Vinales surprise & downtown Havana

I spent Thursday meandering around Vinales, just about every house offers accommodation so if you are told the town is full take it with a bucket of salt! The town is popular with walkers going up the hills and around the tobacco farms.

Jimmy, Rick & Rich from Crested Butte CO

Jimmy, Rick & Rich from Crested Butte CO

In the evening I was wandering around wondering where to eat when I spied three very expensive looking carbon bikes tucked away in a corner :-) I went to inspect and discovered their owners were from the USA (of cause with bikes like that) and even more amazingly one is the neighbour of my friend Tony Martin, who a few weeks ago Sally and I went walking in Snowdonia with :-) They all reside in Crested Butte, Colorado so are here looking for hills :-) I guess it now means that a trip boarding in Colorado at 3,000 metres is on the cards… One of them is a veggie so we returned to my favourite veggie restaurant :-)

Friday was very wet and I was pleased to be taking the bus to Havana with the bike, 12CUC inc. You only have to remove the front wheel, lower the saddle and take any bags from it so easy really. The bus ended up with around 8 bikes and full of folks.

Right lads push! starting a car in Havana

Right lads push! starting a car in Havana

In Havana bus station whilst re-assembing the bike I got chatting to a group of German girls who had also done 2000km in 30 days, except they had used a Canadian company and a local guide, Enrique. Since they had finished their riding Enrique said follow him and I could stay with his sister in downtown Havana for a couple of nights :-) So once again I struck lucky although the area was very seedy full of working girls in the evenings and rubbish strewn streets every where. :-(

Lobster at The FenixLamar from LA in the USA ended up staying in the house too, so in the evening we all went around to The Fenix restaurant for lobster it was OK but hideously expensive at 103CUC for the three of us :-( :-(

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The end of my biking road in Cuba

Written early Thursday 3 December

Farmer going for a ride

Farmer going for a ride

On Tuesday I left Pinar del Rio and managed to bike the 82 miles to La Bajada on the western tip of the island overlooking Cancun in Mexico. So I now have biked the length of the island from the South eastern corner at Baracoa to the North Western corner. For the pedants I know Baracoa is about 20 miles down an unmade track from the actual tip and that La Bajada is a similar distance down a track from the North Western corner.

I left Pinar del Rio Hostal with a business card from it’s owner for the Mercedes Motel in Manuel Lazo. The road was mainly quite good although in the tobacco fields it was planting season so probably not the best time of the year to appreciate tobacco plantations :-( although interesting to see the various way that oxen are used in tilling the land.

I arrived in Manuel Lazo to find the so called ‘Motel’ was down a dusty track of an equally bad track. The building was a shack with my proposed room been a windowless bedroom of another bedroom. I drank a beer, mulled it over, and then made my excuses and departed with all haste.

It was another 20 miles down a deserted road through a National Forest a bird watchers paradise, before it suddenly opened up to the sea and beach. A group of ladies nabbed me and took me to a homestay, at least this room had a window, all be it with cardboard shutters and a shower which was a pipe hanging out of the wall.

Sunset at La Bajada

Sunset at La Bajada

I pretty well had no choice but to stay, having biked 82 miles :-( apparently the area was devastated in the 2005 hurricane although probably it wasn’t much even then! To make up for the lack of amenities the sunset over the ocean was excellent though :-)

Dinner was served in a neighbouring shack after the generator came on so we had light! (it turned of at 4am). The neighbour said a bus left at 6.20 in the morning. So I arranged brekkie for 5.30am in the pitch black, thank goodness for the bike light :-)

There was much confusion in the morning about the bus so I just pedalled of in the dark! 3 hours and 41 miles later no bus ever came past me! In Isabel Rubio I found a 1950’s vintage taxi to share with a young Cuban couple. A fare of 8CUC was agreed for me and the bike to do the high speed 36 mile dash to Pinar :-) thus saving a good 4 hours of pedalling.

In Pinar I decided to pedal to the cigar and tourist capital of Vinales there was a lovely 400 foot real climb to get into The Vinales Valley with fantastic views to make a great ending to the day. To make it even better I discovered the La Berenjena vegetarian restaurant superb food and smoothies :-)

After dinner and a Cuba Libre or 2 I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure for 10CUC . :-)

Today is going to be a relaxing day before I get the bus to Havana in the morning for a weekend exploring the delights of the Capital City. My flight home is on Monday afternoon.

Threadbare cycling shorts

Threadbare cycling shorts

I’ve now biked 1,445 miles (2312Km) in the 28 days I’ve been away so far with 25 days in the saddle that’s about 58 miles per day :-) As you can see from the pic it’s just as well I’m stopping as my bike shorts are totally threadbare. The bike has held up well apart from the headstock clamping nut breaking and the rear brake pads wearing out.

Hopefully, once home I will get the pics up and geotagged.

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Biking along the Cuban motorways

Cuban motorway being white washed

Cuban motorway being white washed

After some thought I decided to get back to Havana along the Cuban motorway system it was about 6 miles further in distance but offers a much better ride.

I left Matanza on a very long slow climb but at least with motorway gradients you can always bike up, the road was pretty well deserted and at least the huge cars and buses can easily get pass as the road is at least two or three times wider than the standard ones so makes for a way more relaxing time.

1959 bridge

1959 bridge

I eventually reached the Puenta de Bacuna Yagua viaduct which came as a bit of shock when you suddenly find yourself hundreds of feet above the valley floor with a very low handrail indeed. Pretty amazing concrete construction built in 1959. Once across it there are a set of steps upto a viewing platform and tourist centre.

I stopped for an refresco in one of the huge roadside restaurants amusing to see the 5 piece Cuban band strike up when a tourist bus arrived. At one of the motorway hills I decided to do a detour and follow the coast road. True to form I ended up having to carry the bike and wading across a river by the beach where a hurricane had destroyed a bridge :-( I was ready for my prawn lunch by the sea after that!

Eventually I came to the Havana bypass which I followed around to get to the airport hostal and retrieve my tools and sort the bike out a bit. The amount of metalwork embedded in the tarmac is incredible an archaeologists dream in centuries to come. Motorway junctions are a bit of a nightmare and definitely not for the feint hearted. But I survived :-)

At the hostal I gave the bike a wash to remove all the sand from my beach escapade, tightened the headstock and oiled the chain & gears.

The next day it was more motorway to get to Saroa. Since it was Sunday there was a huge local biking club out going into Havana. I had a huge wind behind me so made good time to Saroa. Saroa waterfall is nothing spectacular although it’s a steep hill to get to it and the local rip off boys want 3 CUC to get entry and ‘look after’ your bike. Whilst having a pee in the undergrowth some insect bit me down there, I made a hurried departure to my homestay, had a shower and lashings of anti-histamine cream.

Lots of pigs etc next door but I slept soundly but as my friend Andy aptly put it the countryside is a noisy place :-)

Today (Monday 30th) I made another uneventful 50 miles on the motorway to Pinar del Rio the end of the motorway system. Tomorrow I will do the last leg of Cuba end to end by going to La Fe and the western most part of the island. I then want to explore The Vinales valley for a couple of days before getting the bus/train/taxi back to Havana.

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A day with a poor start can have a good ending..

Early Sat 28th November

Dutch lady with parrot

Dutch lady with parrot

After our breakfasts I departed leaving the Dutch couple to enjoy there free day going around the nature reserves whilst I set of to find the museum and Playa Larga. The museum door was open but alas it was closed and wouldn’t open for another 20 minutes or so (Lonely Planet says 8am in reality it’s at least 9am). I decided not to wait but just take some pics of the aeroplane & tanks on the lawn outside, my guess is there will be a decent Wikipedia article on it.

1-IMG_0472Riding along suddenly a huge crab sprinted across the road! Also there are many concrete block memorials (reminiscent for me of The Berlin Wall uprights)which I’m sure are where the guys were killed in the fighting, although they only have a simple name plate on them (alongside a couple of them were smaller tombs with a brass memorial plate with the date 17 April 1961).

Eventually after passing a few all inclusive diving centres I reached Playa Largo which for me seemed a bit of a dump so after a refresco I quickly moved on, leaving The Bay of Pigs to the youngsters and there snorkelling. Battling into the headwind I eventually came to Australia :-) where I stopped for another refresco & bread roll.

A young guy came over to practice his excellent English on me and told me his Aunt had an homestay in Jaguey also more appealingly I could get my Cuban visa extended in the town. Given I was getting tired I followed him across the motorway (well more like a deserted country road) into Jaguey. The bank exchanged $25 for the requisite stamps and then went around the corner to the Officina de Tramites to find it closed :-( so we went to his Aunts which seemed ok…

until 3am next morning when all hell broke loose in the adjacent house with cocks crowing and dogs barking until I finally left after breakfast at 7am :-( :-( Awful!

So I continued into the head wind around truly vast fields of newly planted orange trees. Then into banana plantations. I decided against visiting Varadero as apparently it’s just a tourist centre and so came straight to Matanza which turns out to be an excellent working town with lots of ‘real’ shops where I smile at the glorious mix up of retail categories, truly awful window displays and the bored women behind their little counters. Lots of houses that have lost their roofs and inners but with glorious facades.

With the help of the fire station I quickly found the immigration office and after some bureaucratic fussing about got my visa extended :-) Just around the corner was Hostal Azul, full but the owner took me back around the corner and put me in Hostal Vanessa, A delightful QUIET room with a bathroom that is 2 feet wide and 7 feet long :-) but unusually for Cuba a power shower :-)

A good ending to a day that started so badly especially with all the places in Matanza selling chocolate helado at 3CUP per boule :-)

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