Driving Back In Time - Cuba

Gently does it, gently, g-e-n-t-l-y. Perfect. That’s just the way I like it.
Then with a satisfied smile he reaches for the volume and I’m blasted with salsa. No surprise that he loves Los Van Van, the kings of double entendre in Cuba.
He’s my driver and he’s only talking about closing the car door, of course. But even such a mundane request is an opportunity for any red-blooded cubano to flirt, and to flirt with style. I slide into my seat and he flashes me a sidelong look as he shifts gear, I grin to let him know that his innuendo is appreciated. I’m in a máquina, a collective taxi, along with five other passengers and we’ve just left Central Havana en route to La Lisa, one of the more downbeat neighbourhoods in the city.
It’s stifling and every window in the vehicle is wound down. In fact, the windows are permanently wound down. They’ve probably been wound down since they broke some time back in the 1950s. It’s sad that in the half century or so since this car began its journey, not everybody has treated it gently. It’s battered and bent but it has spirit and it’s still on the road. We are purring along in a black Chevrolet that hiccups every now and again when we hit a pothole, or burps unceremoniously when the clutch is called into action. But who cares if this old lady shows her age from time to time? This is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of the road and I know I’m blessed to be one of the last few to luxuriate in her charms before she retires.
I’ve been living in Havana for almost a year now and I’m still bewitched by these elegant pre-revolution era cars. Each time I hail one I am glee-filled and have to suppress the desire to jump up and down on the spot that I can, with a mere wave of the hand, halt one of these beauties and avail of her charms. I frequently stop and gawk at them, giving myself away as a foreigner in the process. But I can’t disguise my feelings. It’s their aura; they unfailingly exude sophistication and timelessness. They are forever associated with a bygone era of Hollywood film stars and real-life mafia, a golden era when they were young, happy, and forever beautiful.
Roads populated with these vintage cars fuel my day-dreams and fantasies. On Calzada del Cerro a 1938 Packard pulls to a halt unexpectedly in front of me. I stare. It’s a sinister manoeuvre and I expect to see half a dozen rain-coated gangsters hastily emerge wielding violin cases. Instead, two women wearing fluorescent pink and lime green lycra leggings step out into the hot sunshine. Ciao, Ciao, they smile happily and their friend waves back to them from the rear window. The Packard drifts away and for a few moments it is the only vehicle on the road. I see it doggedly zigzagging past potholes, framed against a background of crumbling façades of 19th century architecture. Then it is gone, and I’m left alone with my fantasy.
This article was published in The (Irish) Independent as the winner of a travel writing competition: http://www.independent.ie/travel/travel-destinations/cuba-driving-back-in-time-2457156.html

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