Around Cuba’s Bay Of Pigs In A 1929 Ford Model T Convertible

Let’s play a quick word association game. I say “Bay of Pigs,” you tell me what comes to mind.

Fidel Castro? Communism? Failed CIA missions?

When I think of the Bay of Pigs, I think of crystal clear water stretching out as far as the eye can see. I think of black sand beaches and snorkel rentals. I think of a beautifully restored 1929 Ford Model T convertible, driven by a young man in a woven straw hat.

When my boyfriend and I traveled to Cuba last summer, we had few plans apart from exploring the cobblestoned streets of Havana. But after a few days in the capital, we felt the urge to escape. I wanted more culture and history; my boyfriend wanted nature and the beach.

We compromised with a trip to the Bahia de Cochinos on the southern coast of Cuba, better known to Americans as the Bay of Pigs. Guidebooks promised great snorkeling and scuba diving; I was more intrigued by the bay’s storied past.

%Gallery-172730%The Bay of Pigs leapt to notoriety after an unsuccessful American CIA mission to invade Cuba in April 1961. Upon landing, the U.S.-trained troops were handily defeated by Fidel Castro’s forces in a matter of days. It was a turning point in the Cold War, proving the fallibility of the United States while reinforcing the strength of the Castro’s Communist regime.

Today, it’s hard to imagine the Bay of Pigs embroiled in anything but epic mosquito swarms. The bay holds the swampy Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata to the west, the black sand Playa Larga in the center and the rocky Playa Giron to the east. We arrived via taxi from nearby Cienfuegos and stayed at the Casa Enrique Rivas Fente in Playa Larga, one of a handful of privately owned casas particulares that dot the sandy strip. The rooms were basic but clean, and meal offerings included fresh grilled lobster and squid. Since we arrived on a Saturday night, we were welcomed by a private chanteur, who played Cuban music for a troupe of Ukrainian salsa dancers staying at the casa next door.

Between mojitos, we asked our host for the best way to explore the peninsula. We had in mind bicycles, or perhaps a CUC$2 motorbike ride from stop to stop. Instead, our host recommended a taxi service run by her son. “This is the best way,” she assured us, a hint of mischief in her eye. We balked at the CUC$35 fee, but given the remote nature of the guesthouse and region, we had little choice.

The next morning, we arose to breakfast and the sight of a perfectly preserved 1929 Ford Model T convertible parked in the driveway. This would be our ride for the day, our host informed us. Budget concerns aside, it was difficult to protest.

We hit the road, bound for the Cueva de los Peces, an inland freshwater swimming hole formed from a flooded cave. The water is refreshing but deep, stretching 230 feet into the ground. Nearby is a stand where you can rent scuba and snorkeling gear, and across the road is a rocky bluff looking out onto pristine white-sand snorkeling ground. Beach chairs are available for hire, but the real draw is the water, with its clear visibility, bright coral and sprightly tropical fish. Our driver staked out a spot by the snorkel stand and traded car tips with his friends while we enjoyed the sea.

After working up an appetite from the ocean air, we continued to Punta de Perdiz, a popular spot on Playa Giron with an on-site restaurant and cabanas. A serving of arroz con pollo and a Cristal beer hit the spot. The cabanas at Punta de Perdiz were slightly more conducive to lounging and reading, so we alternated baking in the sun with more dips in the water.

At one point, I staked out a spot on a bluff and looked out onto the sea. I tried to imagine undercover sea craft entering the bay and helicopters dropping paratroopers into the jungle. I thought about America’s contentious relationship with Cuba, about the outdated judgments many still hold toward Cuba and about our trip thus far. There’s a widespread belief that once foreigners are freely able to visit and invest in Cuba, the island will become a wasteland of gringo tourists and McDonald’s. With travel restrictions continuing to loosen, it will require a serious commitment to sustainable tourism and development to ensure that Cuba can benefit from increased development, without losing what makes it so special.

A few hours later, we hopped into the Model T and headed back to reality, impressions of the bay forever changed.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Want To Learn How To Drive a Model T Ford? This Museum Will Teach You

The Model T Ford was the most successful car design in history. From 1908 to 1927, more than 15 million were sold at a price so affordable that cars went from being playthings of the wealthy to a common item for any middle class household. For better or worse, today’s car culture is a direct product of the Model T.

Now the Collin County Farm Museum is offering courses in driving the Model T Ford. This isn’t just your standard stick shift. It takes up to fifteen minutes and a fair amount of strength to start, and has all sorts of peddles and cranks unfamiliar to anyone accustomed to driving modern cars. The license will allow you to drive the museum’s very own restored Model T, part of its large collection of vintage vehicles.

The Model T appeared at a time when paved roads were rare, and it was made tough enough to stand driving over fields and up steep slopes. They could take a lot of abuse, which is probably why there are so many left today. There’s a limit to what they can take, though. Don’t drive them like they did in this slapstick comedy or you’ll fail the course and probably get arrested.

Name My (Sweet) Ride for a Chance to Win a HP Veer phone


One of my colleagues once nicknamed his father’s 2000 Miata “The Penis Extension”. In hindsight, “Extension” could have been changed to “Reduction,” but I give him credit for trying. And the guy had a point, anyone with an emotional engagement with their vehicle needs to name it — it’s a way of connecting and making the journey personal, or, if you’re lucky a way to win a phone (details below.)

As Americans, we tend to grow attached to our cars, which isn’t surprising considering its easy to put a couple hundred thousand miles behind the wheel of one auto. Emotional bonds are bound to be made, identities defined, and nicknames assigned.

Which is all to say I need to name my ride.

The problem? I have no experience in naming cars. Not the Volkswagen Fox, not the Ford Contour, not the 1969 Dodge Swinger (Heyo!) not the many rentals I’ve used to escape the surly bonds of Manhattan, where I live.

So I’ve enlisted the help of colleagues to provide a little inspiration for this exercise.

Gadling’s fearless leader Grant Martin once had a 1989 Honda Hatchback he affectionately named Jeco Speeder. So very…Grant.

A colleague to remain unnamed calls her Mazda 3 Crackerjack for reasons only known to her. AOL Travel Assistant Editor Rebecca Dolan named her 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid Knight Rider. When asked why she called it Knight Rider she replied, “I don’t know.”

Knight Rider (Minus David Hasselhoff)

Rebecca’s father called their 1970 “brown” (that’s all she can remember about the name) pickup The Sled.

The Bee is what Senior Editor Chris Anderson not-so-affectionately nicknamed his first car, a yellow 1977 Toyota Celica that sounded like a bee with a hyperextended wing.

Finally, an editor-not-to-be-named-ever was once the proud owner of a 1994 Ford Taurus which he named Boris. Yes, Boris the Ford Taurus.

Boris?

There’s too much awesome contained in the name for Boris the Ford Taurus. I need some of that awesome applied to naming my Ford.

Inspired yet?

When you’ve got a suggestion, drop it in the comments here or message me on Twitter. The best name will live in glory, at least for the summer, and to help you come up with good submissions we’re giving the winner ONE FREE HP VEER PHONE (valued at $99.99) . Just go easy on the phallic references.

[flickr image via Kim Scarborough]

This giveaway is open to legal residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older. To enter, comment below and name the Traveling the American Road car. You must comment before 11:59pm on Tuesday, June 21st and may enter only once. 1 winner will be chosen at random to receive one HP Veer phone valued at $99.99. Click here for the official rules.

Making Cars in the Great Lakes: Inside Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant

Before I left Chicago for points east, I had a chance to tour Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, a complex that finishes about 1160 vehicles a day. A great majority of those are Ford Explorers, pieced together by line workers wearing safety glasses and headphones, working pneumatic tools in a hypnotizing ballet of endless repetition. Whir, whir, whir.

Walking the floor, following pedestrian pathways marked by bright yellow paint, I watched linemen and women raise engine assemblies into vehicle bodies, hang doors and bolt wheels, as conveyor belts ceaselessly inched the unfinished machines ever forward. (A tip: When touring the plant, one steps over the drive-chains running through channels in the floor.)

My tour guide Larry, a dead ringer for Jesse Ventura, even let me jump in a just-finished Explorer the moment it rolled off the line. Videographer Stephen Greenwood, who’s riding along for this part of my ride, captured the mesmerizing shots after the break.

Traveling the American Road – Ford Assembly Plant Tour


Win $200 from REI and Ford Explorer on our Facebook page

2011 Ford Explorer
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ford and Gadling have teamed up to bring you $200 toward whatever REI adventures, gear and clothing you fancy!

The giveaway is in celebration of the new, reinvented 2011 Ford Explorer (above). This vehicle not only has the right name for a traveler (“explorer”), but it includes an all-new Advanced Terrain Management System with special modes for mud, snow and sand. Other features include industry-first rear inflatable seat belts, Trinity front impact structure, AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control) and Curve Control functionality, and it aims to raise your expectations about SUV fuel efficiency with a 20 percent miles-per-gallon improvement from their 2010 model. The vehicle has the tagline “Redefining what it means to be an SUV,” and you can read lots more about it on the 2011 Ford Explorer website or become a fan on the Ford Explorer Facebook page, where you can find videos, executive interviews and more.

And now, the giveaway: this $200 REI gift card can totally stock your adventure vehicle with gear for all terrains, including boots, snowshoes, paddles, skis, camping equipment, backpacks and state-of-the-art electronics. They also have attractive, comfortable apparel for men, women and kids (for the less outdoorsy).

In addition to the $200 gift card, you can have an adventure tip that you wrote featured on the Ford Explorer Facebook page.

How to win:To enter our first-ever Facebook Giveaway, follow these three steps — and be sure and read carefully or we might not see your entry!

1. To enter, visit the Gadling Facebook page and click “Like.” (If you’ve already done that, the button won’t show up and you don’t have to do it again.)

2. Go to your own profile and type the “@” symbol, then the word “Gadling,” like “@Gadling.” The icon for the Gadling Facebook page will come up, and by clicking it, you’ll be tagging us in your post. That’s how we’ll see it!

3. Share an adventure travel tip of yours — anything is fair game, from rock climbing to cross-country skiing.

We’ll choose one winner to receive the $200 gift card to REI and have their tip featured on the Ford Explorer Facebook page! You know you need something for your next adventure. Get it free — or at least $200 cheaper.

Legalese:

  • The comment must be left before Wednesday, September 1st at 5pm Eastern time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will receive a $200 gift card to REI and have their tip featured on Ford Explorer’s Facebook page.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • Prize valued at $200.
  • Click here for complete Official Rules