Oh the charming incongruity of it all

30 May

One of the most incongruous “vintage-meets-VH1” experiences in Cuba is taking a ride in the maquinas, or collective taxis. For 10-to-20 Cuban pesos a ride, you hop in an old Chevy and rumble through the streets of Havana on pre-determined routes to a soundtrack of today’s reggaeton hits and last week’s American pop.

I always feel like "that girl" when I take pictures of the old cars in Cuba.

I always feel like “that girl” when I take pictures of the old cars in Cuba.

 

I’m a beast at getting around in maquinas, at least in Vedado, Habana Vieja/Centro, Playa, and Miramar neighborhoods in Havana. I don’t let the cab drivers get away with anything—I know exactly how much the fare is, and if they try to cheat me out of my change, I give them a “Don’t F*** with me” face.

Riding in a maquina is always a rich experience. I took one where the driver was bouncing through the streets at breakneck speed, hollering at people on the streets.

Imagine going fast through these streets. Yes, there are a lot of potholes.

Imagine going fast through these streets. Yes, there are a lot of potholes.

“FAIL!!!!” He shouted at a group of kids playing baseball with a broom handle and ball of trash on the side of the street.

“QUE LINDA MAMI!” He wolf-whistled to a pretty girl dressed in all Spandex on the side of the street.

Oye asere…A donde vamos?.” He pulled over to the side of the street to make evening plans with a passing amigo.

I was simultaneously amused and slightly fearful for my life. Something about the combination of poor suspension, 50-year-old brakes, and drivers hopped up on Cuban coffee makes for a heart-racing experience. I think they intentionally don’t put the “How’s My Driving…Call [whatever number]” stickers on the maquinas because if they did, a lot of people would be out of their jobs.

Sometimes this happens though. In the middle of the street.

Sometimes this happens though. In the middle of the street.

As far as I know, there’s not a “Top 40 Countdown” radio program in Cuba, but riding in maquinas will usually suffice if you want to know the month’s hits. Most maquinas are equipped with pretty nice sound systems—I’ve seen DVD players, LED lights, and speakers that get LOUD. There’s something so entertaining about sliding around on the leather-covered seats and listening to some BUMPING reggaeton. I got exposed to a few new jams during my rides a few weeks ago, as well as an entertaining musical revue of the Backstreet Boys. My favorite new songs: “El Taxi” and “Hablo Pokito Espanol.”

Are maquinas efficient? Absolutely not. Are they affordable for the average Cuban? Not really. Are they on their way out? Who knows?

Either way, I’ll continue to use them to get around Havana. Because otherwise, how will I stay caught up on my reggaeton?

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