The first thing everyone notices when they land in Cuba are the vintage, pre-revolutionary American cars.
1950s Chevys, Fords and Oldsmobiles are everywhere. In fact, there is an estimated 60,000 vintage cars in Cuba, many used as taxis.
But seeing them on the street like this is like stepping into a scene from Graham Greene’s “Our Man In Havana’.
In fact before to long some casual observers begin to feel a bit like ‘Sir Alec Guinness’.
Now if you’re a petrol head you might have wondered, how the hell do they keep a car like this on the road after 60 or 70 years? I mean, they don’t wrap them in blankets and treat them like the antiques they are, these guys have to make a living, so their cars are used all day everyday.
There are actually plenty of back street workshops where, with a bit of TLC, as well as tricks of the trade, like exchanging the old “clunkers” of petrol engines for modern Russian or Korean diesel engines, these magnificent motors have new life breathed into them.
But why are all these cars here?
In its heyday before the Cuban revolution, Cuba was a huge importer of American cars. All this came to an end when the US embargo struck Cuba allowing nothing from American soil to be imported into the island, including spare parts to fix and maintain the cars.
Desperate to find parts to maintain their beloved vehicles, Cubans began refurbishing parts from the former Soviet Union and also used their creativity to care for their beloved cars, often sacred in the family. Some Cubans have made their own replacement parts or have even used common household items to keep their vintage cars running.
A reality in Cuba is that many taxi drivers are moonlighting professionals. Doctors, Engineers and other PhD’s who are fortunate enough to have an old car in the family and get a taxi license, are either spending their off time working as a cabbie or even leaving their profession. Why? Because they can earn $200 in a day instead of $200 in a month as they would make as a doctor, lawyer or anything else in Cuba