Old beautiful vintage cars cruise up and down the broad avenues and seaside roads every day. When people talk about Cuba the vintage cars are usually near the top of the conversation list. I am sure that they are what remained from the start of the US embargo period. These are cars that are 50 to 60 years old now, hundreds of them cruise the streets of Havana, and mostly in tip-top condition. The pride of ownership shines through.
I asked a couple car owners “what is the biggest challenge with having these cars in Cuba?” The answer was overwhelmingly parts. Due to the embargo, I am sure, the auto manufactures were not allowed to send auto parts to Cuba. But the Cubans are nothing, if not clever and inventive, good at finding innovative solutions for their challenges… so they learned how to rebuild parts, found other sources than the US and had friends coming from the US bring them in their checked luggage. Maybe even tires— who knows.
They have made a mini-industry out of these cars being an attraction. Some even have new LED headlights and some even have brand new engines (like a Toyota engine in a ’59 Ford Farlane). We were told of one car that replaced their engine with a washing machine motor. They serve as taxi’s but on an even larger scale they offer 1 or 2 hour tour rides of Havana. When they all convene at one location,it’s a bit like being at a back to the 50’s car show.
As I prepared for the trip, if people were not asking me about the vintage cars they were asking me about Cigars. The tobacco growing industry is very big here and the Cigars are all hand rolled and in high demand around the world. I stopped at a Cigar store to buy some for friends who asked for them, and the store was packed with people buying boxes of them. I learned that cigar aficionados are very choosy about the kinds of cigars they want, thus the lines to purchase them are long and slow because everyone has questions “ whats the best?”