A market in Trinidad, Cuba

Cuba a go-go

Trinidad is about 320Km (200 miles) from La Habana. A morning’s drive (with time for coffee) in my home town, but half a lifetime by Viazul bus. The ride itself is reasonably pleasant, but the rigmarole of buying tickets so time consuming, we did the trip returned by taxi.

Our landlady insisted that the Taxi Colectivo owned by her son’s friend was reliable, fast, and completely safe. And is it a new car Juanita? “Si, si, nuevo” we were assured. New is a relative term and at first glance it seems our definitions are far apart. However, on closer inspection, perhaps not. The car has door handles on the inside so is clearly a superior breed.

A young fellow from Hong Kong is already aboard, but, with nobody else in sight, we anticipate a comfortable ride on the back bench. However, it is not to be; “sorry ladies” from an American voice at the window indicates this taxi ride is full. We squash a little closer and welcome him to the collective.

Bicycles, tricycles, carts, livestock, hitchhikers, buses, pick up trucks, and every shape of motor vehicle imaginable share the road with us. Between Trinidad and Cienfuegos, roads are narrow and we notice a tooting variation that says “passing now” as well as the familiar “I’m about to pass”. Drivers being overtaken keep a steady pace and avoid swerving to the left.

The American, who has been visiting Cuba since the dark days when he and a few others smuggled vaccines and medicine for people in rural areas, enquires about a stopover at the Bay of Pigs. Surprisingly it is not on our route, eventhough we passed it on the way down. After a little back and forth, it becomes clear that Viazul favours the scenic route, whereas we’re taking the Autopista Nacional (Highway 1) which bypasses Playa Girón and Playa Larga. We decline the offer of a roadside coffee stop and take it our stride when the driver diverts into a field and proceeds to siphon petrol from a farmer’s tank. The nonchalance of both parties indicates it’s a normal routine.

Freeways everywhere are boring. Our companion keeps the back seat amused, pointing out local landmarks, trading insider knowledge, and raising his voice just loud enough whenever there’s the tell-tale sign of a momentary lapse in driver concentration. When I remark that the car is blessed with 4/80 air conditioning (four windows down and 80 miles an hour), he insists on sharing the joke. The explanation, after being conveyed to the bi-lingual passenger in the front seat, is painstakingly translated, and gradually appreciated by all.

On the outskirts of La Habana, the driver comes into his own again and weaves through the old town to  our three separate hotels. We two, at least, are pleased to be back in the city where traffic is predictable, taxi drivers are alert, and pedestrians reign supreme.

Walking in Havana, Cuba

This article is based on a holiday in Cuba in February and March 2015. The trip in the Taxi Colectivo, door to door from Trinidad to La Habana, was the same price per person as the Viazul bus.

In February and March 2015 we had a magical, memorable trip to Cuba. Some tales from that time are written up on VOYJA. Here’s a link to our travel tips page.

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