Mornings after the nights before seem to be a major part of every day life in Cuba, and well - when in Rome and all that - a long night of rum and salsa in Santiago de Cuba’s Casa de la Trova (music and dance house) had kicked off our two-week bike trip around Cuba in fine Cuban style.
Such fantastic nights were to become almost standard as, in Cuba, you simply cannot help but join in and become totally captivated by the whole culture and lifestyle of the country. As fascinating and far removed from our European lives as you could imagine; nowhere else does music and dance seem to play such an important part in everyday life.
The two-wheeled action during the day was to provide the perfect link (and respite) between the nights out. Often, the mid morning sun came as something of a shock to the system, having not seen much of the warm stuff during the preceding British winter, but it made for a fine accompaniment to the dramatic scenery we were cruising through. The south coast of Cuba, stretching west from Santiago, boasts some of the finest coastal scenery in the whole of the Caribbean and, with its total lack of traffic, must surely rank as one of the finest bike rides in the whole of the Americas.
Often aided by a very welcome cooling breeze, we wove our way for two whole days along this dramatic coastline, with little more than horse drawn carts and bike-pedalling locals for company. This is something you’ll soon get used to in Cuba, traffic is very light and everyone uses bikes - mainly rickety old Chinese contraptions but boy can they ride them fast. You’ll never be short of a race should you want one - probably ending with a big handshake and grin and maybe, if you’re lucky, even a shot of rum. This friendliness is another trademark of the place.
Riding by bike we were able to achieve that ideal but often elusive travelling balance - visiting some great tourist sites while at the same time getting a firsthand glimpse of what everyday life is really like.
Our route was to lead us along the revolutionary trail, following loosely in the footsteps of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Each village we passed through was festooned with the obligatory banners, slogans and tributes to revolution and its heroes - no Nike billboards or flashing McDonalds signs here, Che is brand numero uno in these parts.
Passing through the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, the highest mountain range in Cuba and Castro’s old hideout, we were now entering the second half of our two-wheeled voyage of discovery. We continued across the rural flatlands and on towards the historic town of Trinidad - one of the oldest and most picturesque colonial towns in the country - the perfect place to spend a couple of days exploring the cobbled backstreets and evenings dancing at the local Casa de la Trova. And this is exactly what we did, thus ensuring a good and equal hangover for everyone - less than ideal preparation for our misty morning assault on the mountains the following day, a long and slow climb to the dizzy heights above Trinidad.
With the days running out, the final leg of our trip took us along the crab-strewn Bay of Pigs road and back to Havana. Time for one last bike tour of the city and a blustery ride along the wave-lashed Malecon - the ideal way to end not only a fantastic cycling holiday but a great voyage of discovery. But of course things didn’t quite end there, with two more nights of salsa and rum left to go!
By Steve Thomas.