In rural Cuba, few people own cars and public transport is fickle, but lifts are readily available – often in unusual vehicles. A recent round trip of 30km or so in the north of Pinar del Rio was typical. It started with a pre-arranged ride in the bread van. Customers at each stop were surprised when the back doors were opened to reveal an Englishman squeezed between the racks of bread. The pleasant smell had become overwhelming by the time we were dropped off, however, 2km short of our destination. We quickly reached Palma Rubia on foot.
The next stop, La Mulata, was about 15km away, but transport was arranged through a lucky chat with the proud owner of a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air that was being washed at the side of the road. “Hang on while I finish the wheels,” said Punpo the owner, “and I’ll take you there and back.”
The beautiful red and white saloon might have suited Elvis Presley, the only inauthentic detail being the Japanese engine that had replaced the original gas-guzzler. En route, Punpo stopped to buy everyone guarapo, cane juice sold from a roadside stall. At La Mulata, we decided to treat him to lunch from the one-item menu at the supposedly Cubans-only restaurant.
When he later dropped us at a road junction 6km from our final stop, an agricultural college, we happily set off in the late afternoon sun to do the uphill walk through pine forest. But despite it being a sparsely trafficked road, no sooner had we started than a huge lorry turned off the main road and stopped to pick us up.
Clambering up the tall sides, we joined four other passengers, all standing, plus a goat tied up and lying on the extremely greasy floor. The driver hit the bends on the road at speed, passengers clinging to the swaying wooden sides of the lorry while at the same time having to jump clear of a large spare vehicle axle, which had begun to roll around the floor and several times just missed the hapless goat.
Reaching the end of the road at the summit of the hill, home for most of the passengers in the flats next to the college, we all climbed down laughing from the lorry. We didn’t see what happened to the goat.
Original post and comments: Guardian Weekly ‘Letter from…’