27 January 2009
Cuba Today: Getting Around Havana Part Two
In the last posting we looked at a couple of cheap ways in which you can travel around Havana. Today let's look at the ways in which the government want you to get around - whilst paying an arm and a leg for doing it.
These coco-taxis are ubiquitous in Havana and were created just for you, the tourist. They use a two-stroke Italian engine with a Cuban made glass fibre body.
The government owns the taxis, but the drivers are all self-employed. They pay upfront to rent their cabs - in 2005 the fee was about £25.00 a day.
Now you know why these characters hate the bike-taxis, and complain constantly about them picking up tourists. I tried to explain to a coco-driver that given that I live in Mexico my wages are as third world as his, but he wasn't wearing any of that. He had his piece of paper, all stamped and sealed, that said that he could pick up tourists. The bike-taxis didn't. . .
Another officially approved way to get around is via one of the classic cars that still run around Havana. Many people think that these old jalopies are all that exists in Cuba, but that is not the case. Most Cubans who own a car have something far more modern than this.
The country used to import Soviet Ladas back in the day, but now it tends to be small Japanese makes that you see chugging around. People are given them by their factories for meeting their production quotas, or whatever, and most cars that you will see on the roads are modern and Asian.
The jalopies still exist, and most are owned by the government. As with the coco-taxis, they are rented to their drivers who then make their livings driving the tourists around. Most have had their original engines stripped out and replaced by a Russian built diesel.
Some of the drivers actually own their cars, but you will have to hunt for them. One way to spot an owner-driver is to look at the license plate. Blue is for licensed taxis and white is for a private vehicle. The unofficial cabs tend to run on weekends when the inspectors are off duty, so look for them then.
Finally, you can rent a horse drawn carriage to get around the city. The system works just like the other officially sanctioned taxis, and the drivers paid £10.00 a day to rent their nags and wobbly carriages back in 2005.
My advice when it comes to travelling around Havana is just to walk - it really is that small a city. If you really have to get somewhere quickly, then a coco-taxi is your best bet. The drivers know most of the streets and they drive like lunatics. Just close your eyes and hope you make it in one piece.