The way to the west

How we had many flat tires, went through a nice hilly country and how I spend my time on toilet in the most beautiful part of Cuba

We get out of the ferry for which we paid 25 times more than rest of the Cubans, we say goodbye to Magda and Julian, repair the flat tire on Jan’s bicycle (fortunately we have some time reserve before the bus). After 200m the tire is flat again (?). If we want to catch the bus to Havana, we need to ignore this fact and continue moving to the station. The ticket is 20CUC per person and 3CUC per bike. The seats are unconfortable and the aircondition blows really strong cold air. We are not much rested when we get off the bus in the capital.

After we have all the bags on bicycles Jan realizes he probably forgot his cap in the bus. Unfortunately buses just stop here for loading or unloading passengers but they park in different place. They give us the address which is out of our map and we think what to do next. We come with the most stupid solution and we are proud to ourself how creative we are. Jan is going to repair the tire and I go to find the cap – we’ll meet here.

After 20minutes of riding I realize that to be here in the capital alone, without cellphone and money and not knowing where exactly I am isn’t maybe the best solution. I try to not thing what will I do when I get flat tire or anything else brakes on the bicycle… After 55minutes I finally find the bus parking lot. I explain to 3 people why I came and they are really surprised I came by bicycle. At the end one guy comes with the cap in the hand after 15minutes searching in different busses. Yes, it wasn’t worthless! 50minutes back and I get where Jan is waiting for me. He is really happy to see me after such a waiting and when I show him the cap I’m the hero of the day! :)

We continue the shortest way and after 4 hours (after fixing another flat tire, talking with policeman, because it is not allowed to bicycle on the 5th avenue and repairing the torn pannier) we finally leave the city.

We pass a peninsula where is located the biggest medical university on Cuba. It is very popular among Cubans and foreigners too. In this huge complex is everything what the students need: lecture rooms, laboratories, dormitories, schops and canteens.

Before it gets dark we turn to a small village with a big swimming pool which doesn’t work. We sleep at one nice family next to the mayor’s house. These are the first Cubans who don’t think that it is dangerous here and we can leave our luggage outside.

The next day the landscape changes. It’s not flat like the northern coast and it becomes hilly next to Bahia Honda. There are a lot of palm trees and many rice fields (cooperation with China).
Fortunately there is all this beauty around us, otherwise we would swear a lot because so much pushing uphills. We sleep at Tania and Primitivo (this is his real name). Tania is an action woman – she is always giving us something to eat and before going to sleep she prepares cocktail from bananas from her garden. Primitivo has the same bike as we, but in much worse shape. Instead of spikes in the rear wheel there are iron plates welded, only one brake barely works and the tires are worn through. In the TV we see that Chavez died yesterday – that means that cuba will mourn at least for a week.

After a morning cacao we say goodbye and full of excitement we continue towards Vinales. We push, we ride, we push… the road is without an end across large mountains – of course it is beautiful here, but we just cannot enjoy it much in these moments. We fix one flat tire (the day wouldn’t count without at least one), Jan tears one pannier and pulls it 10m behind him because it is attached with a string (I think it didn’t raise its waterproof quality :D) Afternoon we meet two cyclists – Canadian and British.

In the afternoon it is clear that we will get only somewhere next to La Palma. We build a tent under a roof next to a shed where a nice family sells vegetables. The night is calm till the moment when alarm starts to ring inside the shed – long and loud. I try to sleep with the motto “you can get used to anything” but Jan tries to shut it down in different ways. First he turns off all the main breaker, but the alarm continues. Only we hear that the refrigerators inside stopped (that would be a surprise in the morning). Then he thinks how to open or break the lock but fortunately after one hour the sound ends and he doesn’t need to use any force.

The last 30km and we will be in the nicest part of Cuba full of picturesque hills, tobacco fields and nice people. We push a lot and Jan gets two flat tires (fortunately he is so patient because I cannot imagine anybody else who wouldn’t sell, destroy or just throw away our pigeons). In the shop we get 1kg of rice for free, later another lady in Republica de Chile gives us one more and some beans. And finally we see the sign Vinales.

Many tourists are in the town (what else we could expect when it is rhapsodized in all guidebooks) and so there are many amigos approaching us and offering casa, cigars and when I’m for a while without my husband I get an offer for a company for the evening :D. We have a little rest at the square and our pigeons attract attention. We talk with cool French guy who says and interesting thought:

The rule of travelling is that you always continue moving further so all the great moments, places and talks last only for a while.

We go further out of town to find Los Aquaticos – people who don’t eat any medicaments and heal themselves just with water. The guidebook states that they are very nice and welcoming and so we want to try luck with camping there. We take some wrong turns and talk with a local lady who lives in the valley. She thinks we cannot get up there with bicycles (but we know that our pigeons are mountain creatures – How we trusted more the map than locals) but we continue further. One would think that normal people learn from their mistakes, but I doubt it is also our case :D. In an hour we are back defeated and ask Mulata (a name of the lady) if we can build our tent next to her house. She says that we will not camp there when she has a free room inside. Soon her husband Manuel arrives – cheerful and smiling Cubano with wrinkles from the wind and work in the field. While Mulata prepares the dinner (tasteful and a lot), he rolls one cigar from his own tobacco for Jan and after the dinner the room get full of smoke.

The next day Sergion (son) takes us to visit the mentioned mountain watermen. In 40minutes we are at the first house. There the lady invites us for a juice or coffee but we have a feeling we will need to pay for that in CUC sa we rather refuse. There are only 2 families who still live here. They plant and dry coffee, make the cane juice and get money from tourists. The idea of the healing with water comes from Antonica Izquierdo. It is some kind of weathering. They bath 3 times per day and let themselves dry in the wind. There is a nice view from the hill, but that’s basically only reason for visit…

On the way back we visit a house for drying tobacco. Back home we drop coconuts from the palm and cut it (there are like 20 pieces till I’m able to cut mine). We ask if we can stay one more night and go for a bicycle ride to the town – without our luggage. It’s a weird feeling and the steering is so different when the bike is so light :). The landspace is amazing – like somebody scatter here around a lot of small round hills. People who have been to Asia compare it with Vietnam. At the crossroads to a “prehistoric” painting (colorful dinosaurs painted on a rock in 60s) we meet Nadja. We organise a meeting in evening and continue to a tobacco and pineapple fields. Later we buy some beers and all three of us talk at the square.

When we get back is already dark (we are of course without a light) and freezing cold (of course we don’t have any warm clothes). A dinner is waiting for us, but I go directly under the sleeping bag to heat myself a little – it doesn’t help and I have fever and shiver. Till morning I go 7 times to bathroom and I feel really bad. All day I spend in bed with 39.5 fever and the only movement is the run to the toilet. Everybody takes care of me. Mulata makes herbal tee and they say we can stay as many days as we want. In the evening the oldest son comes to visit. He owns a shining cabriolet Ford ’58 and promises to bring some Cohiba cigars tomorrow. While I’m avoiding any food, Jan eats 3 times a day and after every meal smokes one cigar with Manuel. On the 3rd morning I don’t have fever anymore and we go for a test walk. In half an hour I need to go two times to bushes but we conclude that with enough toilet paper we can bike further. In the evening we present our hosts with a headlamp, we buy cigars and the evening is full of laught and fun. They are really great! They also advice us a fastest and shortest way to get to Che-Guevara caves – a dirt road on the top of mountains. We will see :)

This “shortcut” is good till the first flat tire and realizing that we don’t have any more glue for repairing the tubes. We continue another 50m and the tire is flat again. Jan tries to fix it with duct tape but without success. He swears and wants to throw the bikes to the bushes (he reached the limit of patience :D). At the end we fill the tire with hay and while I slowly push the bike back to the town, he goes to fix the innertubes. This is the disadvantage of a romantic side road without traffic – if anything happens there is nobody who can help you. I need to visit bushes couple times but in an hour we fix the tire and we are able to move further – for this time on a paved road the direction to Pinar del Rio (city with most cyclists in Cuba).

The road is long, hilly and slippery because it started to rain. We arrive to the city late and because we cannot find any casa we use one amigo. After half an hour he finally finds some free accomodation. Jan deals a better price but we don’t like it here much. We realize we would like to have one week vacation from travelling. Just to be at home, visit family and friends… don’t need to find every day a place to sleep and plan the next days. and to be for a while without “amigos” around who only want to get some money from you…

In the morning we load the bicycles to a big taxi car. And together with another 9 people and the feeling that we pay the ride for everyone, we go towards new experiences in Havana :).


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