In Gavotta we trust: A typical Cuban car journey

 Pink Buick convertible in Havana

Pink Buick convertible in Havana

Note: For some reason I don't have a photo of the car I mostly talk about here, so the photos in this post are of some of the other fabulous cars we travelled in during our time in Cuba.

 A particularly dilapidated model - but it still went!

A particularly dilapidated model - but it still went!

We ride back from Viñales in a 1955 DeSoto, with a Mercedes engine and a Hyundai steering wheel. The driver, Carlo, is young, with a big gold-plated watch, lots of gold rings, shades and a pink hat with the logo "In Gavotta we trust". He has a baby blue phone, which he uses a lot during the drive. For the first 30km or so, until we get on the motorway, he beeps and waves at practically everyone we pass - other drivers, pedestrians, people standing outside their houses. He blows kisses at hot girls, then stops to pick up his girlfriend, a stunning creature with purple fingernails extending at least half an inch beyond her fingers. 

On the motorway Carlo speeds down the fast lane - these old cars can go surprisingly fast, and anyway, the tarmac is generally in slightly better condition in the fast lane. Sitting in the back, bumping over the potholes, I want to suggest he slows down a bit - I can tell you from personal experience that the rear suspension in cars has improved since the era of a 1955 DeSoto. 

But I don't. The masculine joie de vivre of drivers of these Cuban "American cars" is little changed from their counterparts in 1970s TV shows like Happy Days. Like the Fonz, Carlito is cool.

 Lada, with a retrofitted Toyota engine and Suzuki dashboard. We only had to stop a couple of times going up the hills...

Lada, with a retrofitted Toyota engine and Suzuki dashboard. We only had to stop a couple of times going up the hills...

Still, his constant fingering of the crucifix hanging down from the wing mirror is slightly nerve-wracking for his agnostic passengers. Having God on our side would definitely be an advantage in a crash, because there aren't any seat belts to protect us. 

The experience of a Cuban motorway is somewhat different to that of the M4 or SH1. Horses and cows graze on the verge, though picketted so (hopefully) they won't wander into the traffic. Horse and carts trot along the hard shoulder, sometimes with and sometimes against the flow of traffic. There are bicycles, scooters, old fashioned tractor-trailers and at intersections lots of people wait on the verge for buses or lifts. Occasionally there will be a guy standing by the road holding up a handful of mangoes for sale, and dogs trot along the sides too, though either they have more road sense than New Zealand possums, or the ever-present vultures do their cleaning-up work well.

Periodically we see a sign "cruce peligroso", which reminds drivers that there's a dangerous crossroad coming up. The "peligroso" bit is that motorways have no barriers; at a junction, pedestrians, bicycles, horse and carts, and ricketty buses may be trying to cross four lanes of motorway traffic and a central island.

 1952 Chevrolet - and Geoff buying mangoes

1952 Chevrolet - and Geoff buying mangoes

The speed limit is 100km/h on the motorway, and although you might think a 1955 Desotto might not hit 100, it seemed faster. or maybe it was just bouncing over the ruts and potholes, with the wind in your face from the open window.

It's the nearest I'm ever going to get to feeling like Olivia Newton-John.

 Another 1950s Chevvy - with Ben about to head off diving

Another 1950s Chevvy - with Ben about to head off diving

At one stage a policeman pulls us over, and Carlo gets out, shows some papers, gives the cop a big hug and a cool dude handshake and gets back in. A friend, we ask? No, just someone he sees on his frequent trips from Viñales to Havana.

I forgot: the Carlito knows everyone.