I say ‘Cuba’ and people think ‘Cadillacs’! Let’s face it! It’s true! We all think it. Cuba is famous for being a car museum.
As soon as I had booked the trip, everyone around me was happy to inform me about how lucky I was with the timing as the Chinese brother (that’s how Cubans refer to Raul Castro we’ve been told) has recently allowed Cubans to buy new cars, Korean and Chinese makes mainly since very few companies choose to deal with the country.
I’ve always had this image of Cuba being the land of Cadillacs. Boy, aren’t they beautiful?! But while there are a lot of them in Cuba, there are even more Ladas around – a good old Soviet Union creation. Oh, these things are entertaining indeed. A whole bunch of us got into one when in Santiago. Imagine this. We get into the cab and we see the other cab drivers approach the back. Why? They had to give us a push down the hill to get us started! You should have heard the noise this thing was making when the driver was changing gears! One could have thought someone was being murdered inside that gearbox! We were giggling about the experience for days. But they weren’t all bad. I had the pleasure of riding in perfectly preserved 30-year old Lada back in Havana. I guess careful owner makes a real difference over there!
The Cadillacs weren’t any better. Can you imagine than one in a good condition costs more than 100K CUCs – the official salary is 20 CUCs a month so that’s a lot of saving up to do! They were brought to Cuba by a Polish Jew in 1952 or something like that. This piece of information reminds me of one encounter I most regret not making the most of when in Havana but it took place the very night we flew in when I was still fairly shell-shocked and exhausted, nor did I have my notebook with me to take notes. We were approached on the street by yet another person – it felt like everyone was trying to sell us something. Funny how things got easier as you settled in and you learnt to tell the difference between the hustlers and the genuinely friendly people, who just wanted to chat. When the gentleman in question heard that I was Polish, he took out his passport and happily informed me that he was a Polish Jew born, brought up and still living in Havana. As I was taking a photo of a battered Cadillac, he started telling me the story of the brand in Cuba: how they were brought amass in 1950s by a Polish Jew, whose name I sadly cannot recall or cannot find on the net, how these days most of the engines under the bonnet are more likely to be Chinese than American. That’s all I can recall. I wish I had taken more time to chat to him and had my notebook to note names and dates in but sadly I didn’t. Next time!
Here are some car-related photos I took around Cuba. Please let me know what you think!