Hitchhiking My Way Around Cuba

State sanctioned hitchhiking eases the island nation's transportation woes

| August 31, 2006

On a small, poor, socialist island like Cuba, where there are 32 cars for every 1,000 people and many of the existing vehicles date from before the 1959 revolution, transportation solutions need to be very creative. One answer: Any Cuban with the privilege of possessing a vehicle is required, in the true spirit of socialism, to pick up hitchhikers. For citizens of the island, hitching a free ride to town, the beach, or work is a way of life, reports Danna Harman for the Christian Science Monitor.

The system itself is highly organized. Hitchhiking stations are set up like bus stops along main roads; state officials enforce the rules, wave down cars, and do their best to keep things running smoothly. Not all cars are required to stop (brown, blue, black, and green license plates denote military, private, diplomat, and tourist vehicles), and many that are supposed to stop don't. The system can be slow and unreliable, too, but many of the Cubans Harman encountered while sampling the system insisted that, overall, 'it works.'

A limited bus system, costly taxis, and limited resources make the ride-sharing system a key way for many Cubans to get around. With a US embargo making car parts nearly impossible to come by, it's also a great way to make few resources serve the greatest number of people. Indeed, the old Chevys and Buicks, relics of 1950s Americana, have become synonymous not only with the Cuban streetscape, but with Cuban perseverance and ingenuity in the face of adversity.

Harman, while pleased with being 'a bona fide hitchhiker -- living the Cuban experience,' writes that, at adventure's end, she 'was also ready to hail a tourist cab.' -- Elizabeth Oliver

Go there >> Backstory: Hitchhiking Across Cuba

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