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Cuban cars. Seeing is believing

I had already known the vintage wheels were driving about Cuba. It was due to Fidel who hooked up with the Revolution in 1959. He had fallen out the USA and the Americans banned to import anything to the Island of Freedom. Cars had also been forbidden. It happened in 1961.

The Cubans began sliding into poverty. They decided to pull into a brave new world by their old and solid “Chevrolets” and “Buicks”.

All these big, classy and freaky bold oldies were feeling good in 2010. It was an awesome sense for me to gaze upon the harmony of these old vehicles, motley houses, ancient taverns, and lazy people.

Most of the vehicles had a pretty good layout. It was due to tropical heat. That was why the cars were not crooked at all. But Nicholas advised me not to have any illusions about it. All the details inside weren’t native at all.

All the key parts could have been purchased at the black market. Or they have just been taken from some older vehicles. Sometimes Cubans didn’t have an issue with it. They had just set up the details from little trucks or new “Hyundai” models.

These collector items owners were told to be prosperous people. Taxi services were their main business. I had even seen the huge “Chrysler” or “Oldsmobile” had been balls to the walls with people. It was similar to shuttle van for me.

A car was always a good financial help in the local countryside. The mass transport was introduced only in Habana and some other big towns. And the countrymen were earning their living by hitch-hiking. Thirty dollars was the average monthly pay in Cuba in 2010. But the lucky car owner could earn his thirty bucks in a few days. He could also get back the expensive gasoline. The petrol costs were near 1.5 USD in 2010. It was also necessary to consider this big old hippo to be very gluttony for fuel.

And there was some great virtue. Cubans always handled with care their vehicles and they didn't break the traffic rules at all. The car was always Cuban’s earner so the whole family was praying for their old American every day.

Foreign tourists were always good rescuers for locals. It was possible to hire a car for five bucks and go for a ride around some local outskirts. It was my long-held dream to have a ride by the 1950th American vehicle. But before I was going to visit Habana capitol and set up in “Floridita”, Mr. Ham’s favorite place. So, it was my immediate appeal to have a cigar and go for a spin around the big and nasty city lights. It would be cool.

Soviet vehicles were another Cuban trademark. By means, I have visited many places in the world. And I have met those kindred Russian “Ladas” abroad. But it was the real Soviet traffic scene here in Cuba.

Cubans had been in the thrall of old “Ladas” and “Moskvichs” for many years. These vehicles had been adored for their simplicity. They could work for ages. They could be passed down to grandchildren. Sometimes I had even met the 1960th “Volga” cars.

It was possible to meet the old solid “ZIL” trucks working live beaver in the countryside. They were pulling their bodies full of the best Cuban tobacco or sugar cane for more than forty years. Nicholas and I had laughed loudly while seeing the tank-truck. We thought that another “ZIL” was carrying its can full of “Habana Club” rum. The cross-country “ZIL-131” vehicles were used for taking tourist through the local jungles.

The striking half-naked yellow girls or the local palm beaches weren’t the real exotic for me. The flair was just here among these old cars, village huts or shabby urban slums with these poor but corky people.

By the way, while toddling around Habana lanes, I encountered a “Lada” police car. Of course, I had a conversation with the policeman. His opinion was the Russian vehicles to be a smashing choice for the local police. These cars could be easily repaired in every car shop. Cuban authorities had a plan to purchase some new Chinese “Geely Otaka” cars. It was a bad idea because Chinese vehicles were not as firm as Soviet ones.

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Hola Habana! Legends and Sketches

Lost somewhere in time. My first feeling when I found myself in Cuba. Though, 2010 has already arrived I was feeling myself somewhere in 1989.

Cubans do homage to Soviet Union. Even in 2010 their streets were full of old russian cars. "Lada", "Moskvich" or "ZIL" trucks have been their favourites since early seventies. Older people spoke Russian fluently.

Locals worship Fidel Castro and Commandante Che Gevara. I have been observing them everywhere. On the walls for example.

"Commandante" has been the most favourite Cuban song for ages.

Habana's history goes back five centuries. This ambient city worth giving a week or two for careful exploration.

Habana was my love at first sight. I was soaking up every little corner. I was savouring the smells of those streets. I have already sided with the heartbeat of seaport town. I have been enjoying some Habana smells for a while. A bouquet of smells was in the air. Salty sea fragrance, some tobacco aroma and mint flavour mixed in unreal fusion.

I was feeling comfortable with Habana. This old "Beltran de Santa Cruz Hotel" fitted in with the whole city scene. The little corridores and arch roofs were evoking memories of old Spain or Hemingway. Mr. Ham was everywhere. His spirit was invisibly roaming on every street or staring from the photo in any Habana bar.

I took my guide's Nicholas advice to start with the Habana Vieja. Plaza de Armas was our first stop.

Place where Habana began in XVI century. The Spanish colonial army parades were held there somewhere in 1520-th.

This was just a bookish story. The real one was another. It was created here. On this little Avenida. Between all those coloured houses with their naked windows and blue shutters. There were just simple people who had been creating the history for all these years. Barefooted children, that old guy with his yellow straw hat and old Cuban woman with a thick cigar in her mouth.

  • Hola! Russo Turisto! Photo? - I was feeling myself as a child. This woman was an exotic one for me.

She was also a little bit excited. Her name was Kamilla. She lived and studied in Moscow in 1967, so she spoke Russian not so bad. Five local dollars and I became her best friend. To be honest, I had just paid for one legend. Years ago she knew personaly the main character of the "Old man and the sea" novel.

  • May be he had sucked at fishing. But thу old scoundrel got some good money with his memories.

I was struck. The case was of Santiago. The very unfortunate fisherman of the most known Hemingway's novel. His real name was Gregorio Fuentes. He had lived out the famous writer for forty one years and passed away in January 2002.

It was about time to proceed to Plaza De Armas.

May be it was a massive city heart in XVI century. In 2010 it became a pretty fleamarket, hipped with local youngsters and ragmans. They were selling their old books and photos. Even old vinyl records. A subject of mine.

I was looking through a bunch of records for a while. Old man showed me some local bands and lot of Soviet "Melodia" stuff. Alla Pugachova, Black Coffee, Samotsvety...I felt a patriotic drive. Russian musicians were popular here, on a Carribean Island.

Photo by Joseph Pearson on Unsplash

Nicholas gave me a note to go. We had grand plans to explore the historic part and some Hemingway places. I have been intrigued to be turned out on a crowded Obispo street where Mr. Ham had a walk looking for an inspiration. We intended to land up in "Floridita". A bar where the Writer had his everyday mojito. We were going to see the glorious Capitol - pride of the Cuban people.

We've made a stop near cute old chapel.

El Templete was founded in 1828. The Spaniards were told to be the Habana founders right here three hundred years before the chapel was built.

Nicholas told this place to be magic one. A huge 600 years Seiba spread its branches over the chapel yard. As per legend anyone should walk around the tree and make a wish. It would have become real.

I didn't know if it was true or not. But I felt a sense of serenity in the air. This old chapel, this big tree where I could hide myself from the burning Cuban sun...Just a sence of tranquility.

Some rest and it was time to leave again. We were making for new impressions. Our way was running through the silent narrow street. This everyday local life was a revelation for me. Young dark-skinned girl was hanghing out her coloured laundry. A little bit toothy she was booting out a little grubby boy.

Suddenly I heard the driving sounds of Salsa. This music was coming from a green "Moskvich" have been parked on other side. Some stricking young girls were dancing without paying any attention to others. They were melting in their Salsa swaying.

Cubans seemed to be always happy. Inspite of their powerty. For ages they had no money but they had never lost their love of life. This was the contrast between them and gloomy Russians.

Having been strolling to "Floridita" I was looking over 1950-th American cars. I have been adoring them from early childhood. All these big and graceful "Chevrolets", "Fords" and "Buicks". That moment I forgot that I was 25-year old man. Having been as happy as a child I was gazing them open mouthed.

Cars of my dream were close to me. Running about old city streets. It was possible to touch it. Or to make some cool pics.

Did You know that vintage car owners turned out to be prosperous people?

No? Mee too. Nicholas told me a story of American cars while we were striking to Habana Capitol.

I'm gonna share it in my next post.

Keep in touch :)))))))