Back in T.O. after a Great Bicycle Tour of Cuba’s Oriente

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 trouble-free bike tour that 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 –

toronto - holguinThe 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.

iphone and SPOT Connect

iPod and SPOT Connect

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 smartphone 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 the 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 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. In particular, I visited the two miradors (viewpoints), 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.

Holguin panorama … click on photo to enlarge!

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?”

The Turkey Vulture-a common sight in Cuba!

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

2. Food and Accommodation

I came back from Cuba knowing more about Cuba,  but I also find myself less sure about exactly what it all means.  While it was definitely a worthwhile trip,   the reality of  Cuba is more complex than a three-week visit with a guaranteed exit flight will allow me to grasp.  Maybe another visit is in order – this time in the northern section!

downtown Baracoa

This entry was posted in bicycle touring and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Back in T.O. after a Great Bicycle Tour of Cuba’s Oriente

  1. Jill Weldon says:

    Very interested and interesting. We are cycling a similar route ) ie Baracoa to Holguin along the southern coast starting Feb 9. 2014.. I couldn’t figure out exactly when you travelled – Dec or Jan ? Sounds like it is quite hot? It is reassuring to hear that the roads are not so bad on a bicycle along that stretch. Were there any fruit or food stands along the route, or did you survive on energy bars and water?

    • true_north says:

      Jill, I went in mid-January. The Jan-Feb period might be the best time to go – as hot as always but at least not humid. Cuba is a great place to be on a bicycle because there are so few vehicles on the road. The stretch you are going to do is one of Cuba’s most isolated corners. The downside is the lack of services like restaurants, accommodation, etc. Away from the beach Cuba does not have a tourism infrastructure. you’ll notice I pre booked my room in Baracoa (highly recommended place BTW!) and in Playa Maguana and Moa too.

      Be prepared for hot, hot, hot! Get your cycling done early – get on the road by seven or even earlier if possible. By 11 it starts to become a challenge. You will be cycling through a national park between Playa Maguana and Moa – there was a fruit stand there. make sure you leave your hotel or casa particular with the water you need – a couple of liters at least at 2.1 pounds per liter! I brought lots of Clifbars and a steripen to deal with water.

      The most difficult stretch is the one between Moa and Mayari because there is no accommodation (that I was aware of). It is 100 km of flat and gently rolling countryside with one town sort of in the middle of the ride.

      Get in touch if there is anything else you are wondering about. You will see a Cuba few tourists ever get to experience. Even the locals will wonder why you are bicycling instead of sitting under an umbrella on a beach sipping mojitos!

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.