Two Taxis of Trinidad

I feel so fortunate to have visited Cuba during the slight respite our country gave them during my lifetime from about 2010 to 2016. It was a remarkable time for its citizens who saw some hope for the first time in a couple generations. That same Mr Putin ordered the troops out of the country in 1993. Thus began what would become to be known as the "special period." Soon after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Cuban communists traded Moscow for Caracas. The lack of support from the USSR caused the transportation and agricultural sectors to come to a grinding halt without the Russian oil. Widespread food shortages caused much pain to the people. Millions of jobs were lost. About the only good thing that came of it was an embracing of organic agriculture using permaculture techniques taught to them by the Australians! This period also saw a move to mass transportation in an effort to curtail excessive use of petroleum in cars. Auto ownership was not seen as a right but a privilege based on performance. The population got creative!

The Two Taxis of Trinidad are two classic cars posted out front of a hostel in Trinidad, Cuba waiting for a lucrative tourist ride. I was able to capture this image just as the sun emerged on the cobblestone streets of Trinidad. At one point during the sugar cane production years it became a very important city on the central southern coast of the country, Southeast of Cienfuegos. Founded in 1514, Trinidad celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2014.

Being the resilient people that they are, Cubans work with what they have, no matter how big or how small. Public transportation ramped up significantly during the "special period" with conserving fuel at the top of the list. The old cars began picking up 6-8 people taking them to different destinations.  Flat bed trucks adorned with a shade canopy are very common. Nearly 2 million bikes purchased from China and manufactured internally were distributed to people. "Camels" were born; big flat bed trucks, some with trailers that could carry up to 300 people. Government vehicles double as busses picking up people along the way. Horses and mules towing carts and carriages became very prevalent. In recent years the Chinese have supplied the country with a shiny fleet of busses that I had a chance to ride on across much of the Western half of the country in a very comfortable style not found on a Greyhound.

American cars were imported into Cuba for 50 years. Cuba was the top Latin American importer of cars from the US in 1919. There was a time when Cuba had one of the highest number of vehicles per capita in the world! After the revolution, the Embargo by the USA and Castro banned the importation of cars made in the USA for good measure.

Time stood still. Russian Ladas began importing into Cuba beginning at right about the time of the "Cuban Missile Crisis." The only other cars that came in were special arrangements between the government and the few people of means that remained. I felt it important to give you some background into this phenomena that still exists there. But for how much longer? I met proud classic car owners, some who were 3rd generation owners of vehicles that had provided very good incomes in the past 30 years where incomes were nearly non existent. I got to ride in a few classics. I also got to visit a car shop where the owner rebuilt the old cars with parts from all kinds of cars. Some of the 57 Chevy's you see, might have a diesel engine in it or a Toyota gas engine and a variety of hand made parts. I heard harrowing stories of intrigue about smuggling parts into the country. It is big business!


There is definitely a pecking order for commercial car travel in the country now. The dilapidated cars are used as the "taxis colectivos" which are communal vehicles generally driving around a predetermined route with no specific stops. The top of the taxi heap are the official licensed taxis, called "turistaxi" that tend to be European or Japanese vehicles that might even have air conditioning. Just a step below them are the "taxis particulares" which tend to be the well cared for classic cars. It can be hard to tell the difference between the touristaxi and the taxis particulares. Finally, there are "bicitaxis" which are pedaled bicycle, three wheeled carriages which can be fun to use around town. In all cases, just make sure you settle on the destination and the price before the ride begins.

Very rarely will a taxi driver turn on their meter. I am told that after I visited, Raul Castro made it legal for Cubans to rent their cars to tourists as well!  In this new version of Cuba, the people are allowed to offer lodging in their homes and a cottage industry of hostals has sprung up. When I was there, any opening for capitalism was happening right in the street. Veggie markets, bike repair, baskets makers, broom makers. People change their front rooms into salons, mini marts, barbers! It was a joyous time! As a side note, in 2016, when the US lifted restrictions on cigars and rum, they also allow a US citizen to buy and import a classic American car from Cuba! It is estimated that there are 60,000 classic cars still plying the roads of Cuba. Half of those are from the 1930's and 1940's.

My visit included many interactions with the people. It was required as part of being allowed to be there! I think the concept was to show us that people could be very happy working, playing and living in a completely different culture than ours. We had guides, models, and insight into daily life that was very different from anything I've experienced, traveling, anywhere. To some degree it was orchestrated. But at no time did I ever feel like it was staged. If you want to be a dancer, you can be the best. If you want to be a doctor you can be the best. The difference there is that it is quite possible that the classic car taxi driver makes much more money than the doctor. One profession being clearly stuck in the concept of communism while the more lucrative one is stuck in capitalism. The struggle IS real.

Horse drawn coaches like this were the norm in the outlying areas away from Havana. The freeway seemed to leave the right lane to them! IF you are struggling with oil supply this sort of adaptation is what I'm talking about when I say Cubans are a resilient bunch. One morning I was strolling down an alley when a man and woman on their front porch motioned for me to approach them, which I did. They invited me to have coffee with them so they could practice their English and find out what my life was like and what brought me to their street. The moment will stick out as the top travel experience i have ever had!

Notice the wheelbarrow full of capitalism that the 3 farmers are looking to cash in on in this image? I had the pleasure of riding in one of these bicitaxis while i was in Havana and got some awesome shots from that vantage! If you are enjoying my little vignette of Cuba here, read my other Cuba story about this time to give you more insights. I'm trying to figure out how to get back there and see the other end of the country.  Meanwhile this blog announcement has completed my first collection of 6 Cuban photos. Travelscapes will turn into a multi-category destination here at my gallery. So, stay tuned! I'm so grateful to be able to bring you these moments from my journeys and need to choose what happens next here, now!

First there was reggae which sprang from the evolution of ska and calypso and found a home in the Caribbean and particularly Jamaica. But a unique culture exists that is every bit as passionate about their music and that is the LatinX; reggaeton which emerged out of Puerto Rico and now Cubaton, from, you guessed it, Cuba. While Puerto Rican and Cuban music are very similar there is a certain colloquial groove in this Cuban version of reggae that is definitely 60% Cuban Jazz and 40% reggae/dancehall. Don't you think? Sure this video is cliché as heck. Like watching an 80's MTV video. But there is no lack of talent in the sound!