A rear-engine Polish Fiat; seen on the streets of Cienfuegos, Cuba.
A road-side sign, seen along a highway just outside Cienfuegos, Cuba:
The caption translates to “Only socialism makes the impossible possible.” In case you don’t recognize the portrait, it’s of Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela — a major benefactor of Cuba early in the 21st century.
A quick slice-of-life shot; seen in Havana, Cuba; taken through a tour bus’ windows as we drove by:
This scene probably doesn’t look all that exceptional to you, but it’s got two interesting stories in it.
So, some pictures and a few words about another interesting thing we got to see a bit of on our trip to Cuba last autumn — the school system.
We were able to see a few schools, either outside or inside or both. But mostly, we saw schoolkids — note the uniforms, they’re color-coded. Continue reading
By far one of the biggest adjustments we had to contend with when visiting Cuba was food. Not the food we ate — not at all. Tourists get treated to food of a quality and in a quantity comparable to what you’d find in visiting many places across the globe.
But the locals don’t get off so easily.
This is a bodega, the Cuban version of a ration center. We visited in mid-month, when clients were few and the stock (as you can see from the shelves) thin. From what we were told, though, bodegas are very busy places on the first of the month — when Cuban citizens can come in with their ration books and collect (at relatively low price) their month’s stock of staple foods.
Of the many challenges of life in today’s Cuba, housing must rank among the greatest. There’s not enough of it, much of the available housing stock is in terrible shape, and the Cuban legal code makes it hard to legally transfer ownership — so moving households is a big challenge.
In this shot from above (courtesy of a hotel upper-floor window), you can see how some units were turned into small yards after their roofs collapsed. Continue reading
So given that only about 2% of Cubans own a car, and that there is no dedicated city-to-city transit system (a la Greyhound busses or Amtrak in the U.S.), how do Cubans get from place to place?
Well, basically, it’s not easy.
In rural areas, people can make do with more-traditional approaches — you’ll see a lot of semi-modern carriages drawn by horses out here. I’m guessing this works pretty well for trips into town from farms in the hinterlands. Continue reading
When people find out you’ve been to Cuba, they always seem to want to talk about the cars (at least in the U.S.).
So, just to get our footing, let’s start by talking about license plates. It didn’t used to be this simple, but relatively-modern Cuban license plates make it easy to tell whether a vehicle belongs to the government, or to a private citizen. Government vehicles have license plates with a blue strip on their left end:
Since most cars and trucks in Cuba are owned by the government, you’ll see a lot of license plates like the one above / left. I’m not sure what the “B” stands for, but it’s nearly the only letter you’ll see on Cuban government plates. One prominent exception is the “T” plate (above / right) — these are for government vehicles reserved for tourists, namely rental cars.
License plates for privately-owned vehicles lack the blue strip, and always start with a “P” for good measure:
A minor detail, perhaps, but you’ll see where this comes into play in subsequent posts.
From what I’m told, this is about as bad as traffic gets on Cuba’s Autopista Nacional (National Highway):
But this makes sense, when you consider that only about 2% of Cubans own a car. The Autopista was planned to span the length of Cuba, from Pinar del Rio on the west to Guantanamo on the East. Construction started in the 1970’s, but halted in 1990 when the Soviet bloc collapsed, and Cuba could not continue highway construction using only its own resources. As a result, the western end of the highway is largely complete, while its eastern end has two completed segments, and the central part consists of only plans.
In this view, we’re travelling west, toward Havana.
Our family recently returned from a “people-to-people” tour of Cuba — one of the most unique sights was definitely “La Milagrosa,” in Havana’s Colon Cemetery:
This is the grave of one Amelia Goyri de Adot, a woman who died in childbirth at 23 years of age on May 3, 1901. Her infant son who also died was buried in her casket, at her feet.