Previous Post: Some Tips on Planning A Cuba Bicycle Tour
Whew – I made it! My bike tour of eastern Cuba (el Oriente) is done. The map below shows the towns I passed through on my circuit through some of Cuba’s most stunning scenery and vibrant towns.
It has almost been four weeks since I flew back to Toronto from Holguin, Cuba at the end of a 99% trouble-free bike tour which covered about 1100 kilometres of the eastern end of this Caribbean island. It’s been a while since that day at the end of December when I returned home with a bike box and my tuned-up bike from the bike shop –
The morning of the day I flew down would be the last one in a while that my dog Viggo and I would explore the Don River valley near our home in Toronto –
The under-four-hour Air Canada flight from Toronto to Holguin was uneventful. I did ask the guy at the oversized baggage counter to keep my bike box upright as he put it flat on the conveyor belt; he phoned a baggage handler to come and pick it up for custom delivery further down the line. From their reaction I got the feeling that they do not really take the time to read the handling instructions on the boxes they deal with. It cost $50. CDN to ship the bike plus an additional $18. for a second checked piece of baggage for a total of $68.
I was quite apprehensive about one thing in my baggage as I went through Cuban customs at Frank Pais International; in fact, I had lost sleep thinking about it! It was the GPS beacon (a Spot Connect) that I was bringing along, knowing that it was, if not illegal to bring into Cuba, then at least subject to all sorts of forms and requests and fees so as to make it better to leave at home.
What the Spot Connect does is create a real-time trail of your locations so that someone at home can follow along and know where you are. It also has the ability when paired with a smart phone to send brief email messages (45 characters maximum) to pre-arranged email addresses. Given that I was going on my own, and given the intentionally pathetic state of internet in Cuba, the device makes absolute sense for any adventure traveller in Cuba.
Well, long story short, after all the worry, i was waved through customs in seconds. Nobody official wanted to see or open anything – not my carry-on bag, not my bike bags, not the bike box! They weren’t even interested in the Shimano pedal cleats on the bottoms of my shoes which I thought might make the metal detector beep! Welcome to Cuba – and leave all of your preconceived ideas and expectations at the door!
It was about 7:00 p.m. when I got a cab to take me to my casa particular in Holguin – the driver Frank had a van which seated eight and had lots of room for my bike. I was in such a hurry to leave the airport – not being able to believe my good fortune, I had forgotten to go to the money exchange kiosk – that when we got to the Casa Liba I realized that I did not have any pesos. Frank was willing to take some Canadian money – I was figuring on about $15 to $18 so was a bit surprised to hear him say $22. I guess, given the size of the vehicle, it was a reasonable charge. I had told myself that I was wasn’t going to make a scene about being overcharged a dollar or two during my Cuba adventure. In the grand scheme of things, it really means little to me! (I might mention that the ride back to the airport three weeks later from the Casa Liba cost me $12. and I gave the guy a $3. tip.)
My first day in Cuba was spent putting the bike together and exploring Holguin a little. In particular, I visited the two miradors, first cycling the 8 km or so to the lookout at the Villa de Mayabe and then walking from the Casa Liba up the steps to the viewpoint overlooking Holguin.
At both viewpoints I noticed a bird coasting on the wind currents above. “An eagle!” I thought. “How auspicious at the beginning of my journey!” Just like Alexander’s eagle, a sign that his father Zeus was looking over him in Oliver Stone’s movie! And then I reminded myself – “Peter, you couldn’t even describe the difference between a sea-gull and a hawk! Who knows what that bird is? For all you know it could be a vulture – and how auspicious would that be?”
Further research when I got home told me that it was indeed a vulture. It also was a lesson in not reading too much (or anything at all!) into stuff that happens to you or around you – and something I will remember as I describe my bicycle trip in Cuba under the following headings:
1. The Roads of Cuba (click on title to see)
2. Food and Accommodation (click on title to see)
I came back from Cuba knowing more facts about Cuba, but I also find myself less sure about exactly what it all means. While it was definitely a worthwhile trip, I’m left with the obvious feeling that the reality of Cuba is more complex than a three-week visit with a guaranteed exit flight will allow me to grasp.