In 2016, Sharon and I visited Cuba. We used a private guided tour to plan our trip that, at the time, met all the requirements from the United States government. Things have changed for tourists since then, but that doesn’t make the story of my taxi adventure any less funny.
We’ve lived in Florida for a long while and since I work in a customer-facing job, I’ve picked up a bit of Spanish. Enough that I thought I’d be able to work my way around a Spanish speaking country. What I learned when in a taxi in Havana is that I really don’t speak Spanish at all.
The story starts early in the evening. After our scheduled activities for the day, we had a private taxi booked for the evening to drop us off for drinks at El Floridita (Ernest Hemingway used to drink there. Well, he drank everywhere, but back to my story…) before heading to dinner, and then we’d get a ride to the Tropicana (yes, THE Tropicana. What a place. But that’s for another post). We had a great time at dinner and were running late. Not wanting to miss the show, I volunteered to be the one to head back to our taxi and get the driver to meet the rest of our party at the restaurant, to save time.
I paid a pedicab driver an excessive amount of money (based on his reaction to my offer) to pedal me back to our taxi meeting point. That’s when I found our driver and had to try and tell him we needed to pick up the rest of the party at the restaurant.
His first question was about my friends, I gathered because I heard the word “amigo” or something similar. This was when I realized I didn’t really speak any Spanish that would help me.
I said in Spanglish that my friends were “allí” (THERE) and pointed in the direction of the restaurant (the restaurant was a small hole in the wall place and didn’t even have a sign outside; I didn’t have the address of it, anyway. I just knew how to get there, going backwards from the pedicab ride). I got into the taxi and embarked on the strangest game of charades/linguistics I’ve ever been a part of.
What made things more challenging was that the roads we were taking in the taxi were different from the ones I’d earlier walked and rode on the pedicab. Between my broken Spanish and hand movements, we worked our way towards our destination. We were two blocks past the restaurant before I started gesturing wildly to turn around. Luckily, random U-Turns are allowed in Havana, and somehow we ended up pulling up at the restaurant exactly when the rest of our party were heading outside from dinner.
We made it from the restaurant to the Tropicana in plenty of time for the show. At the end of the night, the same driver dropped us off at our casa particular (Cuban version of a bed & breakfast). During the ride, we had a great time speaking with him between our Spanish and his English. He asked if we liked baseball and if we knew Derek Jeter from the N.Y. Yankees (because, of course, everyone in America must personally know the players on the Yankees). He also let us plug our iPhone into his stereo system so we could play our own music on the ride home.
We tipped him well for his troubles.
At this point in the trip, I stopped trying to speak Spanish. The 10 words I knew weren’t going to do much for me unless I needed to find a bathroom or wanted to order a beer.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary