We visited Cuba for a cycle tour in February/March 2017. This is one section of a series of diary entries I made during our trip. I will also be publishing a section on this site with further information on our trip, including a gear list, route plan and general Cuba information and opinions.
Tuesday 21st February: To Guardalavaca (35miles/57kms)
I wake at 4.30am. My body is telling me I have had a lie in (it is 9.30am in England). I snooze until 6.30 and then get up to pack.
Ivette and Oscar serve us a fantastic breakfast of fresh fruit, breads, fresh tomato with oil and vinegar and a cheese sandwich. Jamie tops his breakfast off with an egg! I am worried I’m eating too much but will be grateful for the nutrition later in the day.
Worryingly we have two flat tyres before we leave. Odd seeing as we haven’t ridden the bikes. Jamie fixes them and I get a chance to chat to the two American women staying at Oscar’s. . We swap adventure stories and I truly wish I could spend more time with them. However it’s time for us to hit the road. Oscar is going to store our bike boxes for us until we return to him in just under three weeks time.
Before we leave we head to a cadeca (money exchange) in town. Jamie, puzzlingly, gets another flat tyre. A forty minute wait at the cadeca, followed by a long search for bottled water sees us finally leave Holguin around 10am. Today is a short day of cycling, a mere 57km (34miles) to Guardalavca, where our travelling companion from yesterday is, no doubt, smoking to her hearts content in one of the resorts all inclusive hotels.
Bearing in mind that this is a main road, akin to a motorway in the UK, there is next to no traffic. Mostly it consists of horse drawn carts, interspersed by cars and buses full of tourists or locals.
We are happy. These are sights we have never experienced before. But things seem to be going wrong. All our inner tubes are blowing. One by one each of the 8 we have bought with us goes. At some point we realise we have made a stupid and very serious mistake; the inner tubes are the wrong size. Whilst merrily chatting in Decathlon we have both ignored the fact that these tyres are not road tyres. We are in trouble.
Inner tubes, along with most bicycle parts, are hard to come by in Cuba. We know that it may be a few hundred kilometres before we hit another town large enough to have any.
The patches we have bought with us just cannot hold the blow outs. My bike seems to cope better than Jamie’s, he is getting a few miles at best before having to stop.
Limping Into Guardalavaca
Many hours later we limp into Guardalavaca in the 30+ degree heat. It is not just the tyres that are deflated. Jamie has become inner-tube changer extraordinaire and I am chief tyre-pumper; make of that what you will!
I can tell Jamie is exhausted and fed up and am terrified that he is going to hate the entire holiday. It is to his great credit that he has not thrown all his toys out of the pram and declared he hates cycle touring!
Even once in Guardalavaca it takes us some time to find the Casa which Oscar has recommended for the night. It is common for Casa owners in one town to pass you to their friend in the next and Oscar had informed Odelsa we were on our way. She spots us and passes us on to another lady (Odelsa did not have a room free). This lady and her husband were utterly charming. The room was far more basic than the previous night but it was clean and we were happy to have somewhere to lay our heads.
We sat and repaired inner tubes; patches reinforced with insulator tape, before heading to the beach to seek much needed food. It was now eleven hours since breakfast at Oscar’s and we had had no other food.
Guardalavca is a small town. Its front, on the sea, is dominated by all inclusive resorts. A security guard pointed us to the far end of the beach and a couple of small independent bars and restaurants. A bad day turned into the most spectacular sunset of our lives. The sun set fire to the bluest blue of the Atlantic Ocean. A combination of exhaustion, worry and elation bring a tear to my eye at this stunning sight.
As we devour a giant pizza and a couple of beers each we discuss how we will get through the next day. Jamie veers between wanting to take a day off and head back to Holguin in a taxi for inner tubes and pressing on. I secretly fear our three week adventure is over already.
Back at our Casa by 8.30 we are exhausted again and fall into bed. Again I wake at 4.30 am and head to the toilet. Bleary eyed and without contact lenses it is only once ensconced on the throne I notice a dark object between me and the door. A squint reveals my fears are correct; a cockroach. Not my greatest fear, not a big deal but the confined space makes for a jumpy and nervous exit from the bathroom. I decide not to tell Jamie when I hear him head that way 30 minutes later; what you don’t know…
Wednesday 22nd February 2017 – To Nicaro (65 miles/104kms)
I am not sure what Jamie is truly thinking as we rise today. Deep down I don’t think we will reach Nicaro, 65 miles (104 km’s) along the road, and our pre-booked accommodation for tonight.
However, I know we definitely won’t reach it unless we try. Going forward is the only option.
Jamie is being excellent with his attempts at speaking Spanish. We are both woefully undereducated when it comes to speaking the language and it is showing. Jamie sits at the kitchen table with our hosts and goes through the dictionary, one word at a time, in order to make conversation.
I try to join. In but at times we all just look at each other and laugh in mutual misunderstanding.
Heading out of Guardalavaca (at 7.40am) the scenery is so much more lush and beautiful than the day before. We pass through small villages as locals are heading to work for the day. I wonder how they know which of the buses and trucks to alight in order to reach their chosen destination.
A Gift From The Bike Gods
We dare to enjoy ourselves for a short period. But six miles in Jamie’s front tyre goes again and then again. The repairs on the burst tubes just aren’t holding. And then I remember something; when we were buying we have a spare, folding tyre. with us. In decathlon I had asked Jamie “it’s smaller than the tyres we have on, will that matter?” He replied “No, it will do the job if we need it.”
This tyre could be our last hope. It is Jamie’s front wheel which is giving us the trouble, all the other tyres and tubes are holding. We change his front tyre for the spare and bungee the other tyre to my rack – this is not a folding tyre!
It is only 9.45 and we can tell it’s going to be seriously hot today. The tyre holds.
As we pedal along we barely dare acknowledge the stroke of luck which has countered our stupidity. I constantly glance warily at Jamie’s wheels. I know he does the same to mine. We are looking for the slightest flattening. It is hard to tell. All our tyres are running on lower pressure than we would normally plus our panniers weigh 20-25kg on each bike. Compared to what we are used to on road bikes they look flat all the time! When the roads deteriorate into gravel and pot holes we both, negotiate, not only with the terrain but with the cycle gods. If negotiations with either break down the consequences will be bad.
Slowly we start to enjoy our surroundings once more. The terrain is undulating and the road unpredictable. Lorries laden with sugar cane rumble past with friendly waves and toots. Jamie shouts “Hola” to everyone we pass. 95% of people answer with friendly greetings. A far cry from cycling in the UK. I am a little more reserved than Jamie but revel in his friendliness. He is loving every moment and putting me to shame with his engaging manner.
Today, as yesterday, we pass a few road cyclists. I am surprised, I did not expect to see many people cycling for sport but here they are. All men, all riding individually and all friendly. One turns and joins us. He rides with us for a few miles, all chatting in broken language.
Needing An Energy Boost
We each have three .75 l bottles of water but they start to run low. Flagging, we stop in the shade and I dig Happy Shopper flapjack out from my panniers. It gives us enough boost to carry on.
As the miles pass we are able to stop to take photographs instead of just for puncture repairs. Vultures, warming their wings by the side of the road oblige, as do ox drawn carts and cowboys herding cattle.
It’s another 30 miles before Jamie’s front tyre goes again. It then holds for the rest of the ride. The spare tyre has truly been sent by the cycle gods.
Just over 40 miles into the ride and the terrain has changed from undulating to seriously hilly. We are roasting. The hard wind which blew us backwards the day before is catching us again. On one hand the breeze is needed to cool us, on the other it is the last thing we need. Going down one hill at less than 12 mph shows me just what a hindrance it is.
We haven’t seen a roadside vendor since just outside Guardalavaca and Jamie is suffering more than me, which is highly unusual. Just as I start to seriously weaken we see a stall! For the first time we get to taste the fantastic, fresh pizza Sian and Em have told us so much about. A small folded pizza each and six glasses each of ice cold, guava juice costs us around £1.20.
We feel on top of the world.
But those hills just keep coming and now fumes from passing vehicles are starting to get to me. Black clouds belch from many of the lorries and buses and engulf you. I learn to hold my breath at just the right moment when they pass.
Just as the guava juice high starts to wane we find a cola stand and re-fuel for another few hills. At our final stop a vendor chops a hole in a coconut and we guzzle fresh coconut water. For the first time ever I see Jamie flagging on the bike. The heat has got to him.
We Make It To Nicaro!
We finally turn off for our destination of Nicaro, the GPS deciding to take us the dirt road way in instead of paved road. Nicaro is a small, industrial town on the coast. As we approach it the outskirts seem run down and factories dominate. But the street our Casa is on is lovely and the Casa itself a sight for sore eyes. Beautifully kept and well equipped. Our host is away and his neighbours, Omar and Xeomara, look after us perfectly. Another chance to improve our Spanish. We even chat about Brexit!
Tatico arrives to cook us dinner. He is charming and explains that he was thrown by my vegetarianism but still serves a huge and tasty meal.
Our relief at getting through the day is overwhelming. I think there is some relief also at the fact we have not yet snapped at each other or fallen out. A check of the bike tyres before bed reveals they are all still inflated. We sleep well knowing we have a day off the bikes tomorrow.
We stayed and ate at: Casa Buenavista, Nicaro (booked through Air BnB). A lovely place to stay. All food is extra.