How not to take a taxi in Cuba

We were sightseeing on our last morning in Havana, Cuba after spending a week of meetings and travel.

All week we had seen El Morro lighthouse and castle across the harbor and finally we found time to visit.

From our hotel, we hailed a government-approved taxi which drove us in a nice little Russian car to the parking lot of El Morro and promised to return in two hours to take us back to the hotel.

Promised. No problemo.

The tour went great. The hosts inside were friendly and helpful.

We bought a few trinkets and then headed out to the parking lot to wait for our promised hotel.

Yes, we knew the chances of him returning weren’t great but we didn’t have a backup plan so we waited.

Then three young Cuban men approached us. “Do you want souvenirs?” They pulled out a silver coin. “See? Che Guevera coin.”

My husband, no great historian unless it involves World War II fighter planes, shrugged.

“He’s a great man,” the young man insisted.

“Not interested.”

So the three men stepped away but stretching your neck and looking far down the street is probably a universal language. They quickly deduced we were waiting for a car.

“Do you need a ride? We have car. Cheap ride. Only $10.”

We’d paid $6 for the government-approved ride over so my husband wasn’t paying $10 to these guys. They tried to negotiate but finally agreed on $6.

The windows of the car were all rolled down and the driver rushed ahead to open the door. That was because you couldn’t use the outside handles. Clue one.

We climbed in and buckled up. There were no liners on the door panels and we could see all the rods running to locks and windows. We kept our hands to ourselves.

The little car scooted down the highway and then dropped into a tunnel under the harbor. As the car began to descend, the driver pushed in the clutch and turned off the engine. We coasted nearly to the other end of the tunnel.

I’ll bet he saved a tenth of a gallon of gas with that trick. Clue two.

He started the engine once gravity threatened to stall him, downshifted, and went right through a stop sign. I don’t know what the speed limit was but our driver obviously didn’t care. We did stay on all four wheels.

He cruised up to our hotel, double-parked out front in the narrow street, and shut off the engine again. Another tenth saved.

He jumped out to open our doors because apparently the inside latch on the doors needed a secret twist before they’d open.

We paid him. In that country, he may have just made half a month’s wages.

We’d just taken a unlicensed taxi ride with an illegal driver in a foreign country and we actually still had our possessions.

Travel is quite an adventure, isn’t it?

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