The original idea of going to to Cuba, was to go bike riding. We normally just rock up with some bikes and a brief idea of where we are going, then wing it from there. For one reason or another this wasn't going to cut it in Cuba. Finding a place to rent, buy, bikes in the internet non friendly Cuba while in Oz wasn't very fruitful. As a matter of fact finding anything web based in Cuba is pretty hard. There are plenty of bike blogs, and tour's that offer some good information, but nearly everyone seems to take their own bike. In Cuba everything is owned/organized by the government, think of your own experience with your government. Yer I know, not hopeful. Right. Second problem. When first mentioned we got a few of the Fat Boys interested, but this gradually dwindled from four to three to two. The Fat Brothers tour was it.
No bikes, two people, the only other option was a organized tour. We chose this one here
, as for the process involved in that you will have to ask Mick. They sent us lots of information, which I didn't read, as close as I could get to winging it. At some stage I gave them money, which should be illegal under socialism, but they took it anyhow. Welcome to Cuba, land of paradoxes. The trip was all inclusive, all we need to do was buy a couple of meals, and pay some tips. After a couple of days in old Havana, we headed off to our first hotel to meet up with our group. Our first hotel would be familiar to any one who has been to the old Soviet Union. It's even owned by the Russians and is only missing the Intourist
logo out the front. Saying that, it had a pool
. and was ten times nicer than what I was expecting. Most of our group were arriving that night so we ate the buffet and tried to guess which other dinners would join us tomorrow. Unfortunately all our guesses turned out to be a polish netball team. Being an English company, our group of eighteen was mostly English, Canadian, with a couple of Irish, Aussie, South African stragglers. Most but not all of us had some riding experience. We met in the foyer after breakfast, there we were introduced to our guide Eric, drivers Tuna and Miguel, and bike mechanic William. They gave me a helmet, apparently I was meant to bring one, and a nice mountain bike. I hadn't read the itinerary, so from there on pretty much every thing was a surprise.
We rode back into old Havana,and were cruising down one of Cuba's rare hills, when the bloke in front of me took a huge face plant into the bitumen. First thought, now the guide is going to earn their cash. Second thought. It is the guide. I thought he had broken his jaw as there was claret everywhere, and he landed with a huge splat. Great start, scratch one guide, and the only English speaker. I hope they come in six packs if this keeps up. Once he had been despatched to the hospital on one of the buses, our bike mechanic William took over as leader, and I got to practice a bit of my Spanish asking about various things we where looking at. We eventually ended up in the middle of town only to find Eric waiting for us, much worse for wear with a bandaged chin, but still breathing. Talking was hard work, and he couldn't ride for a week. He had also hurt his arm, but like the six million dollar man the Cuban hospital system had rebuilt him. They went to the first hospital and they told him he would have to wait for an hour. Not five hours, One hour. This wasn't good enough, so he went to the next hospital and he got seen to straight away, and as always in Cuba, free of charge. We then jumped on to the bus, and off to our first nights accommodation a couple of hours bus ride away.
This was pretty much the template for the rest of the trip. Eric would give us the profile of the days riding. This generally went something like, "The first bit is hard but the road is not to bad", "The second section is really hard, and there is a hill", "The last section is very difficult, and when you reach town look out because the locals may mug you." Generally the riding was flat and easy, along good but sometimes bumpy bitumen roads. Cubans don't have hills, more speed humps, and the locals were friendlier than most other places I have been to. Rest stops where every 15/20 km, where you would have a snack and fill up your water bottle. You could buy commie cola, or freshly crushed cane juice on the side of the road everywhere. If you got tired you could take the bus and chat to the drivers. We would either ride the first part, then bus the last bit, or visa versa. The lunch stop was during, or at the end of the ride. Lunch was either homemade sandwiches in a little bar, or a sit down meal in a restaurant. When we got to the next stopover town we would do a tour. This was hard work after riding as I generally wanted to just have a shower and relax, but there was no other time to fit it in. Dinner was in a restaurant or a home cooked meal from one of the local little home stays that have opened up recently. A few beers in the bar, a bit of a chat, then off to bed for generally a 7am breakfast the next morning. Breakfasts where generally fruit, Bacon, Eggs, and toast, with lots of good Cuban coffee. All stuff I love, but not particularly good bike riding food when you're setting yourself up to do 70 km on a bike.
Our group was a good mix. Something's you cannot order before hand, but if you can order a good group, pay extra. Psychiatrists and accountants seemed to be overly represented. Most of them liked a drink, some of them even liked bike riding. The support crew were great as well. Eric the guide, was in his 30's, and kept us amused with facts about the Cuban revolution. This could be a bit of a juggling act sometimes. Quite often with several opposing viewpoints presented in the same sentence. Our drivers Tuna and Miguel, both had young families. Tuna who was in his late forties, had just had his first child. She was only a month old, half of which he had spent driving us around. In the season they quite often do lots of back to back trips, with just one night at home in between. William the bike mechanic, was the character of the bunch. He normally only rides the first three days to set up the bikes, but due to Eric trying to remove himself from the gene pool, he became our de facto road leader for the whole trip. 50ish, super fit, onetime professional bike rider, latino, and unashamedly ladies man. He had 5 children from 5 women in five different places in Cuba. He could ride all day, fix the bikes all night, then try and get me into trouble with my bad Spanish, and the bar girls before taking over himself. Ten Dollars could buy you a lot of entertainment in Cuba.
We only had one non traveling day, in Trinidad.Most of our enthusiastic crew went off diving or hiking, the Bond brothers,slept in, then went back to our usual lifestyle. Wander down town, find a coffee, find lunch, have a few drinks, find dinner, find more drinks. If I did it again, I would pick atrip with a few more rest days, as it's just nice to wander around town and check out the place at your own pace. I loved the riding, but my highlights where the interaction with the locals. Lunch with Tunas extended family, teaching our casa peculiar host how to cook Spag Bol, buying beers and pizza in the non touristy places, and chatting to the locals "wherever". We meet some people on another companies bike trip, and ours was definitely the pick of the two. Because we were staying in the "nice" hotels we also met a few bus tourists who were spending their days being whisked from one revolutionary monument to the next. Riding was definitely better.
The riding was generally along good sealed roads. Sometimes these were a little rough due to the number of work crews pouring tar on every crack as soon as it appears. Tar and labor are cheap in Cuba. We would quite often ride through little towns with the locals all sitting on their veranda's and using the telephone. The Cuban telephone, that is. Every one would be conversing with the neighbours by yelling acreoss the street, that way the whole village would know what was happening. There was not much traffic to drown out the reception. The weather was very hot to extremely hot if you were English, or warm to hot if you were Australian. Cuba is windy. On our easterly leg we always had head winds, until we reached the end of the island at Santiago de Cuba. After that we turned 180 deg and enjoyed the famous Cuban tail wind our guide had told us about. It blew in our faces all the way back to Havana. We never forgave him. Our bikes were good quality mountain bikes, with the hardest seats I have ever ridden on. The only fault I could find was that couldn't lock the front shockers, and neither could anyone else. This wasn't a great problem as the roads were generally flat. Cuban roads are full of bikes, horses, carts, pedestrian's, tractors, and dump trucks transporting people from one town to another. Cubans are used to slow traffic so the rare car that went past was really good around cyclists.
We finished up the tour at the Bodeguita de Medio, a bar in Havana that Hemingway used to drink at. All bars in Havana have this in common, even the ones opened after his death.The Bodeguita is the only one surrounded by tourists, that has a capitalist advertising sign above the front door. It's hard to miss. We said our goodbyes, and most people flew straight out over the next couple of hours, We checked into a $30 casa paticular in the middle of town, for a bit of working plumbing and a final couple of Cuba Libre's.
Oh, and a sleep in.
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for more photo's..
Posted by bondrj
at 12:48 AM NZT
Updated: Wednesday, 13 May 2015 10:00 PM NZT