BURTON FAMILY - WORLDWIDE TRIPS travel blog

taxi!

you hum it, i'll play it


There are no one-horse towns in Cuba, they wouldn't survive as everything depends on these animals to get people and goods to their destination, on horseback, in buggies or horse-drawn ‘taxis’. There have got to be tens of thousands of these animals in Cuba all told. They are not only ubiquitous in towns but also on inter-town highways often forcing a car or bus to crawl along at 5 mph until an overtaking opportunity arises. The 1950 chevvies are still found in provincial towns too, often as taxis, not just for tourist entertainment as in Havana. The funny thing is that there are miles and miles of railtrack but no sign of any trains. In view of the overall lack of transportation infrastructure, you would imagine that they would resurrect the railways.

There are other curious features of modern day Cuba to which we often found no answer. For example, where and when do people shop, for food or indeed for anything else. Shops are difficult to find, likewise shoppers. We eventually tracked down a store with three categories of merchandise: alcohol - ron or rum, jams in tins and cereals in tins. These cannot be purchased by foreigners with their own CUC banknotes, only by locals with their CUP pesos worth much less. Queuing is perhaps not unexpected in a country rationed for goods and lacking in technical infrastructure. this probably explains daily queues outside the state run ETECSA telecommunications' offices where long lines of subscribers appear to be lining up to pay bills or sort out their service.

Perhaps the lack of shopping opportunities frees up more time to devote to music and dancing. To be truthful there comes a time after a few days when the chance of a meal out without a gang of musicians plying their trade in your ear for a dollar really appeals. There must be one musician for every horse in the country, i.e. millions.

Talking of food there is a general feeling, with the probable exception of twelve million Cubans, that their creole cuisine is not world class. This is despite the fact that there can be no cheaper country to lay your hands on lobster, probably the cheapest if not the tastiest to be found anywhere in the world at well under 15 dollars. Several restaurants recommend it in chocolate sauce though I cannot personally vouch for the result. At least white rum-based cocktails, cuba libre, pina colada or mojito cost little more than beer or even bottled water so it’s not all bad news.

The first major city east of Havana is Santa Clara, a rather poor and dilapidated place with street beggars but with one major claim to fame: Ernesto Che Guervara who famously led a successfully attack on a troop train on 26 July 1956 effectively sealing the fate of president Batista leaving the way open for Mr Castro to take over. The events are marked with his mausoleum, museum and afore-mentioned railway carriages suitably pockmarked with labelled bullet holes. Like most major cities Santa Clara also has a theatre built a hundred years ago, claiming to have enjoyed performances by Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt according to the faded posters.

The road south takes the traveller through fields of sugar cane and mango trees interspersed with what might best be described as rural prefabs as well as occasional 2 or 3 story Russian looking tenement blocks in the villages, depressing crumbling dank concrete monstrosities. The most common activity, if that is the right word, undertaken by a town's inhabitants involves little more than sitting around on any suitable wall or seat passively passing the time of day suggesting limited employment opportunities. This is probably why restaurants only exist in the major cities, either state run or as privately-run ‘paladars’, which provide a source of income to inhabitants outside the state run system and usually provide a higher standard of service.

The final destination for the day was the most attractive historical city in Cuba, Trinidad, founded, by the Spanish of course, in 1517 but developed in the 19th century by the French and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.



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