Cuba in the early 21st century is, or was, the land of contradictions, where the affluent ‘west’ met the cold war legacy of the ‘east’ in a Caribbean ambiance. 1950s western cars survived in large numbers in a ‘make do and mend’ society and rubbed uncomfortable shoulders with, but failed to outnumber, Soviet era Ladas. As part of Bush’s ‘axis of evil’, Castro no doubt revelled in his notoriety and waved a symbolic two fingers across the narrow strip of Atlantic Ocean separating his proud republic from the democratic land of ‘hanging chads’ - Florida, home of countless nostalgic, reactionary and resolutely optimistic Cuban exiles.
The impact of the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s was that Cuba’s primary market for its principal product - sugar - largely ceased to exist and with limited other natural resources, the economy became increasingly and pragmatically dependent upon tourism. This in turn was a double-edged sword for the afficionado of the steam railway as the sugar mills began to cut back and the antique steam locomotives of American manufacture became an endangered species. But in 2005, they continued to work, here and there earning their keep at working mills but more than likely earning foreign currency by working charter trains for enthusiasts and tourists. And what better way to see Cuba as she is....
Go to Cuba if you can, experience the atmosphere of Havana, chill out in Cathedral Square, take a ride in a ‘taxi’ for a few convertible pesos with the straight six talking through the exhaust...... Oh, and don’t forget to wag a couple of fingers across that small strip of sea.
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Cuba 2003: A selection of pictures of railways and people in Cuba, March 2003.
Cuba 2005: As above but taken in February 2005.
Cuba Cars: Some of the exotic machinery from the pre-1959 Revolution period, many still with the original engines.