Adventures beyond time

Adventures beyond time

Sunday, November 22, 2015

American Cars in Cuba

Photos of Cuba often show pre-1960 American cars, and one is led to believe that a few dozen are kept around Havana for the amusement of visitors. Not so, we discovered. Thousands of old cars are used every day, and the bulk of them are in some stage of disrepair or cannibalization. Below are a few.

I owned a 1956 Mercury like the one seen in the distance from the bus window. Mine was a four-door phaeton, and salmon and white, instead of the green and white of this sedan.

A disproportionate number of the old cars are Chevrolets like this 1950 example; they were the best-sellers of their time, and perhaps later replacement parts were more available .    
Here is a 1951 Ford

Behind it a 1959 Plymouth
And behind it a 1946 Mercury
 As part of our tour, the twelve members of our group were ferried to a restaurant in four restored Chevrolets.
a 1955 model

one of the two 1956 models
we rode in the 1959 sedan
Most of the cars in better shape are said to have been retrofitted with Toyota engines (one of the restored 1956 Chevrolets even seemed to be powered by a diesel), but some of those in worst repair are followed down the road by plumes of blue smoke, and obviously are making do with the original power plants.

Getting from Place to Place

It was amazing to be in a place where there is no good way to get from place to place.

There are some old, very old, buses and they are always full. Long lines of people queue up on corners, even I the countryside. 

The shade of overpasses near population areas are crowded with people waiting for transportation. 

Open bed trucks pick people up. They stand in the back and ride to wherever they are going, for a few pesos. Pedestrians are everywhere, including the national highway  so are horse-drawn wagons. They are sometimes in the passing lanes. 

Many ride bikes. Many hitchhike. 

There are few trucks on the roads, and few goods in stores.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Slow Way Home

We arrived at the airport in Havana at 7:30 for our 10:30 flight. The lines were so long that you could not tell where they ended. We made it through with the help of Milena's Cuban ingenuity. Our plane left at about noon. The flight attendants could not find one of the boarding  passes and we couldn't leave until it was in hand.  All's well that ends well. But, perhaps a bit more infrastructure will be helpful if the number of tourists grows.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Up Early for Las Terrassas

I took a walk to the beach Friday morning about 7:30. Lovely way to start a day.

At breakfast, 3 in the group decided to split off for the day and return to Old Havana instead of riding out into the countryside to see an Eco-village and orchid garden. The resort provides a free shuttle into Havana and back. Nice option.
The rest of us visited Las Terrassas. We learned that the mountains had been completely deforested by the time of the revolution in1959. Mountain people had a hard life. To restore the land, the government built terraces on the mountains to stop erosion and then replanted them. It also built a village with a tourist hotel and restaurant. The government gathered the mountain people into much better housing that it built in the village. About 1,000 live there now and the community is supposedly self-sustaining, on tourism revenues and its forests products. Houses are owned by the government and the people pay only for utilities. The house pass from generation to generation.
Cuba trogon, the national bird, captured in pixels by Libby Cagle

I sure would prefer to live there rather than in the neighborhood where the California Restaurant is!
After another good outdoor lunch, we went bird watching and orchid gazing, also in the mountains. 
The trip back to the resort took a couple of hours. We had dinner on the veranda overlooking the beach, and headed out for an evening in the night life of Havana and a visit to the Buena Vista Social Club.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Old Cars, La California Restaurant, Rooms to Rent

It was near twilight when five restored American cars came to pick us up and drive us to the restaurant. We chose to ride in the 1959 Impala driven by a woman. She has visited the US with the Women Entrepreneurs of the Americas.
She and her husband co-own a business. He repairs old cars and she manages the Taxi business. 

They own 6 cars. He has restored each of them. She works with travel agents and individuals to book their cars, and 18 others that she manages. She does the driving. John Kerry had his photo taken in the car we drove in when he came to open the Embassy. 

On the way to the restaurant, we stopped at the Big Jesus Statue built by Batista's wife in 1958. The view of the city was lovely at night.
 Milena said "regular" people live in the neighborhood where the restaurant is located. The streets were alleyways, narrow with no street lights. An "agricultural store" held the corner of the road. Men were offloading boxes of carrots, onions, and potatoes into the store. 

The buildings were two or three stories high with apartments on ground level  and up. Each doorway or balcony seemed to open directly into a room with one or two chairs and a TV and no other lights. Most people were hanging around on the hot street. The temperature was in the 80s even after dark and the humidity high. 

The building across from the restaurant had a sign reading Rooms for Rent, by the Hour or the Day. 

We had a great meal in the quaintly decorated La California restaurant -- Rum and Coke, pumpkin soup, bread, lobster, ropa vieja, wine, dessert cake with guava jam. 

After dinner, our driver, Otniel, took us to the fortifications for the evening ceremony. We joined hoards of locals and tourists, walked through a fort many times larger than the one in St Augustine, avoided buying anything from the vendors lining the way and hawking their goods. In the end, it was one Big Bang of a canon that we'd all came to peril experience. 
The canon has been shot every night for a century or so to mark the closing of the bay for the night so pirates couldn't get in, and the closing of the fortification gates, so people better get inside if they didn't want to spend the night out in the scary world. 

Back to the bus and our thin mattresses :)

Botanical Garden and Old Havana

We spent Thursday morning at the national botanical garden. Two major impressions -- the architecture of the plant houses was beautiful and the great lunch. The plants and birds were good too.

Old Havana was noisy and much in disrepair.

Revolution Square, where Fidel's long speeches and Pope Francis' recent Mass were staged, is a massive paved area surrounded by hulking white concert buildings sporting faves of revolutionary heroes. I was much more impressed by its unattractive naked hugeness than I expected to be!

We spent some time in Founders Square, went to a cigar shop and a Rum Museum, and then to a massive souvenir market. I was happy to escape back to the resort. 

One in our group wandered over to take a photo of three women sitting together on a bench. One held a basket of flowers and another a tall hat with a large flower   Being nice, she offered them some money and asked permission to take a photo. 

The one in the center jumped up, took Cindy's camera, indicated she should sit, plopped the basket in her lap and stuck a cigar in her mouth -- a used cigar!

She took a great photo with Cindy's camera and asked for 5 CUCs. Eager to get her camera back , Cindy rummaged for the money. The other two women stuck out their hands and each demanded 5 CUCs too. 

It is the most expensive photo from the trip, and one of the best stories.