Sitting into the passenger’s seat of his old VW Beetle, I instinctively slammed the heavy, squeaky door to ensure it shut all the way. Reaching my left hand over my right shoulder for the seat belt, I felt nothing–then looked back to see nothing. I heard a chuckle. I looked to my left and my driver simply said, “No.”
Oh, okay. Old school. Of course.
In the following weeks, I’ll share what I saw, did, and learned over fifteen days in Cuba (Dec. 27, 2017 – Jan. 10, 2018) — this storied, provocative island nation next door to ours.
Starting today, we get there…
I did indeed ride in this old VW Beetle taxi on the way to the Havana bus station. Beltless, we motored along the highways of Havana.
On this day of arrival, December 27, I’d leave for another city. I’d return to Havana in one week. First it was Trinidad on the opposite coast.
After a long wait at the station and various drivers barking plans to one another about getting me to Trinidad (at the best possible “gringo” price, I assume), one of the drivers approached with an offer. I could ride to Trinidad (about five hours away) with another passenger, splitting our fare. Sold. I hopped in the back seat of his car and waited.
Whoop. False alarm. Turned out the other traveler was headed to a city not on the way. Back to waiting in the bus station parking lot.
A half-hour later, a trio of travelers arrived, two young men and one young lady. They, too, were headed to Trinidad. We arranged to go together. It took some discussing with the hoard of drivers reluctant to take us all in one car. But we found a guy and headed out for the historic town of Trinidad.
On the way I got to know my companions. The Dane and Norwegian were on extended holidays seeing the New World. The Dane was thin and tall with a 1970s mustache and blonde hair reaching his shoulders. He had learned Spanish and spoke it like a local as far as I was concerned. The Norwegian was bulkier. He was a star athlete until an injury interfered. The Israeli girl was a true wanderer, having been all over the world, doing odd jobs, living where she could, associating with whoever life brought her way.
These three seemed close yet had been traveling together for just a month. Friends can be made quickly on the road, and on this stretch, they would be mine–including the driver, an Argentinian who lived in Cuba part of the year.
Halfway through out five hour car ride, we stopped for food and gas.
Three-quarters of the way, we stopped to examine a noise from the rear of the car.
Just before midnight, we arrived to Trinidad. Bumping along cobblestone streets lined with row houses, the driver stopped and dropped me off at the address I’d call home the next seven days.