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.
Saturday 25th February 2017 – To Baracoa (47.5miles/76.4km)
We had been warned by many people and the guide book that the road between Moa and Baracoa was bad. The surface is either unpaved or has once been paved but is now pot holed and broken. With this in mind and around 80km of cycling ahead of us we wanted to get an early start.
The bike gods were clearly displeased today and struck us down repeatedly before we even set off. The inner tubes which Jamie had so painstakingly patched and taped the night before just would not hold. It took three attempts before we could even leave the hotel.
Once we finally got on the road we almost immediately meet the first cycle tourer we had seen yet (other than ourselves of course); a Dutch gentleman who was travelling in the opposite direction. We stopped to exchange trip notes and tips on where to see and stay before continuing on past the ugly nickel smelting plants.
Nickel extraction has left the countryside around Moa looking desolate, as if some natural disaster has befallen it. The exposed earth left behind is a deep red colour and enveloped us in a dusty, angry haze each time a vehicle went by.
In no time the climbs begin and they make the hills from the previous day look like bumps in the road. One climb was so long and steep that all I could do was drop into my lowest gear and stare at the inches of road in front of me as I willed my legs to keep turning. The weight of the panniers and the rocky, gravel surface seemed to be dragging me back at every revolution. When we finally made the top I gasped to Jamie that it was the hardest climb I had ever done in one go. It was the toughest of the day but there were many more to come.
Half an hour later I call a brief halt, as the rumbling in my guts I had been trying to ignore forced me into the undergrowth. I desperately hope it is a one off visit and I won’t have to use the Ciprofloxacin given to us by Lone in Nicaro.
It seems as though the harder the day is the more we are rewarded with beautiful views. Much of today’s route follows the coast and we are wowed time and time again. The temptation to jump off the bikes and into the sea is hard to resist.
Our snack of choice today is cuchurucho, a coconut and sugar delight. It comes wrapped in a banana leaf cone and is perfect energy food for the hills.
Will We Make Baracoa?
Many of the locals here see touring cyclists often enough to know where we are heading; “Baracoa, Baracoa, Baracoa” they shout as we pass.
The vegetation has become more lush each day and we roll past sugar cane plantations and towering coconut and banana trees. The horses, worryingly thin in the Holguin area, are healthier here, purely due to the glut of green. Most horses, when they are not working are tethered. As we stop to take pictures on one bridge a determined looking grey pony walks past trailing his tether behind him. I walk towards him and click, but he keeps going, totally ignoring me, totally focused. He has broken free and is on a mission. “Good luck ponio” I tell him.
The only thing preventing us from stopping to take more often to pictures often. Whilst the tyres are all inflated we want to keep moving as much as possible. We know that if we can make Baracoa we will have our best chance yet of spares or repairs.
It doesn’t help that the poor bikes are being constantly and severely rattled by the road. It feels more like mountain biking than road cycling, as you negotiate each bump, gravel patch and pot hole. We have to think quick to prevent the bike taking a big hit. Jamie finds it tougher than I; not only is his thinner front tyre more likely to skid on the gravel, but it is also the one which keeps blowing. Going downhill he has to brake constantly. I decide to enlist my very minimal mountain biking skills; getting off the saddle and hanging back behind it. Allowing the bike to dance over the bumps as well as giving my aching behind a rest!
A Happy Arrival
Aside from the inner tube problems our bikes are a joy to ride. We are both on Specialized Tricross’ and they are fantastic, hardy rides. I’ve had mine for a few years now and, despite its less than tough appearance, it has got me over many miles of rough terrain. It’s a real shame that Specialized no longer make this particular model.
Amazingly both my stomach and the tyre hold out all the way to Baracoa! Tonight we are staying at Villa Paradiso, a Casa we have previously booked. We have been in touch with the owners, Roberto and Manuel, by email for a few weeks and know they are going to be fantastic hosts.
On the outskirts of Baracoa we stop to look at our arrival instructions. Finding ourselves in the central square in town we are told by a local that bikes are not allowed there, even if you are walking with them. He then proceeds to look Villa Paradiso up on his phone and give us detailed directions. These are reinforced by confirming nods and points from others as we get closer to our destination. One of the great things about Cuba is the grapevine; people know you are coming and look out for you on their neighbours behalf.
A shout from a balcony tells us we have found our lovely Casa. Roberto is away, working in Canada, so Manuel greets us with his friend Yolande. We couldn’t have hoped for a warmer welcome. Our bikes are quickly stored and we are heartily greeted and fed. It feels as if we are being bought into a family.
Getting To Know Baracoa
Baracoa is a vibrant town and others have warned us it can be noisy. They are not wrong but it is noisy in a good way. Life is happening and it is happening happily! That evening we sit on the central square and watch the world go by. I adopt an elderly dog who can barely see through his cataracts. As I sit and rub my doggy friends ears Jamie reminds me I cannot take him home – I’m pretty sure I could persuade him otherwise!
Manuel has told us that, despite there being no inner tubes here, he can take our tubes to a Ponchera. A Ponchera is basically a puncture repair guy. With new inner tubes almost non-existent here it is essential for good repairs to be made. Yolana assures us that, once patched, our tubes will never blow again.
For the next couple of days we can relax and explore Baracoa and the surrounding area. Of course, by ‘relax’, I mean that I am dragging Jamie out to climb a mountain on one of our days off!
We stayed and ate at: Villa Paradiso in Baracoa. The most beautiful and welcoming casa!