We visited Cuba for a cycle tour in February/March 2017. In this diary entry we head over La Farola to Yacabo Abajo and then on to Guantanamo. 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 28th Feb – To Yacabo Abajo via La Farola (47miles/75.6km)
Leaving Baracoa is a sad occasion for us. We have not only grown attached to the busy town but also to Manuel, Yolana, Kathy, Julie and Carly. It has felt as if we are staying in a family home and nothing has been too much trouble.
Manuel is determined to give us a good breakfast send off and serves cheese with guava jam (a solid, curd like jam which compliments the mild cheese perfectly), fried plantain, tomatoes cooked in olive oil, bread, ham, fried eggs, hot chocolate milk, strong Cuban coffee and masses of fruit. Our water bottles have been filled and kept in the freezer over night.
We have been given a gift of two densely packed balls of cocoa and, even better, all of our inner tubes patched and repaired. We hug everyone goodbye and say our farewells to the pampered dog, cat and parrot. I have a small lump in my throat as they wave us off.
We Ride Again
Our ride today takes us over La Farola, a road constructed in 1965. Previous to the construction of this road Baracoa was only easily accessible by sea, so it has been hugely important to the town. For us it is a challenge. The first 15 km or so of the day will be on flatish ground then we hit a 20km climb over the top before descending through lush vegetation back to the sea. La Farola is often included in lists of crazy/beautiful/must do cycle routes.
The first twenty minutes of our ride are during rush hour. We negotiate an abundance of horse cart taxis, school children and husbands taking their wives to work on the cross bar of their bikes. It is nowhere near as hard as traveling in the UK in rush hour, everyone is still ready with a friendly wave or smile.
The air is hot and humid and as we start the climb up La Farola we are heading into cloud. Soon the heavens open. Rain in Cuba is serious business and we are soon drenched with rivers running down the road. This is the first real test for our panniers and we wonder whose will stay the driest. There is no need for a raincoat here, however wet it may be, it is still hot enough to cycle on through.
Just Keep Climbing
The hills twist and turn with gentle gradients changing to steep ramps on a regular basis. We are glad of the energy from Manuel’s breakfast! Rounding one corner we come across a French couple and their touring bikes. This is a good opportunity for us to have a rest as we stop to exchange touring plans. They have been in Cuba for seven weeks already and have another five to go. During the day we pass each other several times and eventually end up in the same campismo, as the Casa they had hoped to stay in was full.
The climb is long and tough but it doesn’t feel as hard as the climbs from Moa to Baracoa. I think I must be getting my cycling legs! Just as we are reaching the peak of the road Jamie’s inner tube goes. We had really thought this wouldn’t happen again and it throws concern back into our minds. As we change the tube and re-inflate young men appear from nowhere, each trying to sell us various food stuff.
Reaching The Top of La Farola
As we reach the top of the road the clouds break and the sun starts to shine. I am relieved as I know how steep the descent is going to be; wet brakes would not be a good thing! For the first time on the trip we are chased by two little dogs. We only just escape without nips to our ankles as we pick up speed downhill.
The road surface is not bad but, where the concrete blocks are joined every few metres, there are large bumps. This and the sharp bends mean that descending at full speed, with loaded panniers is a hairy business. I find that when I hit 30mph the panniers tend to set up a good wobble at the back of the bike!
Passing through the village of Cajobabas we finally round a corner and see the sea once more. A tempting blue expanse which we now ride alongside for the final ten miles or so. This is stunning. Our on the bike photography skills are tested as we take many pictures of ourselves and each other.
As we pass through Imias Jamie takes on the local lads in a short bike race. I am hungry and just carry on pedalling steadily.
We miss out on he chance to stop at a sea side cafe (insert small domestic argument where I am proved right) and instead attempt to find food at a petrol station Rapido store. Jamie is told that there is nothing on the menu available and we are given a bowl of cheese. We leave hungry.
A Come Down On The Accommodation
It is not far down the road to Campismo Rio Yacabo, our lodgings for the night. This is part of a chain of state run camp sites and Manuel telephoned yesterday to check they would be open. They are open but fairly grumpy! It is 2pm and we are told we cannot get food until 6pm, however as soon as some Cubans turn up they are given sandwiches. The room is basic but the setting is not too shabby and we head out for a dip in the sea to cool off.
We eat a random dinner; spaghetti bolognaise (microwave packet), rice and omelette. Jamie also gets two cold pork chops – this is his downfall for the next day! We share our dinner with the skinny dogs roaming the campsite, paying particular attention to a rather bullied and beleaguered bitch.
We are now in the hottest and driest part of Cuba and cacti dominate the landscape, providing a good silhouette against the sunset for early evening pictures.
The French lady (who speak good Spanish) has established there is no way we can get breakfast before 8am as the kitchen is not open. We all want to be on the road before then so we can get to Guantanamo before the hottest part of the day. She manages to extract some very basic sandwiches which we can take to our rooms and eat in the morning – mine is dry bread and tomato.
Back in the room I decline to turn the cockroach, waving its legs woefully in the air, upright. I don’t wan him scuttling around in the night. We are glad of the bottle of Havana Club we have purchased, for the equivalent of about £2.50, to help us sleep.
Wednesday 1st March – To Guantanamo (48.5 miles/78kms)
The best praise I can give the campismo is that it was a bed for the night. Jamie wakes with a very dodgy stomach and I add rehydration salts to his water. The campsite dogs get his ham and tomato sandwich breakfast and we share my plain tomato one. The French couple have to rescue theirs from an army of ants.
We have got into a good routine in the mornings now and are usually on the road between 7.30 and 7.40am. The heat and noise usually wake me before 6am so it is no problem getting up.
We leave just after the French couple and once again, play leapfrog with them throughout the day.
We had hoped for a flat day but, as much as it was nowhere near as challenging as La Farola, there are still plenty of hills!
One stretch of road however was the best we have cycled along so far. We crest a hill and drop down to the ocean; for miles waves crashed alongside us as we gape at the sea. A large crab, crossing the road in front of us, waves his pincers angrily as we stop to take his picture. He was the only one we saw alive, many more were just shell fragments along the way.
Since we popped over the top of La Farola there has been a distinctly less friendly feel than in our first week. There are less waves and hellos and more blank stares. Jamie tells me that one lady spits towards him as we pass. There is also a change in the traffic along this route. Many newer cars, going at high speed, pass us and less of the classic American ones.
We stop at a beach side café for cola and coffee to boost Jamie; his stomach is still giving him problems. The French couple catch up with us there and give us honey biscuits purchased from a roadside seller.
After this we have a long climb away from the coast. It feels tough on legs tired from the day before and the hot, dry air does not help. The following descent is the tonic we need and gives us a view over Guantanamo Bay. We see little evidence of the strong US and Cuban military presence in this area. A few fence sign warn you to keep out and the odd Cuban army barracks are the only sign.
The last 15 miles, into Guantanamo, is long and straight. We push on a little harder than we should because Jamie is feeling ill and just wants to be settled.
A Town of Many Searches
Arriving into the town we fail to find the Casa we are looking for on our first attempt but stumble upon it by chance by the main square. Our chosen Casa is full but phone calls are made and we are walked to another one; Casa Osmaida Blanco Castillo. It is a little haven after the campismo. The proporieter is a smiley lady and shows us to a large, cool room. The bikes are stowed in her enclosed garden. She also serves strong, sweet coffee as we check in before we head to the best part of the day – the shower! Tonight’s warm water is far better than the trickle which elicited from a pipe hanging from the wall in the campismo the night before.
I’m ravenous after only having had a stale tomato sandwich all day but most of the bars are not serving food. We find some in the Islazul Hotel on the main square but, as is often the case in Cuba, having been handed the menu we are told that most of the food is not available. Beer is available but clearly running short; this too is not unusual.
Our next task today is to go to the cadeca to get more money changed. I don’t know what all the functions of a cadeca are but everyone seems to need to use it. A security guard lets two people in at a time and everyone else queues outside. In this case the queue is on the opposite side of the road, in the shade. This is no orderly British queue, people just mill around. When joining the group you have to ask who is last in the queue (“ultima persona?”) and then watch for when they are called forward. The next person who joins does the same and so on. It is a forty five minute wait and, despite the shade, it’s tiring. Whilst Jamie goes in (you aren’t allowed to enter in pairs) I go in search of bottled water.
This too is a long game. It’s easy to find shops selling cola, rum, washing machines and children’s clothes but bottled water is like gold dust.
Water purchased and money changed we head out for a pizza before turning in for the night. Jamie is still feeling decidedly dodgy – but luckily he doesn’t mention it much! In a happy coincidence the pizza place seems to be one of the few places with plenty of beer.
Guantanamo is my least favourite town so far. I feel there is an edge to it that other towns have not had. However there are some delightful old colonial buildings and I would have liked a little more time and energy to explore.
We stayed and ate in Yacabo Abajo: Campismo Yacabo Abajo. Basic cabins. We noticed that there are one or two Casas in Imias (just before Yacabo Abajo), it would be worth trying one of these instead of the campsite.
We stayed in Guantanamo: Casa Osmaida Blanco Castillo, Carios Manuel No. 811 e/ Prado y Aguilera, Gtmo. Tel: 325193. This was a clean and friendly casa. Large room with fridge/freezer.