Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Cuba is a big red star

to be lost is the best way to see, to be removed from what you are supposed to be doing is the only way to know what you should be doing - c.h.

Pre-Cuba Planning

I buy my bike in Guatemala for $100, I'm pretty happy with it, I'm sure it will get me round Cuba. In Xela I put it on a local 'chicken bus' and start on my journey to the Mexican border, about 4 hours in we stop to pick up a family and their 4 massive crop bags, I can see in the shadow that the lad in charge of strapping goods to the roof is struggling, the bus driver zooms off and the young lad thumps on the roof for him to stop, I can see him kicking things on the roof to make way for the bags and I fear for my bike! When I transfer buses in Huehuetenango I find that my bike has got two severely bent wheels from the loading of the crop bags, the young lad has the cheek to ask me for 10Q for transport of the bike, he gets pissed off when I refuse, he rubs his fingers in my face, I get pissed off at this and ask him for 100Q for my bike and get ushered onto the new buss. I arrive at the border town at night and get an overpriced room for the night and have a shitty nights sleep. In San Cristobal I get my bike fixed by a very honest mechanic and buy tools, spare inner tubes (unknown to me, they have a different sized valve to my pump) and some new slick tyres. I meet Daisuke, a Japanese cyclist I first met in Oaxaca and he gives me some good advice.

I need to build a bike box for my flight, which I enjoy immensely. I eventually find some cardboard from a supermarket after much searching and luckily spot some bubble wrap in a shop near the train station. I get some odd looks as I cycle the streets of San Cristobal with a massive roll of bubble wrap under my arm.

Luggage and My Bike

I traveled very light round Cuba, 4 t-shirts, trousers, two shorts, trainers, flip flops, 4 bags of granola, peanuts, lots of cookies, scuba mask and snorkel, camera, small tripod, phrase book, map, guide book, bike tools, bike oil spray, 2 spare inner tubes, guitar strings, note book and pen, toiletries, towel, compass, torch, tent, rope to tie bag to bike, 2 rolls of strong tape, water purification tablets, bowl and spoon, fiction book, sun cream, soap, tooth brush. (that's all I remember for now!)

My bike was not the best but a hell of a lot better than the old bikes Cubans use. I had a few mechanical problems, which could have caused me major issues if it hadn't of been for people helping me.

Habana - The First Days
At the airport in Cancun I make a slight mistake on my tourist card so I have to buy a new one for $25, I have not entered Cuba yet and I am already puzzled.

I arrive in Cuba a little nervous and wait patiently for my bike, it does not arrive and after wandering around a while trying to communicate, I get directed to the lost and found window, a nice lady who has just been verbally abused by the previous tourist tells me that my bike will arrive tomorrow and gives me a number to call. I get a taxi and wizz through the streets of Habana, we pass an old man about 70, decked out in an Adidas tracky top, driving a suped up Lada, he is the coolest person I have ever seen, welcome to Cuba!

I head to the casa particular on a vibrant street in Old Habana, my heart is pumping being in this alien environment, the family are super friendly and they call the airport for me the next day. I head to the airport on a bus to save money, a guy on the bus tells me where to get off but I end up at the wrong terminal. I wait with an old guy from Spain for a bus to the correct terminal, he is an interesting fella, people always are, after waiting 3 hours we are told the bus is not running today, so we take a taxi, on arriving at the correct terminal I find out that I need my passport to collect my bike! So I walk 20 minutes from the airport to the main road, get the bus back to the casa, collect my passport and get the bus back to the airport, collect my bike, and take a taxi back as it is getting late and eventually arrive at 5pm, a full day to collect my bike!

At least the night goes better, we have rum in the casa with some other people staying there and learn a bit of salsa.

The next day I hang with some Spanish people staying at my casa, they fill me in on the nuances of Cuba, it is also valentines day, twice two different ladies say felicidades! (congratulations), because they think we are together and in love! I change my money, I get 435CUC (approximately $435), the average wage in Cuba is 10CUC ($10) a month, so what I will spend in 2 weeks would take an average Cuban 3.5 years to earn, it makes me feel weird, it is the first time where what I spend in a country sharply contrasts what people earn.

Dagoberto helping me fix my bag to my bike just as I am about the leave Habana on my first day of cycling. I was incredibly excited about heading out on that first day on an unknown journey, being my own boss. Dagoberto is genuinely worried, mainly because I am a little flippant about my journey and tells me to call if I ever get in any trouble on my journey.

Habana to Las Terrazas - Chickens in Tree's - The first day on the bike
Distance: 77km Duration: 6.5hrs (10.00-16.30)

As soon as I start, I realise riding the bike with all the extra weight (not much compared to other cyclists) is much harder than I thought. I pass through the rich part of Habana and onto the fringe of the city and through an interesting coastal area with wooden houses. Chat to a friendly chap there and then join a wide road heading west with absolutely no vehicles, cycling heaven!

Pass through Mariel, an interesting but a little depressing industrial town, there are big accommodation flats with not much else around until the town about 3km after. On my way out of Mariel I see a lad on a bike hitching a ride by clinging onto the back of a slow moving truck, I am struggling on a slight incline, so I race to catch up the truck and cling on for about 2km until I catch up a dutch couple who had raced paced me about 30minutes earlier. I let go of the truck and they quickly race ahead of me again! I finally arrive at the casa where the dutch couple are relaxing with another dutch couple. I have evening tea with them and get some good advice from professionals.

Chickens in trees. It was an eerie sight to see these large chickens sitting on some tint tree branch's at dusk. I think they were chickens, they could fly a little.

Las Terrazas to Palma Rubia
Distance: 65km Duration: 7hrs (09.30-16.30)

I modify my bike by making a plastic pouch to put all my essential items in, such as tools, map and guide book. The first section is tough, mainly uphill, we pass a section of road that has been severely damaged by the hurricane. Just before Bahia Honda I ask for some water at a roadside stall and get invited onto the porch, I end up sitting there for a good 30 minutes, I communicate fairly well with the aide of my map, this was the highlight of my day, it would be nice to be able to communicate better. I would not have had this kind of experience if I was using buses or driving a car, it is definitely the best way to see the real side of a country. I pass a boarded up house with a sign on it stating 'Revolution Dissident', this is the name given to people who speak up against the Government. One hundred Cubans are currently in jail for being a 'Revolution Dissident', this house would have belonged to one of them and most likely acts as a deterrent.

I pass one casa particular between Las Pazas and Mirian but decide to race on, which was a mistake! I soon become very tired and realise that making the next accomodation as detailed in my guide book is going to be tough, luckily 50 minutes later I meet a cuban cyclist who takes me to a casa that I would not have found on my own. He has no brakes and uses his feet to stop, he nearly crashes into some people as he is travelling too fast for his feet(brakes) to work. He trades the bike with a friend for a better one at a petrol station, we pass a house that has been destroyed by the hurricane and tells me it was his, we make it to the casa where there is a group of Norwegian people also staying. I offer the guy some money but he refuses, he tells me he got money off the family for bringing them business. I find that I have two blisters on my bum cheeks! Padded cycling shorts would have been good to have. It was a tough days cycle, for me anyway.

Palma Rubia to Puerto Esperanza
Distance: 66km Duration: 5.5hrs (10.00-15.30)

I did not sleep well the night before, numerous mosquito's, a grasshopper thing and a mouse trying to eat my food, and I got electrocuted by the light switch twice trying to see the mouse. Then at the start of the ride I get stung by a wasp who had been chasing me for a few metres. I stop for some bread and mayonnaise in La Palma, I like this place.

One of the many random people I stop and chat too.



Valle de Vinales

I love the days cycle, the scenery and the people I met. Perfect.

Puerto Esperanza

After the cycle, I head out into the small coastal town of Puerto Esperanza and instantly meet Chichi and his friends, get crazy drunk on rum in the local booser, which is a fenced in cafe.

Puerto Esperanza to Cayo Jutias and back again!
Distance: 90km Duration: 10.5hrs (4 hours on beach, 09.00-19.30)

I miss read the map and what I thought to be an easy 23km to Cayo Jutious, becomes 45km. I left my belongings in PE, so this only gives me 4 hours on the beach before having to head back.

I meet a group of girls on the beach and hang with them a while, they all work on oil rigs, German, English and Spanish. I am totally blissed out and don't fancy the ride home, I delay it so much that the end of my journey ends up being in the pitch black night. The night seems to fall quickley and there are no street lights, the bikes have no lights, the horse and carts have no lights, I have no lights! It is a heart thumping ride, I try to overtake a horse and nearly hit an oncoming bike I only just see at the last minute. A giant moth flys at me and scares me shitless, I thought it was a bat!

Puerto Esperanza to Vinales

The Scooter Diaries


Bayamo to Niquero

Niqero to Los Colorades and back again.

Niquero to Villa Punta Pliya

Villa Punta Pliya to La Mula

La Mula to Caleton Blanco

Caleton Blanco to Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba to Guantanamo


Guantanamo to San Antonio

San Antonio to Baracoa


Baracoa to Maguna Beach (Part Way)

Baracoa to Boca de Yumuri and back again.


Santiago de Cuba


Sancti Spiritus to Trinidad


Trinidad to La Boca to Playa Ancon and back to Trinidad

Trinidad to Rancho Luna

Ranco Luna to Jaguey Grande

Jaguey Grande to Matanzas


Matanzas to Playa Jibacoa

Playa Jibacoa to Havana

Havana - The Last Days

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