THE FIRST RIDE
No worries though as I rose, brushed my teeth – making sure not to rinse my brush in the tap water – and started on my journal. It was only day 3 and I was already 2 ½ days behind. Oh well.
The group breakfasted at 7 on a light meal of eggs any style, bread and fruit. As we ate, you could feel a sense of nervous excitement in the air. The first ride in a group setting comes with a bit of peer pressure as part of the bargain. No one in the group wants to be last, or to hold up the group, or worst of all, get in a silly crash.
As cycle tours go though, you couldn’t have asked for better support. Besides having all the tools and parts necessary to maintain a smooth ride, the bus would perform periodic sweeps and if you felt the need to sit out the rest of the ride, they would stop and pick you up. All you had to do was pat your head. There was no shame whatsoever in dropping out and before the tour was over, several riders, both experienced and neophyte alike, would take advantage of the exit strategy.
We drove a few miles out of town and stopped at a gas station, which would be our launch point. The bikes were pulled out of the trailer and reassembled. Besides running a first class tour, WOW CUBA has the best bikes of any tour company in Cuba; $1,000. Specialized hybrids.
After doing safety checks on the bikes, we headed to the restroom for a final potty break.
One of the things you learn quickly in Cuba is that a trip to the bathroom is as much an adventure as anything else is, plus it’s costly. Most facilities have an attendant that you are expected to tip, usually 1 CUC, as part of the deal. For your “kook” you got a small wad of TP, the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping out someone who makes the equivalent of $18 per month – but not much more. Many of the restrooms had no soap, no towels to dry your hands, and a lot of times, even toilet seats. But you just grinned and “bared it,” rationalizing that as a cyclist, you were used to tormenting your derriere, and that if cold porcelain was the worst that could happen to your precious “culo,” on this trip, you were doing just fine.
The road today was busy with horse drawn wagons and trucks carrying loads of freshly cut sugar cane from the fields that we rode past. In the distance every once in a while, you could see the smoke as a field was burned after the crop of cane was brought in.
Besides the sugar cane, there was other agriculture as well: bananas, mangos, onions, and garlic. Cuba is an agricultural nation, and mostly sustenance, if even that. They export only 20% of what they grow, and have to import about 70% of their foodstuffs to feed their population.
One of the byproducts of riding in a farming country - and one that relied so heavily on equine power - were the unique hazards of road apples and sugar cane that had fallen off of trucks. One hazard that didn’t exist though was the cars and trucks that passed us by. In this country they’re not afraid to use their horns, and it was comforting to know that they saw us. Still, I was glad to have my trusty rear view mirror with me.
After just a few miles, we came upon a tobacco drying shed that Nelson had arranged for us to see. It was a large structure with palm fronds for walls that acted as a desiccant to dry out the green leaves. It was very interesting and the workers were very accommodating. If you’d like to take a tour, you can tag along with me here
We arrived back in town around 2:30, dropped off bikes and ate lunch at a very nice restaurant in town. By this point on the tour, it was becoming apparent that none of us were going to starve to death on this trip. In fact, you got a little tired of eating and always feeling full, and I know that I gained weight on the trip. Go figure; gaining weight on a cycling tour for gosh sake.
Back at the hotel it was still more decadence as several of us climbed into the hotel’s Jacuzzi s to soak our tired bones. Truth be told, I wasn’t really that sore as a 30 mile ride was nothing for me, but it was great to get in the water none the less.
After the Jacuzzi, I worked some more on my journal and downloaded pics and videos onto my laptop. And before long, it was time to head out to eat – again.
Dinner tonight was at a local restaurant/bar with live music. The food was so-so, or asi-asi, but the music was good, and the place was lively and fun. I bought a CD before heading back to the hotel to pack. Tomorrow would be another day, another ride and another location. If you’re still with me, be back here tomorrow to continue our travels of Cuba.
Until then, adios and buenas noches.