The plan is clear – from Santiago along the coast, then cross the mountains to Cruce de los Banos and then join carratera central in Baire. It’s in the map – this is the best and most interesting way…. but why all Cubans tell us, it is not possible to go that way?
The first miles on the saddles of our machines are great. We definitely leave the town after 2 hours and now there is really a minimum of traffic. Small uphills but everything ok with bikes. The land is moving around us and the wind is in our hair… these two wheels give us so much freedom :).
We stopped! Jan bent one pedal (the new “good” one bought yesterday). We decide to go further and enter a village, but the bike repair man doesn’t work today… doesn’t matter, later we will find some place to buy a new one. The road is getting better – brand new, black asphalt and traffic of 5 cars per hour. These are the best bike trails in the world! We meet a group of road cyclists which pass us like a Ferrari around tractor. Next villages look like something between “unhabitated” or “half-empty” and we realize that even a magitian couldn’t give us a pedal from the hat here. There are many curves around the coast and some uphills where we need to push our 110lb machines – surprisingly it is not so hard to push.
Around the 25.km the road becomes a gravel road (they are repairing the results of hurricane Sandy). We go significantly slower because we don’t want a flat tire right at the beginning and the sun is really strong so we stop in the shade of a bus stop. Jan goes for coffee to a nearby caffeteria and I desinfect my foot and cream it to get rid of the infection which causes my ankle look like a ball. In the middle of relax I hear a voice somewhere around my head (and it is not my conscience :), but a spanish speaking man voice) and scares me. Behind me is a window in the wall and a Cuban boy probably thinks, this is the best way to start converstation. He offers mangos but as I’m used to refuse all amigos, don’t want to accept. But he doesn’t want to sell it and he gives me three of them without asking any cent. Jan return with jugo (juice) because the coffee machine was destroyed during the hurricane. Three more ours we discuss how is it here and in Slovakia – he is very patient to listen our spanish :) We show him also the map and the way we want to go and he thinks we cannot go that way (darling, you don’t know what we are capable of :)). He gives us a tip where we can sleep, cuts the sugar cane and writes his address so we can visit him when we come back to Cuba. Finally we found an honest Cubans who doensn’t do everything just for money.
The sun is still strong, but we need to continue. The road is better, but my tire gets flat and Jan needs to pump it every 5minutes. We get to Paraiso de Eva (my paradise:)) before the sunset. Bath in the sea, eat perfect dinner and prepare our sleeping on the terrace. The wind in the night is really strong – our fault when we were lazy to put up a tent. Breakfast is ready at seven – bread, eggs, salty milk with sugar (?), coffee. We get then 2 breads gratis and continue further.
In Rio Seco we turn to a side road and the last signs of good road and asflat disappear. There are rocks, dust, gravel and steep hill. We pass a blue-white building which we identify as a medical centre. My foot is big like elefant’s one so we go inside for an advice. The assistant desinfects it really deeply, puts some cream on and covers it. In the meantime the fast-speaking doctor tries to get information about my state from Jan (you can imagine, how much he understands her). She writes a receipt for antibiotics and some cream but the closest pharmacy in our direction is after the mountains and we don’t know when we’ll get there. We show her our purse full of medicaments and whe finds some antibiotics which should also work – there are not enough in the box for the full treatment, but enough to get to civilisation again. We don’t pay anything, thank and continue to the mountains. At the beginning we push, but then we are able to bicycle most of time. And then… we push, pass a lady with a bucket going the same way, push, rest, push (the lady helps me sometime), rest, push … and then we get to village from where the good road should be just a couple kilometers away. We rest in the shadow. Just people on horses or walking pass us. We see the surprise in their faces – what these fools do here with bicycles? After getting some energy from beans from can and mango we continue further.
The road is bad, but we push without complaining… till moment where the road is so steep that two of us need to push one bicycle. After slipping twice and falling on ground Jan starts swearing. The way uphill seems to be without end – we are looking forward to be on top finally! We only pass cows, goats and riders on horses (these pass us). Top! Finally we can ride down not just push. But the quality of road stays and with our really bad working breaks we realize that the bad moments are just about to come. Our forearms are big and weak from holding the brake levers as strong as possible to low down the bicycle. After 15min we push again and there are no signs of better road or end of mountains. To get out of here will take us at least three days! We think about our stupidity to not trust the locals and both of us with own thoughts in our heads push furhter.
We hear noises of an engine … halucination? From the woods comes a big truck full of Cubans. They wave and signalise the driver to stop. They go to the same town as we. Without asking the distance (it could be only 10minutes – we have enough!) we load the bicycles and join the cheerfull group. Jan is in the front and talks with journalists from local TV and I in the back with the rest. There is bottle of homemade rum going around – after first sip I realise I’m on antibiotics and refuse the other times (around 4 bottles circle at the same time). Even if we don’t know many Spanish words, we are able to conversate quity funny the whole way which is like one hour up and down hills on bad roads. We are really happy to not doing this with the bicycles.
We reach Cruce de los Banos in the dark and the journalists take us to a restaurant. It is really cheap and the service is unbelievably fast (we think they have the plates prepared). There is no seat, no toalet paper and no water in the bathrooms. Water for washing hands is at the entrance, but they probably don’t think about splashing the toilet. They allow us to put up our tent at the terrace – this is great because in the night it would be difficult to find a good place for camping.
We sleep well till somebody rings the bell on our bicycles. We unzip the tent and there are three policemen. They are worried about our luggage, which is outside the tent and they think it is better if we store it at the police station during the night. I don’t agree. We rather put all the luggage into the tent than to get it in the morning from somewhere. Our tent is 8feet long but only 3 feet wide – with all the luggage inside we are not able to straight our leggs. We wanted to have lightest tent as possible and we were not thinking of the bags.
Advice for others: always think where you will have your luggage! The number of people sleeping inside the tent plus one(minimum). Some weight more doesn’t mean much and you don’t need to worry.
In the morning we wake up quite broken (like after a night in a small bed). We eat breakfast, buy antibiotics and the cream (7pesos – 0,3usd) and a young mechanic repairs 2 hours Jan’s pedals. He is nice and good and we leave him one of our pliers (we are happy to get rid of some weight).
Around noon we are on a road behind the town (btw: around here the revolution began, so there is a memorial with a fire lighted nonstop). Till the late afternoon we switch between pushing to long uphills and nice downhills (an the road it is really pleasant).
We go through the town Baire after sunset, but we don’t want to pay for casa. On carratera central (road going from Santiago to Havana through whole Cuba) we hurry to find some place for camping. Finally we “hide” in a garden with fruits’ trees at a side road. The only unpleasant think there are small red ants which bite – we probably camp on their house (ups). We also find ticks which hold so good that to get rid of them with their heads take us 20minutes each. Besides that the night is quiet and cool…