Mai Perso - Travel adventures

Angelo’s Coco Taxi

June 1, 2012

When traveling, we often find a group of local people who become our support group. People who can tell us the places to go, stay, the “in” restaurants, dos and don’ts.
In Havana we befriended two people, Angelo, the Coco Taxi driver and an aspiring film maker I will call Martin (Scorsese) so that I can describe our conversations without putting him in jeopardy.
We are used to have our own transportation and going to an island that is about 1,000 km long seamed like we could cover all the main attractions in one week. By day two, and one reality check further, we agreed to focus on Havana and Trinidad for this trip. The drive to Trinidad is a six hour affair in a decent airco’d “Via Azul” bus. We had to get tickets a day earlier to ensure we get a spot. Lined along the Plaza the San Francisco de Asis in Havana Vieja, were 20 Ladas, courtesy of the Soviet era in Cuba, and a handful of old American cabs, the signature transportation of Havana. At the end of the row, was Angelo, with his Coco Taxi. The coco taxis are a coco nut like yellow shell, with a 175cc Vespa engine built into them, made for tourists. The locals use mostly the bicycle taxis who officially aren’t allowed to take tourists.
We were hassled by a group of taxi drivers and insisted on going with Angelo. The trip from Havana Vieja to the bus terminal, took about thirty minutes. Five minutes into it, we were in deep conversation with Angelo. Married, son Angelo jr. (12) and daughter Chantal (7). Angelo gave us the grand tour of Havana, stopping for photos at the house where Che and his security team lived when they got to Havana in the late fifties, through Miramar, the affluent neighborhood of town, the John Lennon square with his statue and 24 hours a day guard making sure his glasses don’t get stolen again, and the Plaza de Revolucion, surrounded with the headquarters of the defense ministry and the secret service building. Angelo kept the party line, complaining a bit about his income but praising the revolution for taking care of the people and the interest of Cuba. He also said the most important place to see and the main attraction in Havana was the Plaza de Revolucion, just in case his little three wheel coco taxi had a listening device planted in it. He invited us to a chilled glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice and pointed out to us the most important building in town, not far from the Havana university campus, the house where his mother in law lives…
We took a quick round on campus and ended at a small Casa Particolare restaurant called Arie’s, across the street from the university. The place, has two dining rooms and a tiny kitchen. It aw 3pm and we were famished. A grilled filet of Red Snapper and a Lamb stew were a welcomed lunch. Both were a too salty and we’re accompanied with the standard Cuban slices of cucumber, tomato and shredded cabbage. More about the local food later. For now, we took a stall through more streets lined up with magnificent falling apart houses away for Vdado, the once glorious area lined with casinos like Vegas and owned by the American mafia, towards the ocean and back to the Casa de Emillio for a late siesta. By the time we got back to Havana Vieja, heavy rain drops were coming down with rolling thunder and gray sky. June is the beginning of the summer and a down pour of rain is a common event.
While Safta was taking a nap, I sat at the common family room and was reading about Trinidad and the Spiriti Sanctus province. A few minutes later, Martin comes by and we get into a conversation about life, career, aspiration and inevitably politics. Martin is studying marketing and communications. He is working to make the equivalent of 10 $ a month which will last him through an evening in a bar, and bare necessities.
He started by explaining that the Revolution cares about the people. The Revolution is being used here both for the uprise of Che and Fidel in the fifties as well as a general term to describe the government of Cuba. Thanks to the Revolucion, Cuba provides free education and health care that is of the best in Latin America Martin says.
As the conversation continues, he starts describing the difference between the young generation and the older generation supporting the government.the interesting thing about Cuba is that the revolution is relatively young. 54 years. So there is only one generation in the country, Martins’ that is of age and don’t experience the country before the revolution. I never thought about it this way. Martin’s Dad, lived life here and although indoctrinated by the revolution, had a different life to compare and was still passionate about the advantages of the revolution. Martin understood why but was carefully poking holes in the one size fits all approach of the government.
The discrepancy between the capability of an individual and their income drives mediocrity, he said. Lots of people have no incentive to work harder.when I challenged him with what would he choose,free school or making more money, I got him thinking. Literacy and art are big in Cuba. People born after the revolution, 50 year and younger, have a literacy rate of close to 100%, higher then most western countries and a far cry from all of south America.
At some point, as we were talking about the benefit and peril of opening up to the west, lessons learned from the Soviet era in Cuba and the post soviet period, the rain stopped. By 7 o’clock at night, the sky was blue, temperature back at 30 degrees Celsius and the only sign for the passing storm, were big puddles in the large potholes on the streets of Havana. The neighbor, across the street, used the water to wash his old brown Fiat 650cc with improvised air vents adding a Ferrari look to the ancient, and now clean, mobil.
Another quick shower, the third today, washing off the tropical stickiness of the resident humidity and off we go in search of a Mojitos, Daikiri and another spectacular local band in a local bar on Calle Obispo.