We visited Cuba for a cycle tour in February/March 2017. In this final part of our journey we cycle from Manzanillo to Bayamo and back to our start point, in Holguin, before heading home.
Friday 10th March – To Bayamo (41.2miles/66.3km)
Our Casa owner in Manzanillo assures Jamie, Rosalind and I that we are booked into a Casa in Bayamo for the night. We leave around 15 minutes behind Rosalind and it’s a long way into the route before we catch her up. By this time we have seen a lot of dead animals; a large python, two dogs and a chicken.
The deceased animals are testament to how straight, flat and (shock of shocks) well maintained this road is. The rough roads have been hard on us along the way but they clearly slow motorists down enough to save the lives of many animals.
We are finally leaving the coast behind as we head inland today. Another reminder of our holiday drawing to a close.
Rosalind tells us to go ahead, we will see her again in the evening. A few miles down the road we spot two more tourers chatting and pull over to join the conversation. One of the guys, another Richard, is heading in our direction and joins us for the remainder of the journey into Bayamo. Richard is American and has done a huge amount of cycle touring, including. He too is booked into the Casa we are staying in.
Today is a short day of riding and we head along at a steady pace. I want to take in the sights of our last couple of days or riding but there’s no denying the landscape is less stunning here. It is different once again though, with the sugar cane fields giving way to rice paddies.
An alarming squealing noise is coming from one local’s bicycle as he passes us. There’s problem with his bike just a crate containing five, rather distressed, piglets on his pannier rack.
On arrival at our Casa we find that there are rooms for Jamie and I and Richard but the host has made an alternative arrangement for Rosalind. It makes sense that a Casa will overbook, assuming someone may not turn up and, if they do, they can be accommodated elsewhere.
One Last Town
Other than Santiageo, Bayamo is the most touristy town we have seen yet. Bus loads of Germans and Canadians are disgorged into the main square as wear arrive. Bayamo is fine but not terribly interesting, we agree that we preferred Manzanillo.
I am really starting to struggle with the sullen attitude towards us in many restaurants and shops. Don’t get me wrong, we have met many friendly Cubans on our journey. The waves and smiles along the route have been a highlight of our trip. But, we also find we feel unwelcome in many places. We have encountered no aggression, apart from one beggar in Manzanillo but we have been ignored, stared at and treated like second rate customers in some places.
Again, we could attribute this attitude to our lack of Spanish. We always try to speak and understand as best we can and I wonder if there is some other problem some Cubans have with tourists. I am never ready to go home from a trip, I would travel forever if I could, but I feel a little weary of this.
We spend a great evening with Rosalind and Richard, ending with invitations to even more parts of the world. Richard is writing an article for the Adventure Cycling Association. We have heard much about this association in our time here and will be interested to read Richard’s perspective on Cuba.
Tomorrow morning we all head off in different directions; Rosalind to Las Tunas, Richard to Santiago de Cuba and Jamie and I back to Holguin.
We stayed at: Casa Arturo & Esmerelda – a clean, comfortable and friendly casa.
Saturday 11th March – To Holguin (46.4miles/74.6km)
And so the day has come. The water bottles are removed from the fridge one last time. Panniers meticulously packed (we have become pros); tyres checked, garmins ready, sunscreen liberally applied. Today is the last day of our cycle tour of Cuba. We both feel a little blue.
Breakfast with Richard No.2 brings interesting discussion. He can’t stand Trump, can’t understand why Britain voted for Brexit (this has been the opinion of every foreign traveller we met), makes beautiful furniture and loves to preserve old buildings.
We whizz through the first 25km of today’s ride. The road is flat and good and the scenery uninteresting. Then a sign telling of bad road surface for 20km proves to be entirely accurate. The road has more patches than a pirate on a patchwork quilt and the result is a series of small bumps, each about a metre apart. These act as mini speed bumps and we both get frustrated as we judder uncomfortably along. A strong cross-headwind does not improve matters.
We had been planning on spending our free day tomorrow cycling out to Gibara. A round trip of around 70km but I decide enough is enough. When the views were spectacular I could put up with the roads but I do not fancy another rough 70km. The bikes have done a fantastic job and we have earned our rest!
Despite this we do enjoy the ride. A final chance to take in the quiet villages and busy towns, passing horses and carts and dodging cows in the road. I gaze around and think how lucky we have been to have seen so much in three short weeks.
We Made It!
Arriving in Holguin, sweaty, elated, sad and happy we are greeted warmly by Oscar. He has seen the few Facebook posts we have done and knew we were getting around ok. It’s good to be welcomed back into his Casa.
Jamie declares Oscar’s shower the best in all of Cuba but we have felt that about almost every shower at the end of a day of riding!
It is with a slight sense of disbelief that we complete our journey. We both admit that, for the first few days, the inner tube problems made us believe we wouldn’t make it round. I had visions of us having to get a bus back to Holguin and completely change our plans.
We are greatly indebted to Manuel at Villa Paradiso and the Ponchero he took our tubes to, for us managing to ride 1065 km around Cuba.
I also feel our determination, resilience and team work has helped enormously. Thousands of feet of climbing, in blazing heat, each towing around 25kg in our panniers. This was no blast out on the road bikes. This was being able to be organised and dig that bit deeper.
During these three weeks we have also supported and helped one another (whilst continuing our general p*** taking). I am slightly baffled by us getting round without having had one argument.
Oscar and his wife join us for a meal in the evening and then take us to the local Casa de la Trova, for an evening of live Cuban music. A great place to relax, listen and people watch.
It is midnight when we leave the Casa de la Trova, a very late night for us! Cycle tourers tend to rise early and sleep early.
Sunday 12th March – Stay Holguin
We had thought about taking the bus to Gibara, now that Jamie has boxed the bikes up ready for the journey home. In the end we just take it a little easy and climb the 458 steps to the top of the Loma de la Cruz, a replica cross on top of a hill. In 1790 a cross was erected by a monk on top of this hill, which was also used by the Spanish as a lookout during the wars of independence. The replica cross itself is, well, a cross but the views are good, stretching across the mountains towards the coast. It also gives you a great view of Holguin itself and the American style street grid system, used in so many Cuban towns.
I decide to take my exercise by running up the steps, although I may have stopped a few times to admire the view on the way up! Even at 9.30 am the air temperature is roasting and I’m dripping with sweat when I reach the summit.
The guide books also mention an impressive Che Guevera statue about 1.5km from the centre of town . As we are being proper tourists for the day we take a bicitaxi out there and walk back. Perhaps we are all Che’d out but we find the statue underwhelming. The walk back into town is the more interesting part of the trip. We pass the Holguin baseball stadium (baseball is the national sport of Cuba) where a big event is being prepared for. Hundreds of stands are being set up, nearly all of them representing restaurants around Holguin. Whole spit roast pigs seem to be in abundance.
One Last Evening In Cuba
During our day of wandering we spotted Restaurant 1910; it looks good so we pop in to look at the menu. The menu is impressive for meat eaters but there’s not much for me. However, upon overhearing me say this, the waitress tells me they are happy to cater for vegetarians. This is a big deal in Cuba and we merrily head there for an evening meal.
When we arrive at 1910 the other couple who are staying at our Casa are also dining. The gentleman is French Canadian and was sitting on the balcony at Osacr’s when we arrived back on the bikes. He was very friendly and I would guess he is in his sixties. Later we saw him heading to his room with a much younger Cuban woman.
A Different Relationship
There is clearly a market for older Western men to come to Cuba and to put it politely, spend time with younger Cuban ladies. This is something I’ve seen in many countries. It’s not a pleasant sight to see and however willing the women are to be a part of this, I feel an advantage is still being taken. During our time in town we find out that this man is married to the Cuban lady. They are both waiting for visas for each other’s countries so that they can live between the two. She is from Moa, the industrial town we visited earlier on our trip. Her parents are both ill from the pollution the nickel factories throw out and she wants a better life.
This afternoon they are both overjoyed to tell us they have been stopped by the police for the first time since they were married. Prostitution is illegal and the police can randomly stop couples if they suspect it is taking place. From what they tell us it would be the woman in more trouble than the man. This lady is beyond happy to prove she is married and not a prostitute. It is clearly an important moment for them both. I feel happy for them but still uncomfortable. I do wonder why the police aren’t stopping couples near a certain bar we have been to in Holguin. La Begonia, on the main square, is clearly where the Western men go to be hooked up by the jineteros. What a coincidence that the police aren’t there to spot something which seems so obvious to everyone else!
After a good meal we move on to a cocktail bar, the Shambala. We spend an hour drinking fantastic Cuban cocktails and reminiscing on an amazing holiday.
Monday 13th March – We Leave Cuba
Another lie in until 7.30 am (or 7.50 for Jamie who is ‘easing himself into the day’) and a final delicious breakfast from Ivette. My body won’t know what has hit it when we get back to the UK and I start feeding it oatcakes for breakfast again!
Today we are flying back to England. The usual post holiday blues are bound to kick in soon. Mostly though we go back happy and content. Our holiday has exceeded our expectations and we have fallen in love with cycle touring.
At the airport we discover the departure tax of 25 cuc per person has been scrapped. We have 50 cuc to play with, so a few final beers are required. Cuba is a closed currency country; you are not allowed to take the currency in or out. However, nobody seems to be checking this so I’m sure there are a few souvenir coins kicking around peoples wallets.
The entire experience of meeting new people, finding resilience on the road and seeing this wonderful country from two wheels has been wonderful. Now we just need to start planning the next trip!
We stayed at: Casa Oscar in Holguin – We would highly recommend this Casa.
We ate at: Restaurant 1910 in Holguin