Friday, May 10, 2013

Cigars and American Taxis Cars

The next few days were spent exploring Havana. Navigating the streets of Cuba’s capital has its challenges. The map given to me by a car rental agency lack a high level of detail and many of the streets don’t have signage. On the upside, Cuban drivers are good and many of the major intersections have signs. It is possible to get around the city, but equally easy to get lost. I found the major attractions and historical sites without a problem.

Cuba is well known for cigars. It is hard to walk down any street in a tourist area without getting several offers to buy cigars. Every offer has a story attached about how the person knows someone in a cigar factory and how their price is very good. Some of them may in fact have the real thing, but I wouldn’t bother trying to save a few dollars only to get fakes. For the present, I’ll buy individual boxes of Kohiba “Mini”, cigarette size cigars. The locals buy individual cigars and sampling them is definitely on the list.


Towards the end of my stay in Cuba, depending on how much cash is left, I will start buying small boxes of cigars and roll the dice with US Customs. Expenses are always a tough thing to manage as I hop from country to country, so I usually wait until I am almost ready to leave a country before I start buying souvenirs. Given the complex Cuban currencies and the inability to access my bank U.S. accounts, managing money takes on new dimensions in vigilance.

The other offer that is omnipresent when walking in the tourist areas of Havana comes from taxi drivers. There are three types: regular taxis, bicycle taxis and “American Car taxis.” The last is a specialty driven by the U.S. government’s trade embargo of Cuba. There is a huge fleet of vintage cars in various states of repair. Many are in remarkable shape given the challenges the owners have getting parts and supplies to maintain their vehicles. Many spew black smoke from their exhaust. I assume the piston rings on their engines are worn out and repair is out of reach. I heard the pitch dozens of times. “You want a American Car taxi my friend?”


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