We visited Cuba for a cycle tour in February/March 2017. This is the first 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.
Sunday 19th February 2017 – Getting the bikes ready to go.
Tomorrow we fly out to Holguin in Cuba to start our three week cycling adventure. First we need to get the bikes packed. We are staying with my sister and her wife in Manchester before flying out and they are a huge help with our preparations.
Sian and Em had been to Evans cycles the week before and collected two boxes for us. Now we just had to work out how to take the bikes apart and fit them in.
We had a trip to B&Q for pipe lagging, cable ties and gaffer tape – note: I seemed to know my way around B&Q better than the others!
Luckily Emily was on hand with some advice and expertise. Remove the pedals, remove front wheel, release the handlebars to allow them to drop down (only attached by the gear cables). Remove bottle carriers. Place pipe lagging around the forks, top bar etc. Fix with tape. Front wheels goes against the side of the bike, with handlebars looped through. We left the panniers racks on and they stuck out slightly, so you have to cut a hole in the box to accommodate this. This makes for a handy carry handle later.
Tools are stuffed into water bottles and towels are laid in the bottom of each box and wrapped around the saddle.
We decided to stuff helmets, shoes etc in the box also. The less we have to take on the plane the better.
The process was surprisingly painless, allowing Jamie to also watch the Spurs match and giving us time to go to the fantastic Racecourse Hotel for a drink afterwards.
Monday 20th February 2017 – Arrive in Holguin, Cuba!
The alarm goes off at 5.30 am…too early. Our taxi is due to collect us at 6.30. We have ordered a minivan and told the operator that we have two bikes in boxes. A rather grumpy driver takes one look at the boxes and declares “I don’t think they’ll fit in.” “They had better do.” I reply in a panicked voice. “It’s not my fault. I’ve just had to get out of bed to do this” grumpy taxi driver retorts. I feel like saying “Oh I do apologise for paying you to take us to the airport. It must be tough being a taxi driver who resents having to drive people around.” I bite my tongue. The bikes fit in.
On the way to the airport the taxi driver tells us that he went to Cuba last year, staying in a resort. “It’s a bit rustic. It might be better now the Americans can access it. They might have some new buildings now.” I sincerely hope not. He tells us he only flies to destinations he can get to from Manchester, with no changes. I feel that he and I have little in common.
Checking in is not too tough, although it is a joint effort to negotiate the wide load of the bikes on a trolley around the airport. They don’t weigh as much as I expect. One comes in at under 19kg and the other is 21kg. Our hold and hand luggage is the lightest I have ever had!
I’m not sure I like the full disclosure of the pilot as he tells us that we are waiting for a minor engineering fault to be fixed and informs us of the turbulence we may well encounter en route. I am even less impressed by him telling us that the fault has been fixed “and successfully” as if it may have been an option for it to have been unsuccessfully fixed! I am not good at flying.
We mistakenly celebrate the fact that our flight is the only one landing and indeed, in any evidence at the airport. Surely it will be a breeze through passport control and out the other side. No, passport control takes a while (as it does everywhere). I pass through a door at the end of passport control and straight into the back of the person who went through before me. Another queue. This time it is security. They are scanning each of us and our belongings. There were over three hundred people on the flight and they have two scanners. The lady who has sat beside us for nine hours talking about how much she needs a fag is beside herself. I am glad when we finally see the back of her!
I have been surprised by the people on our flight. We were expecting lots of fellow cyclists and intrepid trekkers; instead it was mainly people heading to the all inclusive resorts, which they will not leave for a week.
We collect our luggage and wander around to find over sized baggage reclaim before noticing our bike boxes also doing the tour de carousel. Retrieve bags and head to the money exchange (Cuba is a closed currency country, you cannot bring their currency in or out so you have to exchange as you get off the plane).
There is a then a third security queue before you can exit into the sunshine.
An Evening In Holguin
We had been promised fabulous old American cars and were not disappointed. Oscar, our host for the first night, had arranged a taxi to collect us. It was a stunner. Once the bike boxes were tied to the roof we sat grinning all the way into Holguin.
We arrive at Oscar’s at the same time as a group of three Americans. They have been travelling Cuba for while already and are heading off on a kayak safari next.
Oscar’s wife serve us fresh Guava juice before we head to the balcony to reconstruct our bikes. There we also revel in the sights and sounds of a Cuban town for the first time. Horse drawn taxis share the road with a fantastic variety of 1950’s American vehicles and many a bicycle. Across the road teenage boys attempt to impress their female counterparts with skateboarding skills. The local ruffian dogs form small gangs and roam the side streets.
That evening we get lost in Holguin before taking advice from Oscar on a place to eat. La Torre (The Tower) is on a side street off the square. We eat heartily, for a small amount of money. We also get our first taste of the local beers; Bucanero and Cristal.
Heading back to bed at 8.30pm we wonder why we are so exhausted before realising it is 1.30am in the UK; a long first day.
We stayed at: Casa Oscar in Holguin – We would highly recommend this Casa.
We ate at: La Torre in Holguin. Good food and friendly service at very reasonable prices.