One image that seems to always make it into most reports about Cuba are the restored ’50’s cars. To anyone that hasn’t been, everyone rides around in these things, always. It’s a 24/7 joyride, in every sense of the word. Truth is, reality is the experience after five minutes is quite more gritty, and that often rhymes with sh*tty. But that’s not so bad: here’s why.
The first thing you have to understand about Cuba and their iconic cars is how incredibly resourceful these people are. Yes, paint covers a lot of evils, and classic chassis cover the rest. When I asked Vincente about how long it takes for spare parts for a 50’s Jag he just laughed and said “spare parts? there are no spare parts”. This was his grandfather’s car, and they have kept it running since the 50’s by hacking any imaginable solution under the hood. Engine by Toyota. Drivetrain by Subaru. Air conditioning? No way. Vincente and his Jag are emblematic of so many other cultural quirks in this soon-to-be hotspot. A delightful throwback to simpler times, with the raw realities just below the surface.
But guess what. Step into the back seat with a few of your friends and roll down the windows for a cruise through the Malecon to Old Havana. You begin to forget, for just a moment, the ABS brakes, climate control, wifi, and heated steering wheels we are accustomed to. The basics are taken care of, they have an unmistakeable style, and if the thing breaks down there is usually a backup plan.
Which is what makes Cuba so interesting right now. And of course, the Jag conked out a bit later.