Robaina's plantation

Friday, 17 July 2015

Cuban Transportation

                 When I say 'Cuban Transportation' I'm sure that images of Classic American Automobiles from the 50's come to mind. Even though there have been changes with relations between the US and Cuban governments, that means of transportation is still the most evident or the one that tourists remember the most.  However, this post isn't about that kind of transportation, it's about everything else.
                 The collapse of the Soviet Union had a tremendous effect on the Cuban economy, especially in it's capacity to buy oil which they got cheap from the Soviets before they pulled out. That cheap oil ended in 1990 and the so-called 'Special Period', as it was dubbed by Fidel Castro, had begun. Sacrifices had to be made and alternate means of transportation had to be found (or used). In 1995 Cuba was functioning on half the energy it was in 1991. The bicycle was one of those means of transportation that was embraced during this period. There was virtually no cyclist culture before 1990. The bike was once thought of as a recreation, it now was to be used as a necessity. People traded jobs in order to be close enough to bike to work. More than one million bicycles were bought from China and sold for a fraction of the cost to Cubans. An industry flourished within Cuba that began to manufacture 150,000 bikes per year. There is an estimated two million bikes in Cuba today, half a million are in Havana.
                  Another form of transportation that was born from the bicycle but not invented in Cuba was the BiciTaxi. It's basically a type of Rickshaw that the government started licensing in the early 1990's (late compared to other countries with similar transportation) with the advent of self-employment due to the governments necessity. The garishly decorated 3-wheeled bicycle taxis, some sporting massive sound systems, have often been criticized and slapped with unfair laws. The government even made a push with the CocoTaxi to try and drive them out but they are here to stay and part of the landscape not only here but in towns and cities scattered all over Cuba. They're a pain in rear-end when you're driving a car and find one in front of you on a narrow road but it's just part of the experience of Cuba. They were only allowed to move Cubans at one time and I'm not sure if that law has changed but I've taken a ride on one a couple of times, one of those times being in the pouring rain. When it rains they pull out a tarp which covers the passengers, perfect for me on that ride. Always negotiate a price before you begin your ride and they take the Cuban National Peso...but of course they will take CUC as well. The CocoTaxi is a horrible tourist trap in my opinion, which you only find in the tourist areas of Havana. Originally priced in the Cuban National Peso, it now only takes CUC and lots of them. There is no fare list and it's very over-priced in comparison to other forms of transportation. It's called a CocoTaxi because they resemble a coconut. Basically it's an Italian 3-wheeled moped topped with a coconut shaped fiberglass body with no seat-belts.
                  However, the transformation of the transportation was not limited to bicycles. The farther out you got from the city, Havana, and the more animals you would see on the roads. Of course these animals were mostly horses but not limited to a one man on one horse style. Outside of Havana you will find horses pulling more than just the usual array of carriages. It seems that Cuba has taken taxying people around to a whole new level as you can see from the photographs below that show how everything becomes a bus....even dump-trucks.
                 Needless to say that Cuba has responded exceptionally well in the face of hard times in the form of a lack of fuel. It's very evident in the numerous forms or transformed means of mass-transportation that you find along the highways and byways on the island. In the countryside it seems that the beast of burden and the horse rule the roads and in some parts they're the only means that can get you to your destination. It definitely adds to the colour of the country and makes for some wonderful photography.

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