Trailer Topics Magazine, September 1956
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Do you want to take a trip that's new and different? Head south on US-1 out of Miami, Florida. When you cross the bridge over Jewfish Creek you are on the Florida Keys. Between here and Key West there are 41 major bridges, the longest seven miles. The area from Jewfish Creek to Key West is the only frost free land in the U.S.A. and the scenery is different from anywhere else you have been. There are dozens and dozens of good trailer courts in the Keys so you can stay anywhere the notion strikes you.

If you wish to break into the Cuban way of life in easy stages just stick around Key West a few days. Try the little Cuban restaurants and coffee shops. Go to the cock fights on Sunday afternoon, and try different kinds of drinks containing Cuban rum. Go out to Stock Island and see the big 476-foot ship City of Havana which will carry your car and trailer to the 800 mile long island of Cuba. Buy your tickets, car insurance, tourist cards, etc., here at the terminal before you are ready to sail. Then you won't have to get up so early on the morning of departure. In order to clear car and trailer through Cuban Customs, you must present your driver's license and Title Certificate or proof of ownership for both car and trailer.

The ship leaves Key West each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 10:00 a.m. About five hours out of Key West wipe the salt spray off your bi-focals and you will see the hills of Cuba dead ahead. A few minutes later and the dome of the beautiful National Capitol stands out on the skyline of Havana, the gayest city of the West Indies.

Cuba is the place to buy cigars and rum, but you coffin nail addicts will save money by purchasing your allowance of two cartons per person of your favorite brand aboard ship at $1.75 per carton. In Cuba they are 40 cents or more per pack.

As the ship nears her berth, expert swimmers will be on hand to dive for coins thrown by passengers.

Since you are getting rather a late afternoon start off the boat, you had better head East either on Via Blanca (Great White Way) or on Carretera Central (Central Highway) and find a gas station that will rent you parking space for the night. You simply drive out the little narrow street from the dock and when you come to the big, busy intersecting street, turn left on it. This will take you out Via Blanca toward the country and beaches in short order. To try to go into the city with your trailer at this stage of the game might wreck your nervous system. There will be guides at the dock who will want to get in your car and show you where to go, so if you want to make things easy on yourself, hire one. Havana is a city of over a million people and of course is really something. You will need a guide anyway for a day or two to get organized around there and to see the many points of interest in the big city. If you don't already have them, go to the Cuban Tourist Commission and get free maps and literature of all Cuba.

There are no trailer courts in Cuba yet. In fact it would have been smart to have left your sewer hose in Key West and used that storage space for gallon jugs to carry drinking water. It's safest to drink only water that you buy in sealed bottles. Boil any other water for five minutes before drinking it, especially when out of Havana.

There is only one grade of gasoline in Cuba. It is good quality and is only 32 cents a gallon in Havana, so it would be a friendly gesture to have room to take on gas at the station where you rent space. About a dollar a night plus a tip for the night man should be about the right rent at gas stations. Some of the stations on the outskirts of the towns will have lots of room around them, but sometimes you must park out of range of "electricidad" because of trucks and other vehicles which park and drive close around the station both night and day. Gasoline lanterns or gas lights may be too hot in this climate so have a good supply of candles. Get fancy and eat and wash dishes by candlelight. It's fun for a change.

When you get ready to leave the vicinity of Havana, you might make Matanzas your first lap over the Central Highway. You can do 30 to 40 miles per hour with your trailer on this 63 mile stretch. Limit your driving to daylight hours all over Cuba. Road shoulders, ruts and dips are dangerous in the dark. The Central Highway is heavily traveled by buses and also by trucks carrying loads of sugar cane, bananas, cattle, soft drinks, and many other things. Since shoulders are not wide enough to permit off road parking, buses, trucks, and cars stop on the road to load or unload or just to park.

In this section you will see many farmers using oxen for pulling farm implements in the fields. The bottom land soil in this area is red, although a bit more on the brown side than "Alabama mud." The beautiful big tropical palms growing all over the hillsides are Royal Palms.

You will want to spend some time in Matanzas, a beautiful old city of 85,000 population on the sea coast. It was founded in 1692. Ships from the seven seas load here. Sugar and hemp are important items of cargo.

Be sure to have a meal of fresh water crawfish at the Grand Paris Hotel. They are caught only in a few rivers on the north side of Cuba, none from the streams that flow into the Carribean. They weigh 1/4 to 3/4 lbs. each. You can see them alive in the hotel fountain. Closed season on them is May to October during which time they are unobtainable.

Don't miss the caves in Matanzas called Cuevas de Bellamar. There is more pretty crystal formation in them than in most U.S.A. caves. These caves were discovered in 1861 by a Chinese. The fields bordering either side of the road to the caves are planted with Century Plants. They look like Mexican Maguay but the hemp fibers from the Cuban plants are said to be stronger. There is a rope manufacturing plant in Matanzas where some of the hemp is used up.

After a day or two exploring Matanzas both by car and afoot, the next logical step is Varadero Beach. Just one slow hour's drive along the ocean and you are there. This is one of those unbelievable spots like Miami Beach, but Varadero is just starting the really fantastic growth now. Great new hotels, motels, boulevards, and the like are springing up as if by magic. Both the beach and the climate at Varadero are superior to those of South Florida.

By this time, if you were careless about hitting bumps, some of your gallon water jugs may be broken unless you cushioned them well. Carrying them in cardboard boxes with separating cardboard strips between jugs will prevent such a mishap. Another minor calamity would be to reach for your candle supply only to find that the heat of the day melted them into all sorts of weird, unusable shapes - store them flat.

When you have an English speaking guide hired in various cities, have him show you how to get to the local Cuban Tourist Commission office and be sure to locate the ice plant while he is with you. Ice is awfully expensive when purchased from ice wagons and you can't find them when you need them. "Hielo" is the Spanish word for ice. Never try to get to an ice factory with your trailer. They are invariably down some narrow street where you couldn't get around the corners to save your life. Perhaps it wouldn't be wise to put ice in drinks, because if you boiled it five minutes to insure its purity it wouldn't amount to much as a coolant.

Hose connections are not as plentiful in Cuba as you are used to. Since you will be using drinking water out of bottles and wash water out of a pail, you won't be running much waste water out of the trailer. Consequently, a bucket under your sewer drain will suffice. It can be emptied in the toilet of the gas station servicio (rest room).

Of course you can buy groceries in the stores, but you might wish to be well stocked on powdered milk, instant coffee, dehydrated soup mixes, instant mashed potatoes, etc. These things are light weight and space savers and come in mighty handy.

You will find the Cubans extremely friendly and courteous. Just keep smiling and laughing and don't be surprised if you have 50 visitors a night who wish to see through your trailer if only by candlelight and flashlight. Naturally they are awfully interested as yours may be the first trailer they have seen except in pictures. If someone in your party can speak a little Spanish it will help a lot. If you can only laugh and talk with your hands, that's better than nothing and frequently someone will soon show up who can speak some English. Outside of Havana and Varadero you won't find too many folks who can speak "Ingles," unless your luck is excellent. The local Tourist Commission Offices can recommend English speaking guides. Before leaving the U.S.A. you really should have learned some words. A Spanish-English dictionary or even the little Pan American World Airways English-Spanish dictionary will be of some help.

Your trip will be more enjoyable if you treat every sincere visitor to your trailer well, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have strengthened the bond of Cuban-American friendship. Trailerists can do much in this respect since we mingle closer with average citizens than hotel-motel travelers and government officials.

At some stops and parking places you will be visited by altogether too many children, mostly boys. At times they will continue to hang around with their noses flattened on your window and door screens until in self defense you will have to shut the doors and pull all curtains. Some of them will beg, but if you are going to stay long you can hardly afford to give any of them anything because the word may get around the neighborhood to the point where you are swamped with customers. You must keep in mind that these children haven't been taught any better. It is best to try and pick your stops where there are not too many poor families living close by.

When on a pleasure trip in or out of the U.S.A. a World Wide Personal Effects Floater Policy should be carried to protect against loss of cameras, clothing, etc. You can get $1,000.00 coverage for 90 days for about a ten dollar premium. Still you don't want your car broken into and things stolen. Never turn your back on car or trailer for an instant in Cuba without locking them, and even when the car is locked never leave anything showing in it, not even sunglasses. There are some very poor children and adults in Cuba who will steal your things if you grow careless, so stay alert and don't lose anything.

One more word about learning some Spanish. If you spend the winter in Key West you can take free Spanish lessons at the San Carlos Institute in that city. The instructor, Miss Benildes Remond, is a charming and capable senorita and is paid for this work by the Cuban government.

Although the 710 mile long Central Highway is good for 30 to 48 miles per hour with trailer in tow, plan on slower speeds on most of the other main routes. Otherwise you will suddenly run into rough spots which will be hard on your equipment if you can't slow down in time.

The cities are all interesting. Some which you may find the most enjoyable for stop-overs besides those previously discussed are Cardenas, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba, and Pinar del Rio.

Trinidad and Casilda (sea-port for Trinidad) are over 400 years old and Trinidad is a National Monument. The city is being kept as nearly as possible in its original condition including the cobblestone streets good for about four miles per hour and plenty rough at that speed. An English speaking guide should be able to show you this town in less than a day including a trip up Topes de Collantes, 18 kilometers of really steep mountain road to Sanitorium General Batista. If you go to Trinidad go up this mountain, but if you have poor holding gears on down grades (dynaflow for instance), be careful. Your brakes may fade and smoke about half way down, so be prepared to waste 45 minutes on the mountainside while they cool.

Unfortunately, a lot of the children in Trinidad and Casilda are so bold, pesty, and impolite that you may not want to stay in these towns long. It appears that a larger percentage of Trinidad are poverty stricken than in the other cities, so don't get mad at the kids even though they may make things rough for you. If this sort of thing gets under your skin, perhaps it would be best to leave the trailer in Sancti Spiritus and make a one day side trip to Trinidad in your car.

Since most of the corners in Cuban cities are strictly blind, the traffic system is to blow your horn at the approach of each intersection. Anyone coming down the other street will answer with his horn, so you know he is approaching. If you blew first, he will yield the right of way. If he blew first, you answer but yield.

However, an important exception is in the city of Cienfuegos. This busy city of about 85,000 population is a comparitively new town and if you use your horn in the city you will be arrested or warned. In Cienfuegos as you approach an intersection you will notice an arrow on the side of a building showing the direction on the intersecting street. If the arrow is red it means you must yield the right-of-way, so stick your nose out with great caution as cars will really zip by the corners when they are on a red arrowed street. If the intersecting street has a green arrow, you will probably have the right-of-way as you will be traveling a red arrowed street. Cienfuegos is a fine, clean, friendly city. You will enjoy a long stay here. The absence of "klaxons" (horns) is really nice for a change too.

Don't try to take your trailer from Cienfuegos to Trinidad on the new road that is being built. You will be sorry if you do. When the new road is completed it will be one of the finest 50 mile tourist stretches in Cuba, but that will be later, Alligator, not now Crocodile! It is strictly a trailer nightmare at present.

Confine your trailer hauling to the main routes around or through the cities. Otherwise you may find yourself on a dead end street with side streets to narrow to get the trailer around a corner, and backing up is out of the question due to traffic piled up behind you. An unenviable spot indeed, with horns blowing at you for blocks around, and you can't speak the language!

While visiting Camaguey park your trailer at a gas station on the highway. It is one of those impossible towns with a trailer, except for the highway. This is a bustling city, Capitol of the surrounding cow country. It has over 125 churches. You couldn't find nicer folks to park your trailer with than at the big Shell station on the West end of town and the South side of the highway in Camaguay. Mr. Rafael de Cardenas, the owner, went to college at L.S.U. in Baton Rouge. There is a wide expanse of level grass around the station and you can get electricity.

Santiago de Cuba is the end of the road going East. Don't take your trailer beyond the big gas stations at the foot of the hill as you approach the city. This is Cuba's second largest city, where the Cubans and Americans won the final battle against the Spanish in 1898. If you get in these crowded, narrow, steep streets with your trailer, you may lose the final battle. At the top of the big hill mentioned above, there is a first class motel, Rancho Club Motel. If you rent a room here for about $8.00 per couple you can park your trailer on the grass opposite your air conditioned room. After ten days or two weeks of sponge baths by candlelight, this motel set-up will do you a world of good for a couple of days.

By this time you are old hands at Cuban trailering and going back West will be no trick. Tell the little woman not to bring out her Florida shorts over here. It might start a riot for shorts are even scarcer than trailers in these parts, even though the small youngsters sometimes forget to put on any clothing before going out to play.

By this time you will agree that Cuba affords some of the most interesting, scenic and enjoyable trailering you have encountered. You will have come to realize that the ferry City of Havana has opened a whole new nation to trailerists, thousands of whom must be a little tired of past winter haunts. You have also discovered the climate is fine with cool sleeping in the mountains or at the sea-shore any time. Hurricane season here is exactly the same as in the U.S.A. - that is between July 15th and November 20th. Columbus discovered Cuba by ship in 1492 and really started something. You discovered it by trailer in 1956 and you have really started something too.