today’s ride was one of the most pleasant so far due to its ease, the beautiful scenery, and the quickness with which we got to our destination – over 75KM before lunchtime. we awoke in the house of the lord, ate the food that the padre (named Elvis) had prepared, and were on the road by 8:30am. about 10km into the ride, a peloton (group of cyclists riding very closely together) of young riders approached from the rear, and we rode with them for about 10km. they were a national team of cyclists (one of them being a national champion), and all were impressed by our ability to keep up with them, especially with our bicycles so heavily loaded with gear. accompanying them on their training ride – while taxing – did help to break up the monotony of cycling. in addition, it put into perspective just how fit we have become in the past few months; we can now cover over 60 km between meals – through rolling hills towing all of our gear – and then do another 60 without tiring much.
Trinidad is beautiful. with cobblestone streets and long windy alleys twisting and turning in all directions, it is situated between the foothills of a mountain range and the sea, and is one of Cuba’s oldest and most well-preserved cities.
we arrived just in time for lunch, which to our dismay, was very hard to secure with our budget. because most of the city is a UNESCO world heritage city and is visited by many people from all over the world daily, the locals here expect everybody to pay tourist prices. we found the food here to be on average about 10 times the price we had been paying since we got to Cuba, and we had to walk quite a way out of town to find food at a reasonable rate. seeing so many tourists was bittersweet for me. on the one hand, i was excited to see white people again (i know it sounds racist to say so, but i have felt like an alien for so long here), but on the other hand, it was frustrating to witness the way with which they were here to “experience Cuba”. they roll into town in their tour buses with AC, DVD players, etc, and get off in centro historico, which has been meticulously prepared for their arrival – the poor people removed, prices ridiculously inflated, and vendors speaking english. they then walk around with their cameras around their necks, being sure not to get separated or wander too far from the bus, and snap photos of stereotypical “Cubans” playing dominos on the curb and drinking rum straight from the bottle with cigars in mouth. they snap these pics, pay the “Cubans” a peso or two, and walk away, never seeming to notice that the “rum” in the bottles is really water, the cigars aren’t lit, and nobody ever seems to win the game of dominoes. it is all just a facade, with the locals simply showing the tourists what they want to see so they can go back to their office in the the states or Canada or wherever and show their colleagues how worldly they are and how they went to Cuba and saw real Cubans. meanwhile, all they had to do was walk from their bus 500 meters in any direction and they would’ve found a completely different world – the REAL Cuba: the oxen pulling the cart (no AC, no DVD player); the kids playing in the street with a half-inflated ball; 8 cent ice cream cones. i’m not sure why this bothers me, but i just want to grab some of these people and point down the street and tell them, “hey, there is this cool place down the street you really ought to check out. it’s called Cuba and it is only a few blocks away!” but alas, i don’t want to sound like an ass, so i say nothing. perhaps one day i will see one of these people at a dinner party somewhere and be forced to listen to them talk about the week they went to Cuba and saw “real Cubans”. they will show everyone pictures on their i-phone 6 or whatever they have, and i will say nothing, because i will have already said it to those i wish to share it with. BTW – thanks for letting me share Cuba with you.
this night was definitely the coolest nightclub experience of my entire life!! we had been hearing talk of a discoteca located inside a cave since we arrived in Trinidad, and since it was Friday night, we decided to give it a try. our experience finding the place was like setting for a bad horror movie where you can hear people in the theatre whispering things like, “no way, why would u go that way?” and “are u serious? nothing good can possibly be down that alley”. we had to go down numerous dark alleys, through holes in chain-link fences, and through an abandoned rock quarry to find the place. none of it was marked in any way; we just followed locals who knew where the joint was. we got there a little before 11pm and the place was not yet open; there was only a dark hole in the side of the mountain around which people stood drinking rum and waiting for something to happen. as we waited, others arrived from all directions: some had climbed up a goat trail leading from the neighborhood below; some came from the rock quarry; others seemed to just “appear” from out of the woods. it was starting to look like a party, and i wondered how we were all going to fit inside this cave. finally, a bunch of men showed up carrying cases of beer on their shoulders – about a dozen or so. they entered the cave (which had been locked until this point), disappeared into the dark, and returned 15 minutes later to begin letting guests inside. we stood outside in disbelief for about 10 more minutes as beautiful girl after beautiful girl entered the club (at least a 2:1 ratio – at least!). finally we entered. i really cannot even begin to explain what i saw, but i will try. upon entering, we walked through numerous underground tunnels leading from cavern to cavern, each one half the size of a high school gymnasium. the first cavern contained the bathrooms, which were built into the walls. the second cavern was the dancehall itself; it was like a cross between the Batcave from the old Batman TV show and something from an Austin Powers movie. it was a HUGE lair – definitely the coolest mancave i’ve ever seen. the ground had been made completely flat, but the walls were still what one would expect in a cave. the top of the dancehall cave was about 30 feet from the floor. among its stalactites hung speakers and lazer lights hidden from view in shadows or in holes; we knew they were there only because of the the visual and audio magic they produced. from the far side of the dancehall, a staircase led even farther into the cave system. this staircase led to a chamber partially above and adjacent to that of the dancehall. the DJ’s booth was up there, as were some tables from which some of the best people-watching in the world took place. beautiful women filled the entire dancefloor, dancing their exotic dances to exotic music, while men sat at tables watching, drinking rum, and smoking Cuban cigars (at this point it became more like a James Bond movie than an Austin Powers one). i walked around this place wide-eyed and smiling for what seemed like an eternity. at first, i was still unsure this really existed, and more than once i found myself asking Martin or some other person “is this place for real? is this really happening right now?” which was answered with “i’m not quite sure myself”.
we drank and danced for quite some time that night, and what happened in that club will stay in that club and forever in my mind. but if u ever venture out to Cuba, u must visit Trinidad. and while u are there, try to find a place called….well shit, i forget the name, but that isn’t important. just ask a local where “la discoteca en la cueva” is. i assure you you will not be disappointed.
sat night was a little more mild than the night before. around the corner from our casa, i found a truck that was full of beer – literally. it had a small swimming pool sized keg in the back of it, and they were filling any container you brought to the back of the truck for 20 cents per liter. i found a 1.5L bottle that had previously contained water, and had it filled with beer for only 30 cents. we filled this bottle 3 times, drinking the first two in front of the church (oh yeah, the truck was parked in front of a church). the third bottle we took to a nice restaurant where we ordered a 65 cent bottle of rum and ate 3 pizzas (30 cents) each. after dinner, we went out to see live music (free) at casa de musica. the others went back to the casa early that night while i stayed and hung out with some Norwegian chicks i had just met – another beautiful ending to another amazing day.
i rode by myself today, as i gotten back later than the others the night before and they wanted to hit the road only hours after i had gone to sleep. i had a gorgeous ride from Trinidad to Cienfuegos (85KM), with a tailwind the whole way. there was a stretch of about 10km where the entire road was covered in crushed up bits of crab – it looked like it had been paved in crab bits. it made for an interesting/fun (and smelly) ride, as i had to focus on dodging the live ones for the whole 10KM as they made their mad dash across the street (to lay eggs?). as i dodged the little guys (or they dodged me), i couldn’t help but ponder in awe at the power of whatever instinct was making them cross this road; i tried to think of what would have to be on the other side of a field littered with dead bodies of MY peers that would make me think “i don’t know how THEY met THEIR demise crossing this field, but i’m gonna give it a try myself”. this is the kind of thing you think about when u are on a bike for 6 hours a day. anyway, if u are ever in that situation (the riding down a road of dead crabs situation, not the pondering crossing a field of your dead peers one), wear a shirt. i found that riding with no shirt + sweating profusely + crab pieces blowing all over in a tailwind = having enough crab bits stuck to your back that you can make a crabcake with the remains of your shower 4 hours later.
anyway, the ride was incredibly pleasant. i spent most of my day singing to myself, and managed to do the whole 85KM in 3.5 hours without stopping. tonight we are sleeping in a church again for free. tomorrow we plan to head west, but who knows what will really happen.
3-24: and then there were two (again)
spent the day relaxing, eating ice cream, and waiting for the wind to die. the wind has been just over 30KPH out of the South for most of the day. since we were to ride west and then South, we decided that it would be better to just wait or head elsewhere. as the wind had not yet died as of 4pm, we are opting to take a ferry to the other side of La Bahia de Cienfuegos and head toward La Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), where i hope to get some SCUBA diving and snorkling in before sprinting back to Havana. it turns out that it is almost April now, and I got my 30 day tourist Visa in February. it’s funny how easy it is to lose track of time when you travel like this, but i don’t think Immigration will accept that as a valid excuse for traveling on an expired Visa. thus, we will be rushing back to Havana to get 30 day extensions before starting our ride of the western part of the country.
dominic left us today. he will be flying back to the UK to celebrate his grandparents anniversary before returning to Mexico to finish his tour of the Western Hemisphere by bike. it was sad to see him go, but for some strange reason, i really do think our paths will cross again over the next year or so; perhaps we will run into eachother riding across the salt flats of Bolivia or something like that.
i still have not figured out what i will be doing after Cuba. i have a month free before my classes in Mexico City start. i have been considering flying back to NY to work for a month, seeing as this trip already promises to be a few months and at least a thousand dollars over budget. i have also been considering going to a marina here in Cuba and asking around to see if anyone will be setting out to sea for a few weeks to a month; i figure i could earn my keep onboard by helping with navigation, piloting, etc, just as i did from Baja California to mainland Mexico.
I said my goodbyes to Nick and Martin and set out to find my way back to Havana. It was about 275km and I had 2 days to get there, although taking 2 days would mean rushing to pack and not having any time to relax back in Havana. I had figured that I could just get a ride from a truck like we’d done back in Santiago. I went to the passenger pick-up point and was told to wait for a few minutes as someone went off to find his friend, he came back and told me it would only cost 75 CUC for him to drive me there in his small car. I’m not sure that my bike would have fit in anyway, but that was just a crazy amount of money – the official Viazul bus would probably have been about 30 CUC and much more comfortable – so I went to the bus terminal to find a better option.
The touts were standing around outside and when I said I wanted to go to Havana they were very friendly, until I told them the 20 CUC that they wanted was far too much. I told them that I’d gone further for 5 CUC back in Santiago, but they just laughed and said that prices in the east weren’t real because it’s too poor. I waited to see if they’d come up with a different price, but it didn’t appear. I could have tried to offer 10 CUC, but I thought they were idiots and was too stubborn to negotiate with them. They told me that if I wanted to find something for that cheap I’d have to ride the 70km to the autopista myself which I wouldn’t be able to do. It was like a red flag in front of a bull and I set off.
There was a lovely tailwind from the south east pushing me for the first 20km out of town, until I turned east and spent the next few kilometres fighting to go at 10km/h. Nick & Martin both have trailers, and I notice that unless we have a tailwind I have to push that little bit harder than them because of the drag my panniers create. Going into a headwind is just unpleasant, especially compared with what they experience.
A little further along, the road turned north for a while so the tailwind stopped, but then it came back with a vengeance for a stretch of more than an hour, before a tailwind pushed me to the autopista. At the autopista I asked some locals how much they pay to get to Havana, 10 CUP, and then waved down a bus. The driver came out and I asked him how much it would cost. He told me I had to make an offer so I said 5 CUC, 12 times more than the Cuban price, he turned me down and told me it was 20 CUC. I upped my offer to 8 CUC and he didn’t budge and got back on his bus.
About 20 minutes later, a lorry pulled over. Two guys came out and I said I was hoping to get to Havana, they said sure and threw my bike in the back where there was no cargo. I’d never been in the cab of a lorry before and was happy to see the bed which would be where I perched myself for the ride. I made some conversation, but got short answers and so just laid down and enjoyed the ride. After a while, a bottle of rum came out, got passed around, and then the conversation started to flow more freely. It turned out to be a lovely journey and even though I’d spent a lot of my time fighting the headwind thinking about how I’d rejected the people at the bus terminal so quickly, and that my stubbornness was meaning that this was a lot harder than it needed to be. Having said that, looking back I’m glad things went the way they did. When they dropped me off, they didn’t ask for any money, but I gave them 10 CUC and they were blown away so gave me a big hug.
Looking over Valley of the Sugar Mills