Monday, 18 May 2015

Los autos antiguos de Cuba

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

There are a quarter of a million classic American cars in Cuba, so you see them everywhere. Here's a handful of snaps I took back in 2010 when my wife and I honeymooned in the sunkissed Caribbean island nation.
What you see even more frequently than American cars, interestingly, is Ladas - they were imported on a massive scale from the 1960s through the '80s, as trade channels swelled between Cuba and the Soviet Union. Your average Lada Riva would cost around 12,000 Cuban pesos (about £8,000-ish), while you'd pay similar money for, say, a fifties Chevy in usable condition. Ladas certainly worked out cheaper in terms of day-to-day running! Fuel is so pricey in Cuba that pretty much every Yank tank you see has a retrofitted diesel engine, and the only ones you'll spot in reasonably original spec are owned by taxi companies in towns.

In a country where the average monthly salary is around £16, buying a car at all is beyond the reach of most Cubans - you need your lump sum in cash, along with an official government permission letter proving that the money is all yours and that you earned it legally. So owning a car is a tremendously important thing over there, a much bigger deal than most of us can possibly imagine - hitch-hiking is the way most Cubans get about (indeed, there are official hitch-hiking co-ordinators in yellow jerseys, for whom government cars are obliged to stop), so drivers will never journey alone - there'll always be someone to pick up en route. Don't be surprised if you see a '57 Chevy belching out acrid black smoke with six people crammed into the back seat - that's just how the HabaƱeros roll.
Of course, with talk of a relaxation of the US trade embargo and different supply channels opening up with a fresh, more accommodating government perspective, it's entirely possible that the days of such automotive scenes are numbered. You'd better get out there and see it while you can...

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