Seeing Cuba: Grab a Taxi in Havana

(Sony A6000, 1/60sec at f/8, 100 ISO, 15mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence
(Sony A6000, 1/60sec at f/8, 100 ISO, 15mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence

Havana has a plethora of taxis.  Some have meters, most don’t.  The first thing you learn about taking a taxi in Cuba is to negotiate the price before getting into the cab.  It’s really hard to know when or if a cab that stops for you is actually sanctioned.  To me, it really didn’t matter as long as we were clear on the price and he could get me where I was going.  Let’s face it, I don’t look Cuban, so wherever we went, we were constantly asked if we needed a taxi.  Apparently, Cubans know Americans don’t like to walk.

Havana Taxi (Nikon D4s, 1/80sec at f/4.5, 3200 ISO, 35mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence
Havana Taxi (Nikon D4s, 1/80sec at f/4.5, 3200 ISO, 35mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence

There are at least four levels of taxis in Havana.  The Cubataxi is closest to what we find in the U.S.  An official looking taxi with a sign on top.  These are the most expensive and usually have a meter.   Then, there’s the old 50’s cars.  These are fun to look at and, of course, the closer you get to the tourist area, the more readily available they become.  Again, no meter and the price is always up for negotiation.  I found these to vary wildly in condition… anywhere from rolling, heaps of junk with Russian engines to gorgeously

Coco Taxi (Nikon D4s, 1/25sec at f/32, 1600 ISO, 85mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence
Coco Taxi (Nikon D4s, 1/25sec at f/32, 1600 ISO, 85mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence

maintained museum pieces.   Next on the list are the Coco Taxies.  Coco Taxies (yellow for tourists, black for locals) look like coconuts attached to motorcycles.  This was fun to ride as well.  Mary and I took at Coco Taxi and the driver kept telling us to close the door.  There are no doors, or seat belts.  I thought it was funny that the drivers wear helmets, but had nothing for the passenger.  On a hot, tropical day, the Coco taxi is a great way to get some air.

Lastly are the Bici Taxi or Peditaxi.  These are bicycle carriages seemly held together with gum and spit.  For the cost of only 3-4 CUC (the Cuban currency for tourists – 1 CUC = 1 Dollar), you can get a ride anywhere in the city.   You see a lot of locals catching a ride on a Bici Taxi, but they pay a fraction of what tourists pay.  You could find one on every corner and, seemingly, they find you on every corner.  Offers of “taxi? taxi?” are a constant from these wheelmen.

Bici Taxi in Havana (Nikon D4s, 1/1600sec at f/8, 1600 ISO, 65mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence
Bici Taxi in Havana (Nikon D4s, 1/1600sec at f/8, 1600 ISO, 65mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence

One evening at around 11:30, I was done.  I had walked about 12 miles that day and I turned to my wife, Mary, and said let’s grab a bike taxi.  I had been wanting to ride one since my arrival.  Most of you know I’m an avid cyclist.  When an unsuspecting peditaxi driver asked if I wanted a ride, I told him yes.  As usual, I asked how much to go the 12 blocks to Parque Central and he said 3 CUC.  Using a combination of stilted English and sign language, I told him I’d pay the fare if he’d let me drive the cab.  You can imagine his reaction.  At first he didn’t think I was serious and then I showed him the bicycle tattoo on my leg.  He agreed and I told him to get in the back along with my wife.  It took a few minutes, and an approaching intersection, to figure out where the brake was.  It was a foot lever nowhere near the pedals.  The chains are long, the tires are fat, the streets are crowded and potholed, but I had a blast driving the Bici Taxi through the streets of Havana, yelling to pedestrians to clear the way and singing “Taxi, Taxi” as I went by other tourists.  The cabbie had a great time.  At one point, the cabbie, now passenger, saw a friend of his and yelled out to him. The look on his friends face was priceless as was the hotel security’s look when I pulled up to the entrance of the hotel.  You see, you really don’t know if they are hotel security, doormen or observers of the state, but who cares?  I was having fun.  I tipped him double the fare with a giant “gracias”.  I’d bet he’s still telling the story of that crazy American who paid him double the fare to drive him in his own cab.

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