Nick writes about his bike trip (San Diego -> Ecuador is the plan for this leg) and has a Facebook page that is at http://www.facebook.com/PedalingNPaddlingSouth I’ve decided to share his writings for the parts where we rode together.
http://domluther.smugmug.com/OneBikeOneWorld/Caribbean/Cuba/ is where all my pictures from Cuba are. I’ll link to some of them in the blog posts but as I’m not doing daily posts it’s impossible to get all the ones I like in without making posts with 100+ pictures
i’ve been in Cuba for about 2 weeks, and i’m just now starting to feel somewhat comfortable here. for some unknown reason, the culture shock i’ve experienced here is far greater than that which i’ve experienced in other countries, even as far away as Romania and Turkey. in those places, i felt like a foreigner in a far away land; here i am an alien taken from my planet and displaced on another – far far away. i am still unsure exactly what is making me feel this way, and i don’t really feel comfortable writing or talking about it until i have spent another few weeks here. as it often happens in travel, it may even take months of separation from this experience before being able to digest it all and realize what is actually ocurring in the moment. it is funny – how you can sometimes look directly at something and not see it for what it really is. then weeks (or even years) later, after having looked away, something happens and it all makes sense – you can see it more clearly than you could when u were staring straight at it. the same is often true with relationships; the vision of a lovedrunk fool is seldom 20/20. it is often not until the clouds of his emotions have dissipated that he can see clearly. it must have something to do with being able to separate your feelings and emotions from the actual stimuli of a situation. perhaps it is only the man with no feelings who can see things for what they really are. anyway, i feel that i cannot responsibly account for and report on my whole Cuban experience at this point. i CAN, however, give an account of some of the highlights so far, and there have been so many!
i am writing this off-line, and i am not quite sure when my last update was, but i believe i was in Baracoa. the ride to Baracoa was long and rough. martin and i spent many hours in the saddle riding through 90 degree heat on dirt roads with potholes large enough to bathe in. while i could tell that Martin was not enjoying these roads, i actually got a small thrill out of it. scanning the sections ahead and looking for the best line to shoot (the flattest path to ride) reminded me of my mountain bike racing days and was a nice change of pace from road riding. it was nice to be back on the road putting in some miles again. we spent our days riding through lush rainforests and coastal mountains. the food on the road (when we could find it) was cheap and delicious. it costs about 50 cents for a large plate of food with rice, beans, boniato (like a potato, but sweeter), and pork. the drinks out here are also cheap and delicious. you can get a glass of fresh mango juice for about 10 cents and a cup of freshly squeezed (right in front of you) sugar cane is delicious and only 4 cents! our sleeping accommodations on the way to Baracoa included camping under a bridge, sleeping in palapas, and setting up camp next to a river (in which we swam, bathed, and filled our water bottles – though not in that order). i would guess that we ended up spending a total of $6 in food and $0 (no, i did NOT forget to put a digit between the dollar sign and the zero) on lodging those 3 or 4 days of riding Cuba’s northeast corner.
in baracoa, we rented a Casa Particular for $10 CUC per night ($10 US). we spent a few days relaxing, listening to live music, and drinking cheap rum there – until Hugo Chavez died. the Cubans are unsure what will become of Venezuala and are worried losing their most important trading partner since the USSR. for the past 5 days live music in public places has been banned, every TV in the country is set to the news, and the flags are all at half-staff. not since 9/11 have i seen a country mourn like this. with nothing left to do in Baracoa (no night life for a week), we decided to head south toward Guantanemo and Cuba’s 2nd largest city – Santiago De Cuba.
as we approached a corner on our way out of town, i noticed another touring bicyclist looking at a map. i approached him and asked him where he was heading. as soon as he answered “i’m not sure yet” in his thick british accent, i knew something sounded familiar. i asked him his name, and before he could answer, i realized that i had met him before. i had hosted him for a few days in my tree-house in Mexico a year ago when he was cycling through that region! i remember him telling me a year ago of how he was cycling around the world for 5 or 6 years and i still recall the yearning i had at that time to just get on my bike and go with him, but i was in my last year of grad school and could not. now here i am on some random corner in Cuba of all places, and who do i run into?! Dominic! the strangest things happen when u travel like this. so needless to say, now there are 3.
we left Baracoa and headed south on La Farola (the highway crossing a mountain range and connecting the north and south sides of Cuba’s east coast). the 50 KM ride accross is one of Lonely Planet’s 10 best rides in the world and is also the first stage of Cuba’s “La Vuelta” (their equilalent of the Tour de France), so needless to say, we were very excited for the day’s ride. for the first 3 hours, we climbed a steady uphill in the sun and the 90 degree heat. this morning, however, i was not bothered by the heat or the climb. in fact, i caught myself smiling and singing to myself on at least 3 or 4 different occassions before reaching the top. and as if my day could not go any better, shortly after running out of water near the summit, i stumbled upon a woman waching her clothes on the side of the road near a pipe from which water was steadily flowing. the pipe tapped into a natural spring in the side of the mountain (see pics). i took a quick road shower to cool off, filled my water bottles, and for back on the road. shortly after, i reached the peak and waited for the others -i wanted to see the look on their faces when they saw what i had seen. it was one of the most beautiful vistas i have seen in quite some time (see pics).
only a cyclist can imagine how beautiful the rest of La Farola was. we had spent HOURS climbing uphill and were now ready to reap the reward of all that work. as the clouds began to close in around us, i took one last picture and started my descent – hoping to beat the rain that would turn the pavement into an ice-skating rink. i let go of the brakes, pedalled as hard as i could, tucked my body into a tight little ball, and hoped for the best (it’s times like these that i wish i had brought a helmet). the descent was amazing, and even with all the twists and turns, i still managed to reach 74 KPH (about 46 MPH). the descent took us all the way to the coast, and with some sunlight left, we started heading West.
just as the sun began to set, we found a bunch of palapas atop a cliff on the rocky coast. we had a few beers to close out our amazing day, and just as martin and dominic began to set up camp under a palapa, we noticed something out in the water. it was a huge rock – about 10 meters tall – with a palapa on top of it. the access to it – whether it had been a bridge, a staircase, or a ladder – had been destroyed some time ago, but there it stood – out in the ocean – alone. i made a joke about how i was gonna climb to the top of the rock and check it out, and then i realized that it was actually feasable to do so, so i did. the view from the palapa was amazing, and was well worth the barefoot climb on the razor-sharp coral and rocks. i came back down and reported what i saw to the others, who at once dared me to climb up it again – this time with my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and clothes strapped to my back, and to spend the night up there. i reluctantly declined, at which point dominic told me he would buy me a beer if i did it, and i reconsidered and accepted the proposition. spending the night up there with the waves below crashing all around me was the perfect way to end this perfect day.
my breakfast beer was the perfect way to start the next day. the ride was beautiful – mostly coastal – and we stopped for an hour or so and swim and wash our clothes in the ocean. we ended up riding just over 100 KM and reaching a small farming area near Guantanemo as the sun set, but we had not yet found a place to stay. tired and hungry, i asked a woman walking down the road if there was anywhere safe to set up camp for the night. she informed us that she didn’t have much, but we were more than welcome to come and stay at her house. i loaded the small woman onto my handlebars and we headed to her place. the part about “not having much” turned out to be the understatement of the century; she and her family were the poorest people i have ever met, but they were also some of the nicest. immediately upon our arrival, her mother took a tree branch (they had neither rake nor broom) and began brushing aside cow, goat, and pig shit – creating a large area for us to put our tents. there were animals of all sorts on their property and in their house: pigs, chickens, dogs, goats, and cows. one of the goats had just given birth an hour before we arrived (pics) and was still stumbling around on its tiny little legs. they had a dairy cow, which made my day because i have always wanted to milk one and was pretty sure that they would allow me to do so. there was even a little baby piglet running around the house. he had yet to be named (because they don’t name their livestock), so they let me name him. i named him Tocino (look it up in spanish dictionary). they told us that if we went to the store and bought some meat, they would cook us dinner – even though it was 9pm and we had already eaten. it really is hard for me to explain how poor this family was, but let me try to paint a picture: the floor of the house was dirt; the walls were just pieces of wood leaning on other pieces (no money for nails?); they had to build a fire to cook our food; the bathroom was a 12 foot deep hole in the ground with pieces of wood only partially covering it (they poop between the pieces of wood into the hole). martin went to the store and returned with a handful of pork – literally, it was a handful. they didn’t wrap it or give him a bag; they grabbed a pig, cut off a piece about a Kg, and put it in his hands – end of transaction. dinner turned out to be great. the little piglet ran around under our chairs as we ate. more than once i had to fight the temptation to feed it some of the pork from my plate, thus tricking him into cannibalism.
each time i go on a bike trip, i make a bucket list. on the european bike tour, we managed to complete most of our list, including riding through a whole (very populated) town naked without getting into trouble. this particular morning near Guantanamo, i got to check one more thing off my bucket list – i got to milk a cow! after 5 minutes of squeezing and pulling at that damn thing’s nipples, i finally managed to get some milk out. with some help (it was mostly the old lady), we managed to get a quart of milk, which we heated up, added sugar to, and drank. it was delicious.
after breakfast, one of the boys from our host family took us on a hike to a river where we swam and drank from the stream. after our swim, he effortlessly climbed about 10-15 meters into a plam tree, dropped down 15 coconuts, came back down, and cut them open for us with his machete. we drank the milk and ate the massa (fat) and carne (meat) until we were so full we could barely walk. we returned to the house, thanked the family graciously, and said our goodbyes. they told us that if we ever come back to Cuba, we must visit our new “familia negra”. they refused to take any money for feeding us, but we forced a month’s salary into the boy’s pocket and rode off before he could give it back.
the coconuts turned out to be the perfect fuel for our 75 KM ride to Santiago De Cuba, which we finished before dark. we checked into a Casa Particular for $10 a night, which included AC, a huge room with a balcony, our own private kitchen, and a bathrooom with hot water. although i already missed “mi familia negra”, i was glad to be able to take a shower and sleep in a proper bed again. we stayed 2 days and 2 nights in Santiago, after which i was glad to get back on the bike and see some more of the world. i spent few the first few hours of the ride from Santiago the same way i spend so many mornings now – reflecting on the beauty all around me – the land and the people – and smiling and singing to myself.
Looking over where we camped the first night together
From La Farola Viewpoint
From the Stone Zoo