento” in Spanish).
I found Juanchito (Juan Jose) by luck, looking for a ‘fine car’ for my clients, after spending almost two days, here was the perfect car, parked in front of the Capri hotel.
It was perfect. But would it be appropriate for my clients, an Ambassador who was in coming to Cuba to present his credentials.
Thanks to the modern-day technology and some Wi-Fi (wee fee) hotspots all around the Cuban capital, I sent my clients a picture and they loved it to.
But, did it run? At least properly to be part of an official motorcade, at least not to have the embarrassment of breaking down during those crucial minutes? Did it have a/c (air conditioning)? How was the inside? All legitimate questions.
In this case it was a 1986 Soviet limo, supposedly one of ten gifted to Cuba from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
The black, boxy, Soviet-made limousines that for years were at the disposal of Fidel Castro have been repurposed as Havana taxi cabs, at the service of tourists who want a little slice of history to go with their ride across town.
Juanchito told me nine are still running and in service daily as a taxi for hire. I couldn’t have my clients riding in a taxi, so Juanchito quickly takes off the ‘taxi sign’, as he does for his clients who ask.
In fact, moments later, another turned the corner to queue in the taxi line. It wasn’t as nicely maintained as Juanchitos’. He took exceptional pride in keeping “his car”, a car handed down to him by his father, “Juan”, keeping the family legacy.
As Juanchito explained, the car belongs to the State, part of the State’s fleet of taxis. In his case, the car is assigned to him, he operates it as his personal business and keeps up the maintenance on it, at his expense.
We struck a deal and for the week I was in Cuba, I rode in style: limo and driver. And for less for day that car rental in Costa Rica.
Some of the other old cars in Cuba. A teaser for an upcoming story.