Friday, 24 April 2015

Cuba: A day in the life of a bicitaxi, Havana

Bicitaxis are a popular form of transport in Havana.  As a tourist, you can't go far without being offered one or getting in the way of one.  And where there is one, there is usually a swarm!  

They transport local people all over the city, particularly around the older districts with narrow streets which are awkward to negotiate, and where there are few cars.  Children going to school, women with clean shoes going to the office, men with fishing rods going to the Malecon, wreaths of brown paper and fresh flowers going to a funeral: we saw them all riding on bicitaxis.  They come in various states of repair and 'swankiness' but the format is always the same: a bicycle and two seats for passengers.  The ones in Havana also have sound systems with attitude.  

Bicitaxis were introduced in what Cubans refer to as the 'Special Period', a euphemism for the time of dire economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Pedal power was a resourceful response to the lack of fuel and indeed most things.  Some of the bicitaxis look quite smart today but some still do look very down at heel and 'cobbled together'.  You use whatever you can get your hands on in Cuba.  They are privately run, some appearing to be individually owned, others operating from the yards that have sprung up in the yawning cavities where buildings used to be.  You find them waiting for a fare on every street corner.

Bicitaxis are licensed by the state but supposedly not for tourists.  I think though there is a grey area here and perhaps, increasingly, a blind eye turned when tourists use them.  We could have taken a ride about a hundred times a day, there was no backwardness in coming forward and touting for our business.  And actually, now, I wish I had.  So do, if you get the chance.  Even as a tourist it should be inexpensive.  I'm sure they'll let you choose what you want on the sound system too!  

The constant cry of 'taxi, taxi' and the constant cacophony of whistles, birdcalls and hooters urging you to get out of the way as they moved along the streets at surprising speed could become wearing on hot days (and all days were hot in Cuba), but these guys earned our respect.  They weren't ones to let potholes, trenches or a myriad of other obstacles get in their way.  

And if the said potholes, trenches and myriad obstacles damaged their vehicles, which they did day in and day out, they carried out running repairs with a smile.

Sometimes though, when the trials of the day became relentless, even for a resilient Cuban, there was nothing for it but a siesta.

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