3 ways to take a ride in Cuba

When in Cuba, be sure to experience every mode of transportation that you can, including horsecarts, bicycle taxis and a ‘Cuban Ferrari.’

CUBA-They call Bayamo “ciudad de los coches” — the city of horsecarts — so you know what you must do when you get to this eastern city.

Joaquin Tamayo is a driver. His majestic workhorse apparently has no name. Together they take me for a spin in a bright blue chariot, complete with a clever rack to catch the horse’s poop.

There’s no chance to talk to Tamayo since he’s seated too far ahead and carefully navigating the busy streets.

Cuban streets are a fascinating study in contradictions. There are shiny new tour buses (mine was a Yutong from China) and fancy Mercedes and Audi rental cars. There are crowded public buses and photogenic vintage cars. There are horsecarts, bicycle taxis and “Cuban Ferraris.”

You need to experience all three.

Horsecarts, a tradition that dates back to colonial times, have cushioned seats and a cover from the sun. A private ride might cost several bucks per person for an hour, depending on your negotiation skills. You can try for a cheaper shared spot on a “coche” that’s transporting locals.

One night in Baracoa, a seaside city at the eastern edge of Cuba, three of us grab three separate bike taxis (a.k.a., BCs) after dinner and ask for a quick 10-minute loop around the block.

Our young, super fit taxi “drivers” race us around the quiet streets. There isn’t time to exchange more than a few words and smiles. They gratefully accept our cash, duck into the club they’re parked outside and come back grinning with cigarettes.

Again, it’s a couple of bucks for a joyful ride.

On my way from Baracoa to the airport in Santiago de Cuba, I tell my Cubatur guide Ricardo Zaldivar Rodriguez that I can’t leave the country without experiencing a Cuban Ferrari (AKA volanta), a horse and cart that’s a modest version of Bayamo’s stagecoach-style horsecarts.

He spots a good one — led by a donkey — along the highway in a whistle stop called San Antonio del Sur and chats up the driver in Spanish.

This is the man’s personal transportation and he’s lugging a large container of molasses for his animal feed, but sets it by the road so we can squeeze in next to him.

We ride gleefully up and down the highway for a couple of precious minutes, shooting video, taking photos and waving. People laugh and shout to our driver, who grins sheepishly but seems to like this unexpected experience of being the talk of his town.

Jennifer Bain, thestar.com

March 15, 2017

Jennifer Bain was hosted by the Cuba Tourist Board, which didn’t review or approve this story.

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