The Tour of Cuba
The Adventures of Hans and Andres
The Tour of Cuba- by Hans 11/12/05-11/19/05 565 Miles by Bicycle
It was on or around the 10th day of October when Andres called me and said “Hey Hans you want to do a bike tour in November before Thanksgiving?” Well you know I was born to have adventure so I said sure where to? We talked about the Oregon Coast and then decided it is to cold and wet in November, maybe Mexico? I had been thinking about Cuba so I threw it out there. My Mom was born and raised in Cuba and I wanted to see this place were she grew up. She moved to the States with many of her brothers and sisters in 1944 at the age of 15. My Aunt Jenny stayed there until around 1956 and then moved to the states also. I have also wanted to learn Spanish so I figured this would help with that too. So in less than a ten minute conversation we were set on Cuba. The forbidden land just 90 miles from the U.S.A.
In the next few days we picked up some books and maps and began to plan our adventure. There were so many things to get worked out in only a few weeks. Like what bikes to bring? We thought about heavy duty touring bikes or mountain bikes. We decided on the lighter road bikes. I would bring my old Bianchi road bike (Though my old road bike is not much lighter than my mountain bike) and Andres would bring his Bianchi also. We put on heavy duty tires to handle the rough roads. My bike weighed in at a heavy 29 pounds. Once I put my gear on it was around 47 pounds. Andres’ bike weighed in at 19 pounds + 23 gear = 42. Heavy loads yes but compared to how most people tour they are light. We would later see people on the road that looked like they had 50-60 pounds of gear.
We knew we wanted to travel east to west as that is the directions the trade winds blow. There were a few options on the route. We could take the coastal route or the inland route. We decided we would figure it out when we got there.
I decided to go to Havana a week before the bike tour would start to take some Spanish lessons and see the city of Havana. The city is a very historic place, It is quite an amazing place. The classes went well and I met some great people from around the world. The other students were Europeans and mostly women. I was the only American. It was fun being a student again. The main thing I learned is one week is not enough time to learn very much Spanish but it was a start. I did learn some such as Donde esta el Baño? (Where is the bathroom?) This would come in very handy later in the trip since I would be spending a lot of time there!
Andres was flying in on Friday the 11th and that was the day it hit me! It started with the chills, loss of appetite and then donde esta el baño! I was in bed at 2:00 pm on Friday and could not get up until about 10:00 pm when I went down to meet Andres. It takes a lot to put me down like that! This was a bad one. It was either a stomach flu or food poison?
Andres finally arrived at around 1:15 am. I told him I was sick. Would I be able to do the bike tour? Should we have an alternate plan? He asked. I told him I would be fine in a day or two. The tour must go on!
Unfortunately I could not eat or drink for the next few days. I was dehydrated and losing weight. I began to force myself to eat and drink even though it hurt to do so. I knew I would need the nourishment for the ride.
For most of the ride Andres was my Domestique. For that I owe him big time! If you are not familiar with the cycling term Domestique that is a teammate that rides in front of the team leader breaking the wind allowing the team leader to save his energy.
We decided to take the Coastal route after talking to some of the locals in Santiago. It had been damaged in June by hurricane Dennis. It was not passable in a car but on bike or horse they said it was good. Well this is what road cyclist look for, a road without cars! Once we were about 10 miles from Santiago we only saw a few cars. One car pulled alongside they shouted a hello and offered me some beer. When I told them I did not drink they went to Andres and he accepted the beer and drank it down. Andres told them our ride plan and they said I would not make it since I did not drink beer. We would find out later what they meant. This was the closest thing to a support vehicle we would have on this ride.
The scenery along this route was awesome! It was similar to the Central California coast.
The second day of riding we saw only two cars all day. There were many horse back riders and horse drawn carriages. Wild goats were everywhere. There were some areas where the road was rough and there were sections that were unpaved but they were short sections. We had some hills to deal with and they really kicked my butt! Once the road turned away from the coast we hit a head wind that nearly stopped us in our tracks! We pushed on! I was hurting bad. I was still so dehydrated from the stomach flu. I had to dig dip to keep the pedals spinning. Andres my domestique held the lead for around 80% of it. It was around 3:00 pm when I could not take it anymore and I suggested we hitchhike. A minute later a big truck came by I stuck out my thumb and thankfully they stopped. We hopped in the back of the truck with some locals and a big bin of pig’s heads and guts. They gave us a ride for around 15 miles to the point where they were turning off.
The second to the last day of riding things got real interesting. We were warned of a section of unpaved road by a Swiss couple that we ran into. The unpaved section ran along the coast for around 24 miles and was said to be pretty bad. They looked at our bikes and said they did not think we could get through there on our skinny tired bikes. We decided we would do it anyway.
It was around 2:30 pm when we got on the ferry to cross the Cienfuegos Bay. It was much later than we wanted. One of the locals on the other side had offered to make us a lobster lunch for $6 and we could not refuse a chance to eat at a good price too. It took longer than we wanted for them to prepare the meal. We still had the 24 miles on dirt and 15 on pavement to do. It would be dark by 6:15 so we did not have much time. We knocked out the first paved section very quickly then turned onto the dirt road. It started off smooth, wide and pretty flat.
At first it was fun riding on this dirt road. We are mountain bikers on road bikes after all! Oh yes but we are on road bikes! After around five miles the road got rough. It was starting to get very rocky, overgrown and there were sticks and twigs everywhere. We were about an hour into this jungle when a stick bounced up into my dérailleur. We stopped to see the derailleur was bent. The mosquitos began to swarm so I quickly straightened it as best as I could and we were on our way.
We had done so well until this point on the ride. Over 400 miles behind us and this was the first mechanical. Not even a flat tire in 400 miles. A few miles later a small stick would penetrate and flatten my tire. Again we fix it as quickly as we can and push on. A few more miles and I get another stick in the derailleur. This time I break a spoke and bend the derailleur even more. Hey are those Vultures following us? It sure seems that way! It is 5:00 pm and I begin to wonder if we are going to make it out of there before dark? Then finally the road widens and smoothes out. We pick up the pace in our race against the impending darkness. A few miles later I get another flat. This time it is the front tire. We stop and fix it and get twenty mosquito bites in the process. It is now almost dark and Andres straps on his four LED head light. At long last the dirt road turns to pavement! It feels so smooth under our wheels. We spot a house and a few guys out in front. Que tan lejos Giron? We ask. 8 km’s is the response. Alright almost there! It is now dark and we are riding through what can only be described as a mosquito storm. We dare not speak as we would have to open our mouths to do so. This we know would lead to the eating of many mosquitos’s so we are silent for the next eight kilometers. After 94 miles for the day on some challenging terrain we see the lights of the Pueblo Giron.
The final day of riding we figure we are 120 miles from Havana. We want to ride victoriously into the city. However, we know it is a long way away. This is our seventh consecutive day of riding. We are tired and not well rested. Last nights accommodations were not exactly the Hilton! I only have two of my six gears working in the rear due to the bent derailleur and I have some resistance due to chain drag. I don’t dare try to straighten the derailleur any more in fear it will break. The chances of finding a new derailleur here are zero. You can’t even find toilet paper! We decide we will ride until we are too tired to ride any more. We can then catch a taxi our hitch a ride with our tails between our legs into Havana.
We start riding and after an hour or so we find a store with water and Malta. We drink as much as we can. Everything is in our favor now. The wind is at our backs, the road is flat and smooth (most of it anyway) and the weather is much cooler than it has been. There is cloud cover so it is humid but the sun is blocked by the clouds. We are cranking out the miles. The pain is there but we try not to think about it. I get into my music to pass the time. This is actually the easiest terrain we have encountered the entire trip. We are getting closer to the city and there are more stores and restaurants now. We break a few times to eat and drink. At around 100 miles into the ride we came across a local on a bike and ask que tan lejos Havana? He says it is 20 kilometers! 12 miles! It is closer than we thought! We smile and start to pedal faster. Andres shouts “Viva La Revolución!” This is a saying that you can not go 5 miles in Cuba with out seeing somewhere. Andres is referring to the pedal revolution though not the Cuban revolution!
We catch the first views of Havana. We smile and high five each other! We made it! After 115 miles we proudly roll into Havana victoriously to cheering crowds! Well ok there were crowds but they were only cheering for us in our delirious minds.
Ride states: 565 miles in 7 days of riding. 80 miles a day is our average. There were 2 flat tires, 1 broken spoke and a bent derailleur. All mine. Andres made it through the trip without even a flat tire. I lost 13 pounds on the trip.
We decide to check a hotel thinking we deserve a nice place to stay after all this. The hotel is expensive and it is full anyway. We decide to head back to the part of town were I was staying before the tour and get a Casa there. Before we do we ask the Hotel manager if he knows of anyone that would want to buy my bike for $100. He looks it over for a second and says he will buy it for his son.
Ten minutes after rolling into town on my old Bianchi Italian machine she is sold. I hope she brings the same feeling of complete and total freedom that I felt when I rode her to some not so free individual!
Now it’s time for the victory celebration. We enjoy a victory malta on the street. Malta is sort of like a root beer. Then a few drinks and a nice dinner in Havana Vieja with some of my Spanish student friends. Andres is ready to party all night!
Bike touring is an awesome way to see places. It allows you to really see things and get in touch with the people. Try it you will love it.
You may wonder how this trip compares to last years San Francisco to L.A. tour. Well last years trip was like a fairy tale compared to this! On that trip we stayed at nice Hotels and Motels. We ate like Kings and traveled very light.
Don’t get me wrong we loved the Cuba tour. It was a life changing adventure. It was just much tougher.
The people of Cuba:
I could go on for days about the people we met along the way. The people of Cuba are the friendliest people I have ever met! When we were riding by everyone would say hello, smile and wave. Our arms were just as tired as our legs from waving back to everyone. It was like we were in a parade. Kids would run up to us some even stopped us just to talk with us. We took pictures of some of the people and they were amazed to see themselves on the screen of the digital camera. Andres said it best “We were like rock stars on bikes” When we stopped in the small towns people would gather around and check us and our bikes out. They wanted to know where we were from and where we were riding to and from. They were also amazed by our bikes. Many asked if they were professional bikes. They all have single speed Chinese clunkers there. When we told them our ride plans many said it was not possible. It was too far in such a short time.
Yes there were the people with the hands out asking for money. There were also those with there hands out to give. Like the gentleman in Santiago that overheard Andres ask another man where he could buy a cigar. He came out and handed Andres a cigar. There were many offers of Rum along the way. There were the girls who gave us oranges to eat when we were passing through a small town. They made us laugh too! There was the guy who after showing us around town looking for a Casa offered us a place to stay in his own home after we found all the Casas were already full.
Though we only talked politics with a few people we could feel the underlying tone was people were ready for change. The guy in the back of the pig truck gave Andres an earful. He said he had fought in the revolution with Fidel and Che. He is convinced the system works and blamed all of Cuba’s troubles on the U.S. embargo. He said before the revolution there was a lot of prostitution and now there was none. Apparently he does not get out of that little town much. We were offered girls a few times along the way. I think if he was along on the bike tour with us he would think differently.
I understand how Che and Fidel felt. I am a compassionate man and hate to see people suffer living in poverty as Che saw on his motorcycle tour of South America. (See Motorcycle Diaries) Well sorry to say Che the system is not working! Many Cubano’s are living with nothing. Though they have nothing they seem happy. (Must be that cheap rum?) The people that are doing well are those that have figured out how to tweak the system. There are people who do not work that seem to be doing well and then there are those that are busting there backs all day for 18.00 dollars per month a sack of beans and a sack of rice. A pair of pants cost 6.00 dollars so you can see 18.00 dollars will not go very far. Let me just say if you live below the poverty level in America you would be living really well in Cuba.
We took a ride with a hack taxi driver. He jokingly asked if I would change passports with him so he could go to America. He has attempted to escape Cuba two times on makeshift rafts. The first time his cousin became dehydrated and almost died so he had to return to Cuba. The second time he made it six miles off the Florida coast when he was picked up by the U.S. Coast guard and returned to Cuba. He received two months in jail. He is not allowed to go to the beach and he is not allowed to work. That is why he is driving an illegal taxi. He is a skilled computer technician and asked where else in the world would a person with his skills be driving a taxi?
Thanksgiving will have an entirely new meaning for me this year! We are so lucky to live in the States! People are willing to risk there lives to get here! So many things we have we take for granted. I am not talking about big fancy houses our cars I am talking about the basic things we use everyday and think nothing of it. Such as: A hot shower, water pressure, drinking water, a toilet seat, toilet paper, a clean bed, fully stocked stores everywhere… These are the things that most of the people of Cuba go without everyday. I don’t know how but they still walk around with a smile on there face!
I have never felt so fortunate and Rich in all my life. Every year at Thanksgiving my Mom breaks down and cries now I think I truly understand why! This year I may even cry with her.
Andres’ Journal of the trip:
OTB 565 Vuelta a Cuba
Pre ride Departing weight:
18 lbs bag 3.5 lbs Cliff/Luna bars and powder 1.5 lbs rack 19 lbs bike Packing list:
Bike: Giro bianchi w bontrager 700×28 tires and 535 shimano wheels (rusty) Topeak quick MTX quick track bag with fly for rain protection Topeak type E MTX rack Helmet Gloves Windbreaker Sunglasses 2 sets (riding and reg) 2 compression bags large and small Flip flops Convertible pants Shorts Long sleeve Hawaiian shirt (not taken) 2 exofficio t shirts 2 exofficio underwear Cycling jersey green cannondale Adidas running shirt 3 pairs of socks 2 pairs of cycling shorts Swimming trunks Cycling shoes nike Pack towel Bandana Swimming goggles First aid kit Nail clipper Deodorant Toothbrush and paste Water purification tablets 12 sheets of baby wipes Camp Soap Shampoo Liquid Laundry soap Hair gel Foot powder in zip loc bag Floss (no container) Plastic Mirror Razor 2 small containers of CK one and B Pen Bug repellent sun block 2 in 1 Flask with 8 oz of 8 year old rum 12 luna and cliff bars Gum (2 packs of dentine hard shell) Powder to make 5.5 gallons of gatorade (22 scoops) Three water bottles 2 spare tires 2 spare tubes Spare Shims for rack attachment Rear light Electrical tape Zip ties Pump Pedal tool Leatherman multitool Glueless patch kit and regular kit Chain tool Pedros tire levers Knife 3 CO2 cartridges and pump Specialized mini pump Sony cybershot p100 with 1 gig Sony charger and tripod Blackberry with charger 2 emergency ponchos Headlamp Extra zip loc bags Bike rag Lonely planet “Cycling Cuba” Foldable map of cuba
The following log was written at the end of each day before going to bed. Enjoy…
Departed Santa Barbara at 2 in the morning, drove to my friend Sergio’s house and took the flyaway from Van Nuys. Check in and flight to Mexico City went on with no incident. We flew over “Canon del Cobre” and it was an amazing sight, deeper than the Grand Canyon, this place will make a great place for expeditions.
Departing Mexico city proved to be a little bit of a hassle since I was using Aeromexico and my ticket was booked through Delta. Apparently, these two companies didn’t know that they were partners. I took it upon myself to make it official, and let them know that, indeed, they were partners. Finally, they agreed to let me aboard, and I left Mexico City with a great sense of accomplishment; creating a partnership that, hopefully, will last until my return next week..
In preparations for my arrival, Hans instructed me to bring plenty of food and drinks because the airport in Cancun had no restaurants open; Due to the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. I followed his instructions to the letter: Ate breakfast at LAX, ate breakfast during flight, ate lunch in Mexico city, and ate lunch en route to Cancun, just in case. When I arrived in Cancun the restaurants were open, so I ate again, just in case I was missing something. After this eating frenzy, I was pretty full . Now I was sure, that the 3.5 lbs of food and Gatorade that I had been carrying all along for the hurricane emergency, were, in fact, untouched.
Now, on to La Habana… (Havana)
Arrived in La Habana after a short flight from Cancun, 50 min. Customs was very slow, I was surprised to see how modern the airport was. I took a cab to Vedado were Hans was staying, this place was very close to el Malecon, after arriving there, I found out that the 20 min ride was worth 25 dollars. Just a taste of things to come in terms of prices. I arrived well past midnight and found Hans on his deathbed, apparently, a stomach flu had gotten the best of him and he had been in bed the whole day. Even though we had an early flight, I decided to go and take a walk to the world famous Malecon. The social scene was amazing, young, old, gay, every type of person was around el Malecon drinking , talking, singing, and having a good ‘ol’ time. I walked around , went to a bar had some rum. I decided to call it a night around 2:30am. We have an Epic ride tomorrow.
Woke up at 7:00, packed the bags and put the bike together for our flight to Santiago, upon arriving at the airport we found out that our flight had left, we had not checked the tickets. We went to another airline and got in their waiting list. After a long wait in front of a counter , the friendly attendant gave us seats. Maybe she felt sorry for the two bikers that were about to attempt something crazy , or she felt some sympathy for us due to the fact that her husband was a former member of the National cycling team. No matter what her reason was, Heredia saved the day. The flight lasted two hours and we arrived at the airport in Santiago, eager to ride, at least me, Hans was just eager of finding a clean bathroom. How do you spell diarrhea ? The baggage handlers were impressed with our italian made bikes and asked us tons of questions while we put them together. One in particular, Marcel , offered us his cousin’s casa particular in downtown Santiago, $10 a night sounded like a good deal anywhere. We arrived at Leonel’s and Estelas’s house and the friendly man offered his services and a wide ranging menu, from lobster to chicken. He had it all.He even applied “Ben Gay” to my foot after a sprain that I suffered on my way from the airport. We went around Santiago and found it to be a charming town. The locals were friendly but wanted money for just saying hello. A local named Carmen offered a picture and then charged us $1.50 for her modeling time. The only thing that we got for free was a cuban cigar at a local bookshop where the owner was proud to show me a Colombian bill that somebody had donated on his wall. Dinner was at Leonels’ house at 7:00, chicken, congris, fried plantains and orange juice. We were ready for bed…
11/13/05 Santiago de Cuba – Ocujal
Total distance covered 75.3 miles-
Breakdown: 47.4 miles to lunch at chivirico At 13.8 avg speed 27.9 miles to lodging at Ocujal at 12.9 avg
Woke up had a good breakfast with Estela and Leonel. During breakfast Leonel suggested we go back to our original plan and take the coast route. We knew it would be longer and we knew that the road was bad, but climbing would be less and it woul dbe more scenic. After a few minutes we decided to take the coast route and we left. We paid $52 convertibles to Leonel for his lodging,dinner, breakfast , and three bottles of water. The foot massage was complimentary. After pictures , hugs, email address exchanges and some soliciting from Leonel for my lycra pants we left for the coast route. Our plan, to cover as many miles as possible. We departed Santiago at 0931. The road had holes all over the place from the beginning but finding the route was an easy task. We reached the ocean and were taken by the turquoise colors and beautiful surroundings. Everybody said hello around here, cars, buses, trucks, bikers; we even had a support car offer us beer, and of course, I drank it. The further we got the less cars we saw, the further we rode , the more beautiful the countryside became.
The road was good in some areas, then bad, then good again. However never a big challenge for our skinny tires, so far… We met a couple from switzerland, biking in the other direction, we took the opportunity to find out about the route ahead; Since they were coming from Varadero and Matanzas, one of our possible routes. They showed us the map and gave us excellent tips on the road ahead, water stops, towns to visit, and hazards. They had been biking for a month already, they even had adopted Cuban names now, Miguel and Jazmin. After a snapshot of our guides we left and continued a little concerned, Miguel had looked at our bikes in disbelief that we could make the terrain ahead.
We stopped for lunch at Chivirico and got the worst lunch for the highest price so far, $13 for pork and two portions of rice and beans, and “natural” (tap) water. At lunch we made the decision to stop at around mile 80. We would ride to campismo La Mula and call it a day. We rode through more beautiful coastline and lonely roads , every turn was a different sight, a different sound. It was definitively a treat to be here. Not a single tourist, the road to ourselves.
We reached La Mula and to our surprise it was closed, however they sold us badly needed water and gave us directions to find lodging in the next town, 5 km away. We arrived at “Ocujal” and went to the house of Migdalia,” the public phone house”. There, Migdalia offered us a room for $5 each and we took the bargain. After unloading, we went for an ocean dip, the ocean was choppy, so we got in and out. Dinner was a fancy mini feast, $5 dollar lobster, rice, and fried plantains, prepared by her daughter Yamile. After dinner we played with Robernando, “landi”, the biggest pain in the ass, 5 year old that I’ve met in my life. He drank Hans’ water, drank my gatorade, used our bathroom stuff and asked questions on the functions of all our gear, again and again while calling us “Tio” (uncle in spanish). Luckily he fell asleep.
Before going to bed I watched “The day after tomorrow” on DVD with some of her family and then I talked to Migdalia in the backyard of the house, surrounded by a beautiful night. She told me about how happy she was of living there, the good neighbors she had, and how wonderful Fidel was when hurricanes struck Cuba, because he personally reported on TV. I found out that she had two daughters in Switzerland that had married two Swiss guys passing through town years before. Migdalia was lucky enough to visit Switzerland, she liked it , but it was too cold for her Caribbean taste.
Day 2 11/14/05 Ocujal – Campechuela
Total distance covered 79.5 miles
Breakdown: 3:43 to Pilon 41 miles 11.6 avg 1740 ascent 3:22 to Campechuela 38.5 miles 11.4 avg 1320 ascent
Our alarm was set at 0600 am but we both missed it; I had earplugs , and Hans was having dreams with Bradley, a member of our biking club. At 6:40 we started getting our gear together, got some breakfast and prepared for departure. We paid $25 for lodging, lobster, and breakfast. After some pictures we said good bye to Migdalia and started day #2.
The ride started with some of the most impressive countryside so far, no cars, and an incredible sense of remoteness. We did not encounter anybody for most of the morning. The major change was that hills kept getting longer and bigger, something that we did not expect. We purified water at a stream, and that was enough to get us to Pilon after 3:43 min of riding and 41 miles. At Pilon we found the Cuban version of the 7/11 , 24 hour service but very little inventory, however, we found water for 70 cents and Malta with Olives which were good to stay hydrated. Hans really enjoyed the Malta, he might have a Malta drinking problem. We left Pilon and encountered the biggest hill so far, called “La Herradura”, this hill was about 3 miles long but after a long day of riding it was the last thing that we wanted to do. Once the hill ended, we started looking for places to eat. Media Luna was the next town and it did not look very far ; to our surprise, headwinds were coming our way and this made the ride twice as hard, our average speed dropped, and our strength diminished.
Once we reached Media Luna we found out that there were no restaurants open and we had to wait two hours for service. We ate some bread and I drank beer with two locals, after declining their offers to get us hookers we decided that riding to the next town would be best.
Campechuela was 12 miles away, with the head winds it would take us at least one hour to reach it. We reached Campechuela tired, hungry, and thirsty. We found that the Hotel would not serve food until 6pm, another 30 minutes of waiting. We decided to wait for the sag wagon to Manzanillo but no trucks passed to give us a ride. The roach motel was the only choice, we were stuck in Campechuela. Again, we had no water pressure, and no toilet paper. The menu offered pork and beer, Hans’ favorite items. After walking into the dining room and getting just my food served, the power in the whole town went out.
They moved our table outside and we were lucky enough to have a full moon with a nice breeze to go with our dinner, Hans even got his chicken wish. Having just enough light to see the food was actually good, we did not want to look. During our dinner we met Azucena, a 70 year old woman that came to town to sell produce from her farm. Her friendly demeanor and good attitude made us forget all the crap that we were going through. She was spending the night at the bus station before going back to her ranch…We, at least, had a bed. Good night
Day 3 11/15/05
Total distance covered 61 miles-
Not a good night in Campechuela, mosquitoes, ants, no water, no breakfast. We left the Hotel after cleaning ants from our packs, and left with no water or food. We stopped in town to get some food at a local restaurant. The bread was fresh, and for the first time we were drinking local juices, we were THIRSTY. Fritaduras with bread were also in the menu. Now we found out that using cuban money is the way to go. Seven juices, bread, and fritaduras; All of this for less than 25 cents. We just need somebody willing to change our money for Cuban money, they are usually afraid. The ride started with the same headwinds of yesterday, the difference was that this time we are tired, and thirsty. Arriving in Manzanillo was good, after going to the local hotel and finding no service, we found a convenience store that sold pizza, cold water, and Malta; we were happy. Cupet Mart, saves the day, once again.
Leaving Manzanillo, our destination was Bayamo but when we got to the intersection of Las Tunas, we decided that the headwinds would be less on the road to Las Tunas, we were wrong. Headwinds persisted and the ride did not get any easier, the distance to Las Tunas was 54 miles. After riding for about 10 miles , Hans suggested hitchhiking for a truck, I did not mind the idea. We stopped a truck and there we got the opportunity to meet Don Pepe, who was a former member of the combat troops in Sierra Maestra, he fought side by side with Fidel Castro. Don Pepe did not hesitate to give me his Communist doctrine during this pork meat delivery truck ride at 40 mph in the bed of a ten wheeler holding our bikes, and holding on for dear life.
The truck put us in a road with less headwind and in our way to Las Tunas, we stopped at Vado de Yeso for lunch and to our surprise we found the best lunch facilities so far, a brand new restaurant called Oasis. At Oasis we were treated like royalty, the food was alright but the change was great .Continuing our ride to Las Tunas was not easy, our butts and hands are sore, each mile is a victory. Arriving into Las Tunas we found the biggest treat so far, a good hotel with showers, pool,internet, and a restaurant! The price , $12 each. We took it , no questions asked .Dinner was good, $12 got us Chicken/beef, rice, water, tomatoes, plantains, and dessert.
We were tired; it has been a long three days with pain. However, the people that we encounter on the road always return a smile, a wave, or a simple “buenas”. Riding is tough, but this is the only way to experience the people side of Cuba. For example,today, while riding by a food stand in Vado de Yeso, some girls offered us Naranja agria, for free. Yulinda and her friends made our day, they made us laugh and gave us energy. After meeting them, our day changed, the ride got easier, we found a good restaurant, a clean bathroom, and the wind shifted, just a little bit. Oh, the power of a smile..:)
Day 4 11/16/05 Las Tunas-Camaguey-Ciego de Avila-Sancti Spiritus
Total distance covered 69 miles bikingBreakdown: To train station 1.8 mi Leg 1 Taxi to Camaguey Leg 2 before lunch 3.6 mi, after bike 4 hrs 63.6 mi 17.3 avg 70 cadence Leg 3 taxi to sancti spiriti
Left Las tunas after a good breakfast at the hotel, clothes were not dry but we were not planning to ride until the afternoon. We went to the train station and after finding no trains until midnight, we started looking for private transportation. A local offered a ride to Camaguey for 30 dollars which we did not bargain for, big mistake. The ride was actually nice with Gustavo and Victor, later on we picked up Manuel, another character who had been in Colombia for two years, we talked about the usual topic, politics, we have learned that it is not good to state your position until you hear the other side. In this case these guys were pro Castro. But asked for honest criticism which I politely gave them.
Manuel told me about his Colombian experience, he described Colombia as a country “carved with the hands of god”. Probably the nicest thing that I’ve heard a foreigner say about my country. Usually, people get their information about Colombia from the six o’ clock news. Manuel was a book author that teaches about track and field in different places, after exchanging emails, he said good bye and the cab droped him off.
Once we arrived in Camaguey, we could see that it was a big city, traffic, noise, and lots of people. As soon as we got off the taxi, we found our way through the city with the help of a guide on a bike, Kenny. Our guide was very impressed with our italian bikes, he told us that he loved cycling but it was very hard to find the equipment in Cuba. After many twists and turns we found the main highway to Ciego de Avila and we said good bye to Kenny three miles later we found a place to eat, and we had a nice but expensive lunch once again,$20 for the both of us.
We finally got on the road at 1:42 pm and we had 64 miles to go. The tailwinds helped a lot to keep a steady pace. Our pace line was good ,and we kept the stops at a minimum. One for maltas and water, one for pizza, coffee, and water. The wind got us to Ciego de Avila just at sunset, we rolled into the bus station to look for transportation to Sancti Spiritus. there we met, Guillermo and his buddies, taxi drivers of the local town. Guillermo offered a ride to Sancti Spiritus for $20. We put our bikes in the trunk and left Ciego de Avila, not much to see there anyway.
Arriving at Sancti was not impressive either, before finding a casa particular we stopped at another two casas that were full. Rebeca our host offered a room for $30 we bargained for $20. Food and drinks were extra, even though the sign said breakfast, lunch, and dinner included. The owner said he did not mean that, and he was taking the sign down tomorrow, we won’t be there for that ceremony. Rebeca made us Lobster dinner for $9 each which was a good deal , beer $2 , and juice. After doing laundry we went to bed.
Every day we meet a different character that crosses our paths and makes us count all of the blessings that we have in our lives. Today it was Guillermo, our last taxi cab driver, a computer scientist by trade; Guillermo has tried and failed to escape Cuba twice. The first time, his cousin dehydrated during the boat ride and he made the choice to return and spent two months in jail. The second time, he was caught by the US coast guard 6 miles away from Florida, and returned to Cuba. He cannot work as a Computer Scientist anymore as a penalty for his crime. He drives a hack cab and makes just enough to survive. Guillermo’s cousin (the one he saved his life) became a police officer and does not talk to him anymore.
Day 5 11/17/05 Sancti spiritus-Trinidad
Total distance covered 64 miles-
Breakdown: 35.5 miles 2.12 hour 16.3 avg to Manacaiznaga 11.4 mi 55.37 hour 12.4 svg to Trinidad 7.4 mi 31.18 hour 14.3 to La Boca 9.5 mi 53.19 hour 10.8
Woke up at 6 am and got ready to leave, clothes were dry and breakfast was not ready. Took some time to clean the bike while breakfast was served, after breakfast we paid $52 to Rebeca for her lodging, dinner, breakfast, and drinks. We left to Trinidad knowing that it would be a short day in the saddle. We looked for water at the historic district in Sancti Spiritus, there we met Don Oscar, a colorful local that enjoyed getting his picture taken. After loading water, we took off to Trinidad, the terrain was rolling hills and the winds were good, 40 miles would be an easy ride. On our way there we stopped at a tourist spot called Manacaiznaga, there we took pictures drank rum and sugar cane, and reloaded water for the remaining trip. Arriving in Trinidad was an easy ride overall. After getting some lunch at the historic town square, we found a casa particular.
Our host pointed our way to the local beach where we snorkeled and sunbathed for awhile. After our beach trip we discovered that Norelvis, besides being a great host, was a great cook as well. The best food in Cuba so far was at his house. Shrimp and lobster kabobs, served with rice, pumpkin, salad, and mashed potatoes. After that he gave me coffee and a great mojito. Hans and I went to check out the night life in Trinidad and we found a lively spot, outdoors, called Plaza de la Musica. Here we listened to the music and I drank some Mojitos and water. The night ended early when a heavy urge to go to the bathroom came over me.
So many people so little time. We have seen the whole spectrum of Cuban people. As Hans and I discussed today, if it wasn’t for the bike touring, we would not be meeting so many different people in so little time. Biking rock stars, as we ride by any town, that is how we are treated, curiosity towards our trip is the main reason that we are approached, and at the same time it opens up the bridge for our curiosity to wonder about their lives in this vortex of time.
Day 6 11/18/05
Trinidad- Giron (Bay of Pigs)-Playa Blanca
Total distance covered, 94 miles –
Breakdown: To Pasa Caballos 50 mi 3.24 hour 50.8 mi 14.8 avg To Giron 3.33 hour 44mi 12.4 avg To playa Larga,taxi ride $12
Good morning ! The toilet is still clogged, last night I perfected the toilet clogger recipe: three mojitos, two beers, cuban coffee, and just before getting ready to clog the toilet add sparkling water to the mix.
Leaving Norelvis’ house was a tough choice, at his place we had great food and service at an affordable price.We have to keep riding, there is more toilets waiting for Hans all across Cuba.
The riding plan looks simple, take the coast route towards Cienfuegos, and bypass Cienfuegos using the ferry at Pasa Caballos, then depending on time, push on towards Giron or a town in between.
First, we got a late start , 09:15 am, the first leg towards Cienfuegos was relatively easy, we found water and food when we needed it and the wind conditions were favorable. The coast had similitude’s with the coast west of Santiago but we saw a lot more people around here. The Cuban people friendly and helpful as always, we had an easy morning on the bike. Pushing towards Rancho Luna and Pasa Caballos was easier than expected, the hilly route that everybody forecasted was actually rolling hills, taylor made for our bikes and loads.
We made Pasa Caballos at 1:30 pm and before crossing the bay a local boy offered lobster for $6, we were in.
The downside is that it took them an hour to serve it, we would pay for this dearly later on. After eating our lunch, we were lucky to catch the ferry immediately, and started our confusing journey to Giron. The directions towards the dirt road were confusing and we missed the turn by half a mile before realizing it. Once we found the route the dirt did not seem so bad, however the dirt turnrd into coral, sand, rocks, sticks, and sharp brush. We kept a good speed adjusting to the conditions but Hans got a flat, then a branch bent his derrailer, and finally another flat just when the mosquitoes were waking up. Giron was nowhere to be seen and no one around to ask directions from. The only soul that we found was an old man dressed in his old and ragged military shirt with blue jeans, clearing brush, he told us that the road would get better and that Giron was still quite! a way to go. Pedaling became harder, mosquitoes became clouds, and daylight was gone. Just as the night rolled in, we rolled in into Giron.
A friendly local guy named Norberto offered to find us a house, no luck, everything was full. We needed a shower and a meal soon. Norberto offered his house, even though he could get into a lot trouble for this, maybe the rum in his system was affecting his judgment; however, his wife was pretty sober and she did not like the idea.
We left his house to ask permission from the local authority for lodging with Norberto and to get a bite to eat. While eating some pizza, we offered Norberto a drink and he accepted , but, he specified that he wanted the whole bottle, not just a glass. At $2.50 a bottle we got him his wish, during this time we kept looking for options for lodging and nothing seemed to work. When we were just about to give up, we asked Norberto for a car ride to the next town, Playa Larga. Norberto woke up Gustavo, a friend of his that owned a car. Gustavo gave us a ride in his small car with the two bikes, Hans ended up carrying his bike on his lap. If we crashed, the paramedics would have to extract the bike out of his behind.
We arrived at Campismo Victoria de Giron after the car ride and found the campismo workers less than willing to help us, finally they gave us a room with no sheets, just bare mattresses. We paid $2 for used sheets (bloody), and asked for the water to be turned on for 30 minutes to be able to clean up. Not an easy night, a Campechuela flashback.
After the hardest and longest ride on this trip, the last thing we needed was a room with no sheets. However, we did not have time to be grateful enough to Norberto for offering his house to two dirty guys on bikes, or risking his house for lodging us, or even for getting in trouble with the boss -his wife- . Norberto was willing to spend the night outside with us if we had to, his helping hand was very special. He did not know how tired we were or what kind of day we’d had, he offered his used soap wanting nothing in return, just cheap booze. Thanks…
Day 7 11/19/05 Playa Larga – La Habana
Total distance covered 115.5 miles-
Breakdown: To breakfast at Crocodile farm 50.24 hour 10.6 miles 14.5 avg To lunch 2.59 hour 52.9 miles 17.6 avg To Habana 3.16 hour 52 miles 15.9 avg
After a hard night at Campismo Giron we woke up with good energy to finish this adventure. We have some water and no breakfast, but we are ready to go. 11 miles after our start we found a good tourist restaurant with a great breakfast to get our legs back, a little expensive, but we needed this food badly.
We continued pushing towards Australia where the main highway to La Habana intersects, we know it is all downhill from there ! Once we reached the main highway at Australia the wind at our backs was just perfect, our speed increased and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. 3 hours after breakfast we stopped for lunch, another good spot, now we are riding with happy stomachs and sore legs. Hans is having a good time with his MP3 player, we are pacing each other and celebrating our soon to be milestone. We have not seen any signs of La Habana and this helps at this stage, we just want to get there. The scenery is not impressive, this is just a long flat road with empty flat land all around. The road is amazing, two wide lanes a landscaped divider and a really wide shoulder for bike traffic.
I did not carry an MP3 player but the music in my head was always going, especially when we saw the sign that read “LA HABANA 13 KM” , 6 miles !! We were home, well, almost home. Once we reached La Habana we had to look for a place to stay, in the meantime, Hans sold his bike and we walked through old Habana. Hans found a great place to spend our last night in La Habana. We went out to dinner at Plaza de la Catedral with some of his classmates from Spanish class. After dinner I went dancing to a great local spot with no tourists at all, La Habana, what a place !
During most of our trip we were tired, sometimes thirsty and hungry, but always excited to see what the next day was going to bring. The people we met along the road made it possible, just like the people in our daily lives. A few weeks ago we thought it was impossible, planning an adventure to celebrate the anniversary of our previous OTB 500. Riding across Cuba was probably the hardest ride of our lives, and the greatest biking experience ever. We rode everyday, living each day like it was our last…
The Victory Malta! Que bueno!