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US classic in Cuba: a pink Chevy Bel Air

Michael Schröder
US classics in Cuba
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On the way to the center of Havana, Humberto explains the secret of his success to me:' The color pink. ' Since then he has his C hevrolet Bel Air, born 54, painted this way four years ago, business went noticeably better as a taxi driver. 'Above all, women prefer to get into a brightly colored car rather than a dark one,' explains the 61-year-old Cuban, referring mainly to the many tourists from the USA and Europe who get a big tip in US dollars for his chauffeur services or donate euros. Of course, he also found a name for his car. 'La Pantera Rosa' - the pink panther.

Get noticed at any price. Humberto Fundora Cordovez, my driver for a two-day classic tour through Havana and western Cuba, knows the rules of the game to somehow make ends meet in a run-down country. His colorful Chevy is one of the tens of thousands of cars that were left behind by the Americans when the 'Barbudos', the bearded ones, under the leadership of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, declared the revolution on January 1, 1959 complete. Since new cars, mostly from Russian and Chinese production, have been reserved exclusively for members of the government, high-ranking military and occasionally also doctors or well-known athletes since the overthrow, Humberto, like most of his compatriots, somehow had to come to terms with the automotive legacy from the time before the revolution /p>

Nobody can afford a new car

Cuba, explains Humberto, is like one of those old cars: only with patience , Ingenuity and willpower still kept moving. 'Since January 2014, private individuals have been able to buy a new car for the first time, but nobody can afford it.' A Peugeot 508 would cost the equivalent of 190,000 euros. 'The state car dealerships are the only shops in the country where there are no queues,' jokes my driver in view of the absurd pricing policy of the Castro regime in a country where the average salary (nominal) is 15 euros. Per month. 'Our US sleds will probably crawl through Havana for another 50 years.' Humberto's dream car? 'A Porsche 911.' A picture of the sports car has been stuck on his dashboard for many years'Pantera Rosa'.

Cars that drive like in slow motion

'You want to see as many classic cars as possible ? Then take a look around now! ' We have already turned onto the Prado, Havana's most famous promenade. Restored colonial buildings next to brittle brickwork, morbid charm next to photogenic hopelessness and in between the full life, even now in midsummer with 38 degrees and 80 percent humidity. Only the traffic creeps across the wide boulevard as if in slow motion. Buicks, Pontiacs, Fords or Chevrolets, none younger than the Revolution and many of them just kept ready to drive through constant patching and repairing against the trade embargo. The automotive life of a city that was once an amusement park for Hollywood stars and mafia godparents - frozen in 1959. Beyond all tragedy, a great scene.

'Who can,' explains Humberto, 'offers tours for Tourists. ' After cigars and rum, the third major attraction that his country has to offer. In front of the magnificent Capitolio Nacional, a copy of the US seat of government, the parking spaces in the first row are reserved for the stars of the vintage taxi scene. We drive past wing-reinforced convertibles from the 1950s, a red Oldsmobile Super 88 and two highly polished Ford Fairlane. 'These models are particularly popular with Americans as the first choice for a tour of the city,' explains Humberto. Such a car is like a license to print money in Havana.

Vehicle registration is a question of money

Just a corner away, at the Park of Brotherhood, the second guard, so to speak. Dozens of them stand there in the shade of ancient trees. Barely ready-to-drive US cruisers with peeling paint and huge rust holes. Cars that are being repaired on the spot and under whose hoods Lada, Peugeot or SsangYong engines have long been stuck, because the right spare parts for the old V8 units simply couldn't be obtained. Or are. My driver thinks the tourists don't care about the motorization, the locals anyway. Humberto knows that most cars are in dire condition. But in Cuba even the most rigged loads would get through regular technical inspections. The approval for road traffic is only a question of money, because many officials are corrupt.

We continue to trundle through Havana. Down to the harbor, past the now magnificently restored old town, and finally the Malecón, the seven-kilometer-long promenade on the Gulf of Mexico, where half the city meets every evening and where the city's most famous hostel is located 'Hotel Nacional'. 'Errol Flynn, Marlene Dietrich and Ernest Hemingway were regular guests here, and there were several sponsors for the US MafiaFloors kept free, 'explains Humberto. Our first round with' La Pantera Rosa 'lasts five hours, and we are among the few who drive through the city with the windows closed. Humberto is proud of the air conditioning, it comes like the electric windows from a Hyundai, while he took over the brakes from a Nissan and parts of the chassis from a Lada. 'For our mechanics, such work has long been routine,' explains Humberto.

The best tobacco in the world

Day two. We have been on the road since seven o'clock. At a speed of 60 or 80 on the wide motorway towards Pinar del Rio, but exactly the speed cannot be estimated because the speedometer needle of 'La Pantera Rosa' jerks wildly between zero and 100. After all, we are among the fastest, overtaking truck columns, Ladas, Volgas, Bulgarian buses. There in the west, Humberto had said, become the best Ta bak grown in the world. A three to four hour drive for 150 kilometers, but it's worth it. Humberto stocked up on music especially for this trip. The CD player under the dashboard - a matter of honor. Just like the sound: cuddly salsa by Marc Anthony, Humberto's favorite musician, although the singer is not a Cuban, but a Puerto Rican.

At some point we turn onto a narrow street that is miles of tobacco fields and countless dry houses passes by. 'Vuelta Abajo, the most famous tobacco garden in the world,' enthuses Humberto, and of course we treat ourselves to a Cohiba, the queen of Cuban cigars, to celebrate the day. Humberto is satisfied, also because 'La Pantera Rosa' held out without a murmur and mutated into a photo star outside in the parking lot, sandwiched between countless rental cars and minibuses. Again. The color, white Humberto. It's this color.

Cuba - How do you get there?

With Condor you can get from Frankfurt to Havana and back three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). The non-stop flight takes around ten hours and is available from around 1,100 euros per person. Alternatively, you can fly to Varadero with Condor (Thursday, Saturday) and get a taxi from there to Havana. Price: from around 900 euros per person. Information and booking: www.condor.com

Organized trips and La Pantera Rosa

The tour operator Cuba Real Tours, headquartered in Zurich, has specialized in Cuba for years and offers u. a. selected accommodations and tailor-made tours. Info: Tel. 00 41/4 45 00 10 60 (Zurich) or in Germany (Auf der Platte 22/1, 88284 Wolpertswende) Tel. 0 08 00 05 00 10 60. www.cubarealtours.eu. Humberto and his '54 Chevrolet Bel Air You can either use Cuba RealTours or individually for tours through Havana can be booked. Multi-day tours overland are also possible. Knowledge of Spanish is an advantage. Contact: humbertochevy54@yahoo.es

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