Cold winds, busy roads, flash looking cars, stressed people - welcome back to Europe.
Early start , packed and ready for action wile Teresa was still struggling with her health. Was sent out to get on the internet to inform Teresa’s Dad about our arrival time at Gatwick etc. and also to bargain for/buy a painting from a gallery in old Havana. The mission failed completely f- after two hours I returned with nothing. We packed the remaining items and set of together to sort out what I had not done on the way to the airport. Internet no joy - thanks to Raul and Fidel - but we purchased two painting from the gallery. Fast track cycling to the airport fully loaded with alcohol, tobacco and the rolled pictures, must have looked funny. Got to the Aeropuerto two hours before the first check in so plenty of time for bicycle dismantling/packing
A random Italian tried to buy the bikes from us at the airport. He had lived in Cuba for 15years and was very happy just playing golf at the nearby golf course . No employment, just poaching- I had to bite my tongue
40min in the queue to check in followed by 5 min in another queue to pay exit levy of €25 per person. A further, rather surprising tax, for exporting artwork out of the country: my levels of inhaling communist crap were boiling over by this stage, so went to get a beer for equivalent of the weekly Cuban wage. Cheers.
The seats on the plane where absolutely fantastic - thanks Virgin Atlantic! I had a funny relief to be out of “Truman Show” country. Not too sure if I was ready to enter the Siberian like weather of Southern England with a gale blowing.
Total cycled: 4089 km
Thanks to all for following the madness.
We really hope we will be able to make it all the way around one day.
I wont give up on the dream!
Woken up by early by the noise of villagers waiting for the first bus /gua gua/ out of town. Nevertheless, the sea view beach location of our tent was absolutely great and semi wild horses strolling along did not bother us at all. The man we had drank with last night arrived as promised at 6:30 and served us some over roasted strong coffee. The beach’s grand cafeteria, or should I say massive complex of lovely developed socialist style space with lots of workers doing nothing, had opened and we could buy some Cuban breakfast items. An interesting touch was the fact that you could buy alcohol and cigarettes 24 hours a day in a near by bar run by the Campismo - bearing in mind that there is absolutely no, or near enough no, tourists in town at this time of the year - Bizarre!
The trip back in to main town 26 km up the road was a bit of a hard graft against the wind and we had to cheat by jumping on the back of the lorry. 80 euro cents later - bargain/- we had an ice cream in San Juan y Martinez then carried on our fight against the wind and time to get to Pinar del Rio on time for our booked bus to Havana. Also had to collect our 50 pre-ordered of top quality thin rolled cigars from 6th Terminal area of town.
En route we met two English or should I say British cyclists hacking along with half the amount of weight on their bikes as ours. They were on three week tour with some friends (who were waiting for them in Viniales having decided not to tacked the mountainous section of Pinar province). We picked up our cigars and popped into the Guayabita factory in Pinar fo buy a couple of bottles of their finest product.
The 15 minutes speedy lunch in a “Marina” restaurant was later regretted with belly ache etc. The Cubanatour office (where we had reserved the bus) was absolutely empty and the lady told us to wait up to 30 mins for the bus. I wandered off several times buying sweets and dodgy Cuban music. An hour and a half later, the bus arrived and we left in high comfort for Havana city. Passing through as ummer storm and 160km of empty motorway, we arrived in the posh parts of Havana “Avenue of Presidents” where we searched for the same place we had stayed in 2 months ago. Bingo, the place was empty but the price had suffered some severed inflation. We bargained and managed to knock off five CUC. Shower, new clothes and I went for a glimpse of Havana at night, leaving Teresa to deal with her Deli belly and headache after our dodgy food.
Beer, cigars and Cuba Lbre, strolled in wobbly fashion back home.
A difficult night trying to dodge mosquito attacks and a rat attempting to eat its way through a door to escape captivity. Lovely breakfast at another house which had twisted and dropped due to hurricane damage. We cycled out north and then west heading for Playa Bailen. Great progress and helping wind mixed with plenty of energy we were flying ticking off kilometres. We stopped in search of cigars at most of the tobacco plantations en route but only 20% were willing to proceed with transactions. The smell off drying tobacco was lovely, and visiting local houses even better.
The farmers offered us drinks and sometimes food although not having much themselves: a bit of a flash back from my childhood in Poland.
Got lots of hand rolled cigars from some proud men who showed and explained the trade.
PInar del Rio had a Guayabita rum production tour and tobacco factory visit on offer, so we took them. After lunch we headed for San Juan y Martinez and Playa Bailen. Gentle ride and lots of breaks with random fruit drinks and snacks observing Cuban relaxed lives. At San Juan the sunlight ran out and we were forced to hitch a lift from a passing lorry. 18kms later we scrambled off the back and rode the last 8kms to the beach in total darkness on a moonless night – good job the road was in good condition!. Arrived at the beach resort of Bailen to be told that we could not camp, and were supposed to have been escorted to the only official Casa Particular. The shark decided that he would take us to his own (or friend’s house) to try to squeeze 20 CUC (€20) from us. We initially bargained down to 15, but eventually decided to escape and find a better option. The (closed) Campismo guard decided to help: she agreed to keep watch on the bikes and suggested where we could set up our tent. A perfect night chatting to a friendly local with some cold beers and cheap Cuban rum with unbranded Cuban coke-cola.
Another grandiose breakfast. Packed early, locked ourselves out of the room to find out that the owners had only one key. Broke back in with the help of a broom handle. We eventually left Vinales at about 10 am. Five km. out of town we found a rustic original Tabaco plantation. Harvesting was underway but the farmer’s wife had time to show us the whole process including the thatched triangular drying barn, the method for stone filtering water from the well and the home grown and roasted coffee. The picture postcard house was just too good to be true. We left the family all of our things we could get away without for next three days in Cuba: T-shirts, torches and especially Teresa’s old mobile phone were highly appreciated. 20 more kms to Pinar del Rio. Cooler temperatures than Costa Rica made the cycle really easy. Dilapidated colonial buildings and a seedy atmosphere welcomed us. Cafes with not much available on their menus, poachers continually harassing us and nothing open on Sunday, made us want to leave the town quickly. We booked our return bus to Havana and got some recommendations on places to visit in the area.
10km south, heading for the nearest playa, I stopped to take a picture and asked a man smoking a cigar if he had some for sale. He happily showed me his selection of hand rolled cigars out of home grown tobacco (as used for Cohiba) and sold me the best 20 of his cigars for just under 1 Euro! We had a chat and his wife begged me not to tell anyone where I got them from. Farmers are allowed to keep up to 10% of their tobacco for personal use but not for sale - another astonishing experience (by accident) . We left them my blow up sleeping mat, unused tool kit from Nicaragua and a pillow (every other item of our equipment was still needed).
Warmed after the visit, we cycled on to arrive half an hour later in La Coloma – a total dive of a fishing port crossed with military base and “mucho” unemployed people drinking on the streets surrounded by soviet style concrete blocks. We had a lovely banana yoghurt drink out of a plastic bag (1 litre costs around 10 euro cents) in a cafeteria on the seafront (not pretty). We spotted youths diving in of the jetty were sign a sign read “do not swim”. Two minutes after entering the town we were on the way out, passing some locals racing horse carts. 7km west, Playa Las Canas was not much better but at least it was peaceful. Found a sea fronted Casa - bonus. At least a third of all houses on playa were uninhabited or/and ruined: it must be as a result of a hurricane or two. Unpacked and relaxed sat on a long dilapidated jetty watching a Cuban woman catching her “pescado” dinner while puffing on the first real top quality cigar of my life…
Lovely breakfast on the patio, followed by a trip to the tourist office. Booked a 4 hour horse tour to take in some more caves and a tobacco plantation . The guest house owners were trying to sell us anything they possibly could to make few extra cuc (although they were very friendly family).
45 minutes later we met our “Calvin Klein“ clad guide with two docile, semi-automatic horses for us. I had never riddena horse before, so I was a bit worried, but the horses were preprogramed considering how easily it went. Both the cave and the tabaco plantation visits were fake and a total rip off. The cigars were sold to us at the plantation for a price 50 times over the market value (not mentioning the drink’s we had). The horses were great, scenery spectacular and the ride really enjoyable. Met a Belgian (Flemish) couple during the trip and we joined them for a few drinks and lively discussion at a grotty Cuban bar. After a siesta, we returned for more latin music and drinks on the square. Bought a huge birthday style cake in a dulceria and shared it with the locals. Joined by slightly weird, older Croatian backpacker. His conversation’s spiralled from Cuban prostitute’s, through political issues to a nightmarish Lapland trip. We made our exit as a voluptuous black Cuban mamma made a move to seduce him.
Shared accommodation with everybody in the casa particular (at least it felt like it with an open ceiling space), and a mosquito invasion was a bit tough. Breakfast made up for it though. An American traveller (minus his Honduran friend) had joined us after breakfast and told us the horror story of their trip… They were sailing from the United States to Honduras and after some trouble with their engine ended up on the Cuban coast. Repaired twice, they finally hit a reef and after a few days, and lack of help (paid for) from the Cuban authorities, the boat sank. Just to make it worse the Honduran guy was on the way to start a new life after saving money in the States. They were now going through the legal process trying to save some of the bits from the boat including a motorbike etc.
We left at about 10 am and headed for La Palma. What a place! Great lunch, great people and no tourists! Priceless gem of Cuban happiness.
We left the town and stopped for a boat trip in a cave before the town of Vinales……. A bit of a plastic tour …
40 min later cycling uphill we arrive in Vinales. A very beautiful but seriously touristy place. Found a great old Casa with wholesome colonial rooms. Visited a naff mural/painting on a rock face and met some Polish gents in a restaurant. I managed to speak a bit of Polish (it was had having had such little practice of late). They gave us a few tips on what we could see in Vinales and Pinar del Rio. We spent the rest of the night drinking and listening to “salsa” music on the square in the centre of town.
I slept like a baby and found it hard to get up. Teresa had been kept awake by strange, repeated howling noises. Although it had rained we were still dry in the morning. By 8am we were on the road again. Returned to crappy Cuban food with omelette in bread for breakfast washed down with sweet black coffee. 5 km down the road I had a puncture. Decided not to visit the open air cold water baths and continued towards Soroa. On a junction before the town we totally changed our minds and headed north west instead.
The scenery was spectacular and the villages interesting. Several ice creams and a chatty German speaking Cuban in Bahia Honda. Another 45 km took us to the expected beach resort of Cayo Levisa. The clue was in the name, it was actually an island and we had arrived at a very dull jetty and a snack bar servicing a once daily boat. After another ice-cream, we cut our losses and decided to stay in the only casa particular in the area. Hot water was much appreciated after three days sleeping rough.
Woke up at 7am in the sleeping bag on the floor at Havana int Airport. By 10 am we had managed to brush our teeth, shave, phone travel agents to work out an escape route (no joy) and established that the bikes had been cleared to leave Costa Rica. Teresa brokered a deal with the helpful TACA Airlines staff that when our bikes arrived they would put them and us in a taxi to “Las Terazzas”. They also agreed to store our luggage in their office while we took a day trip in Havana city. We walked away from the terminal and flagged down a 1951, battered, green Chevy. 5 CUC in to town (the driver used the taxi like a bus, picking up other people on the way). We had a full monty four hours, splurging on anything we wanted: ceramic shops, galleries, colonial buildings, coffees, mojitos, beers, ice-creams - you name it! Running late, we scampered back to meet our taxi driver. We were late but he was even later. The 60 year old Chevy rattled along with an isuzu second hand engine and Toyota gearbox. Total mileage a mystery.
Cheap Cuban cigar at the airport while Teresa located the bikes. They were bushed badly: Teresa’s back light missing and mudguard smashed, my derailleur protection twisted and snapped, bend plastic pump holder and scratched handlebar. Not impressed.
Eventually found a taxi driver willing to take us on a beautiful through the western hills towards Pinar del Rio. Las Terazzas was created in the 60’s as a model village and paradise resort – and actually worked. It is now protected as Unesco world heritage site (not bad for a Milton Keynes of Cuba). We put our bikes together outside the luxury hotel before leaving to find the nearby campsite. En route, we stopped at the lake front café for a sunset meal. Ended up cycling in a dark to a not so easy to find campsite. Passed a Cuban driver sleeping on the road guarding his broken trailer – gave him our last cake from Havana. After 3km we arrived at campismo in total darkness. Welcomed by security guards brandishing machetes and wooden poles, we were told there was no room for foreigners. After begging, they agreed we could pitch our tent just outside the entrance. Camped under the trees as the rain had started and our tent is far from waterproof!
“Ferry port” luxury tent was fine, enough sleep and we boarded on time. Sunrise on our morning cruise became a little overcast but no threat of rain. Puntarenas mid-week was much more sleepy and relaxed, but a massive cruise ship was sending multiple coachloads of mainly retired holidaymakers for a various daytrips. Sellers of random junk with police guards hanging around them like shadows. Sometimes it pays off to look scabby as we were not hassled. We got our tickets for our trip into the central valley and international airport of San Jose (very pleasant experience - lots of genuinely helpful people). Then we had half an hour to kill waiting for the bus at the seafront park. Connected to the internet chatting to our parents via Skype - last possibility before Cuban black hole. The bus trip was comfortable and after two hours of eating and not exercising we arrived at the airport. One broken spoke and Teresa’s bag, then clothing, covered in grease. Very friendly (English speaking) airport policeman helped with easy directions to get to Alejuela using the right road avoiding traffic madness. One hour looking for a repair shop, being sent by different people on a wild goose chase we finally found one with the great help of an Alajuela policeman. Bike had spoke fixed but also new screw holes tapped for the bike stand. It took us almost an hour and I started getting edgy about the time! Soda meal at the Alajuela market and flying beer in the same bar as we were seven weeks earlier on our first day in Costa Rica. On the way back to the airport we stopped to buy some “Imperial” t-shirts and few minutes later I was folding the bikes for the airport handling purposes. Due to the repairs, we ran out of time to drop into Denny’s to say farewell to Gustavo and Eduard.
Checked in we tried frantically to find an internet connection to book ourselves on some means of transport from the UK to France for or return 9 days later. (there would be a very slim chance of finding internet in Cuba). After surfing for a while, we got back to the lounge to realise that we were the last remaining passengers for boarding and without a Cuban entry visa! We had to pay on the spot. Long story short we have made it! Phew… Three hours later we were told by Taca officials that security in San Jose had withheld the bikes!!! Yes , biking holidays in Cuba without bikes! My passport got confiscated by customs and I was questioned as to why I was in Cuba? I did not know myself - especially without the bicycle! We were given some telephone numbers and the usual procedure to follow. 10 pm, the airport bar and a headache what to plan for the next day?
Teresa and Tadek
Inexperienced cycle tourists of Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Thailand, Laos & Cambodia