“From now on,” Hardy said as we passed slowly along the Malecón, “I’m always taking a buggy in Havana.”
They are pretty darn charming. Although I think they’re better for tooling around the old section of Havana than going for long rides, as we were doing, out to Vedado, a trip that necessitated we change buggies at one point because the carriage we first got into didn’t have any brakes.
We passed by the Hotel Nacional, the Art Deco gem once run by the mobster Meyer Lansky (who, reportedly, was the first American to put a hit on Fidel following the Revolution; the CIA soon followed with dozens of their own attempts. Some of the more creative, revealed in declassified CIA documents last year, included putting botulism in his cigars and contaminating his diving suit with tuberculosis bacilli and a fungus that causes a rare skin disease called madura foot. Hey, you can’t make this stuff up).
A few days ago, after Hardy and I had spent a long afternoon roaming all over Havana, we decided to grab a buggy around Plaza de Armas, where they usually hang out, but there weren’t any. So then we walked a ways up Calle Obispo until we found a little park where several rickshaws were parked. They wanted twenty convertible pesos to take us back to the Saratoga. Hell, you could get a carriage to take you all around old town for two hours for that, so we told the guy to forget it, figuring we’d find a more entrepreneurial rickshaw owner along the way. Which we did. But something odd was going on here. None of the guys wanted to take us to our hotel, even though it was only a five-minute ride at most.
I think these rickshaw drivers all have their own little districts and there are unwritten rules about picking up passengers and you get in trouble if you go into some other guy’s district. (I’d also heard that rickshaws were no longer able to carry tourists, just the local Cubans, but I’ve seen plenty of tourists in rickshaws so I don’t know what that’s about).
Instead of hoping in a rickshaw, you could also take a cocotaxi, those odd three-wheeled egg-shaped scooters that look like they belong in Disneyland. They don’t cost any less than a taxi but they’re kind of fun for short distances (like going from bar to bar).
But while I like the carriages well enough, my favorite way to get around Havana is still in one of the old ‘50s era cars. It just feels so right to be sitting in something like the old two-tone Pontiac we hired the other day from Ismael, our very stylish driver dressed in black pants and a white short-sleeved shirt with a red and blue striped tie. Cruising in that baby along the Malecón to the Hotel Nacional, where Fred Astaire and Walt Disney once stayed, you feel like it’s 1955 all over again.
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