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Cuban communal taxis – the almendrone is a delightful way to get around

By Carl Wallace / Posted April 11, 2014

Last weekend I was way out in Miramar having a delightful breakfast with some local friends. After we were done, I realized I needed to get back to Parque Central, all the way downtown in Havana.  Like most smart tourists, I rely on taxis – the Havana traffic is a bit much for non-residents!

The most helpful restaurant owner says, “No problem, I’ll hook you up with a Cuban taxi. It will cost you a buck.” Hard to resist.

blue communal taxiOver the years, Cubans have found many solutions to the shortage of vehicles and the Cuban taxi. Known as maquinas meaning machines or almendrones, which means almond they are also referred to as community taxis. They are typically large American 50s cars, sometimes station wagons that will accommodate five or six or more passengers.  The driver picks a route and people hop in and out wherever works along the route. Cost is measured in National Pesos so the costs are reasonable, although the driver will typically take a CUC happily. On this particular trip, I gave him a single peso coin – he gave me 4 pesos nacional in change. That seemed fair to me.

red Cuban taxiOur almendrone was a 1951 Chevy torpedo back with who knows what for an engine. The car itself was in a good state of repair that included a variety of wood screws holding the door panels in place and the engine was humming.  Maybe too powerful it was because as soon as we turned the corner onto Avenida 19, the driver hammered the gas. We bombed down the road, across the Kohly bridge over the river onto 23.

Ave 23 takes a gentle route around the necropolis de Colon, but once you’re near Paseo, it straightens out and our taxi driver got the NASCR urge and stomped it.  At Ave de los Presidentes we lurched to a stop. Two passengers got out, three got in and we were back to top speed.  The blaring Salsa added to the effect.

As 23 gets closer to the Malecon it becomes La Rampa crowded with wandering pedestrians, traffic of all sorts and huge buses. Our driver seemed oblivious to all this, flooring the Chev down the “ramp” northward toward the sea. A bus in the middle lane slowed down close to a stop; we rocked right into the inside lane but wait – there’s a garbage bin parked by the curb.  Yikes, the driver hits the gas and we swerve in front of the bus, missing a date with a high speed Havana bus by what seemed like millimeters.  No one but me seemed to notice or care.

wagoneer taxiA few people got on and off as we barreled down the Malecon into Habana Vieja. As we hung a right up Prado and headed for the Captilolio I felt a sense of relief that I had survived but a huge disappointment that the wild ride had come to an end.

Cuban taxis? Riding with the Habaneros? It’s my new favorite way to get around. And the price sure is right!

Carl Wallace