Havana Riding

by Tammy Burns

The taxi pulled toward the curb and shuddered to a stop. It was already filled with people, but we squeezed our way in to join the crowd – four of us in the backseat, three up front. Then we took off, hiccupping down the road at a tortoise pace inside a vehicle with the temperature of a sauna. Beside me, one of the passengers was engaged in a heated debate with the driver, the two of them yelling to be heard over the pounding beat of salsa pouring from the radio.

Their rapid-fire Spanish was too quick for my beginner-level ears to completely translate, but their passion transcended language barriers. I whispered to my friend, who’s fluent in Spanish, to tell me what they were saying. He said they were talking politics, and about the corruption of the government. It gave me a bit of a thrill – here I was, an obvious outsider, but privy to a conversation that Cuban authorities would prefer the tourists not hear.

Our taxi rode through the downtown core toward the leafy neighbourhood of Vedado, where we had plans to meet friends for lunch. But with each shudder the car gave, it seemed to slow and bounce a bit more, rattling my bones and tossing me side to side between my friend on the right and my politically passionate seatmate on the left.

Finally, the driver pulled the dying car off to the side of the road and told us the ride was over. His vehicle was in need of repair and we couldn’t go on. It’s something that could happen to any taxi in any country, but it seemed particularly fitting in Cuba, a place where sputtering 1950s Chevys still roam the streets in a throwback to the days before the revolution and subsequent American trade embargo.

We climbed out and the car pulled away, headed off for repair. For everyone in the taxi with me, it was the most insignificant of rides – just another day of commuting in Havana. But for me it was much more; it was a glimpse into the city life that I, as a tourist, would not normally be allowed to see.

This is Part 4 of a special 4-part series from our woman in Havana, Tammy Burns.

For Part 1, read: The Malécon: Where Havana meets the ocean

For Part 2, read: Havana’s other Hemingway hangout

For Part 3, read: Havana Churros: Greasy Goodness