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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 πŸ™ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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.

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™ 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 πŸ™ πŸ™ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ but unusually for Cuba a power shower πŸ™‚

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

1000 miles biking in Cuba

Very early Thursday 26th

SunRISE :-)
SunRISE πŸ™‚

With yesterdays 100 mile epic ride from Trinidad to Playa Giron I now have over 1,000 miles on the clock πŸ™‚ OK, the conditions were favourable with temperatures in the 20’s and a good wind most of the day, smooth empty roads, and with the nearly 3000 ft of climbing mainly on the first section to Cienfuego.

I must have been refreshed after my day off lazing in Trinidad a town I quite enjoyed as it still has, for now, many original shops selling a bizarre range of products like micro Homebases although of cause mass tourism is affecting it with shops selling tourist tat quickly taking over and buildings getting renovated and smartened up to appeal to olde worlde tastes.

The previous days short but hillyish ride from Sancta Spiritus to Trinidad probably helped too. Interestingly I met at a refresco stall two Canadian guys from Toronto (4 hour direct flights to Trinidad) on their uber smart racing bikes who use Trinidad as a winter training base in fact later on 4 other guys came racing by.

Also in Trinidad I bumped into the 3 German girls who I had previously seen at the Yacobe campsite two of them had suffered with severe diarrhoea as well, our conclusion was it was the green beans πŸ™

Koken barbers chair C1880
Koken barbers chair C1880

I also had a shave and haircut in Trinidad. Abel Garcia Leon is a fourth generation barber and uses the same chair as his great-great grandfather bought in the 1880’s.

I set of from Trinidad really early in the dark as I couldn’t face another disorganised breakfast and in the process discovered both that hills are really easy to climb when you can’t see them (and cool) and also the delightful La Vega roadside restaurant amazingly fast service and excellent food. In fact Exodus use it for lunches, I passed the cheerful Exodus group a couple of hours later, a bit strung out with a poor guy struggling at the rear with the back up bus almost pushing him up the hill.

Rice by the mile
Rice by the mile

Coming into Giron you cycle past miles of rice being dried on the road and then scooped up, with any debris, and bagged an incredibly labour intensive process.

Here in my homestay in Playa Giron there are also a Dutch couple cycling around Cuba, in fact they seemed to have cycled in most countries of the world πŸ™‚ They told me about the little museum here dedicated to the Bay of Pigs fiasco so hopefully I will get to see it after brekkie.

All the rides are on StravaΒ