First glimpse of the Gulf

Trip Start Dec 15, 2011
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Trip End Dec 31, 2011


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Flag of Cuba  , Pinar del Rio,
Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday morning. We awoke to chirping birds and the soft feeling of cool sunshine you get when you're up before 8 a.m. We breakfasted on some grilled sandwiches, eggs and fresh pina and papaya. The short, black coffee was a nice kickstart! If there's one thing I loved about Cuba, it was the fresh fruit and strong coffee. 

By 8:30 a.m. we were ready to go. Our tour bus was stuffed with the blue bikes, our packs, water, fresh small bananas, two Cubans and some ten-odd tourists. 
I felt an odd sense of guilt every time we passed through a town or near a highway junction in our large bus. There were easily two or three extra seats which could have been used to transport mothers and their children standing, waiting by the side of the highway. I wonder what the people must think of us strange visitors, with a big bus all to ourselves.

We started out with a 20km drive to Vinales, the route we had biked the evening before. We unloaded outside of a small post-office, in good-spirits and with high energy from the filling breakfast. We biked about 25km until we reached a small village called Pons. There, we had a taste of Guarapo, a green, slightly frothy sugarcane drink that was sweeter than any cola, almost even sweeter than honey. I gagged from the sweetness of it, and couldn't even finish my glass. It is a great drink for cyclists, though, full of sugars to keep you going.

  By this time the sun was high and the heat was permeating everything, myself included. For the next 15km I was getting my butt kicked by the heat, though luckily as a group we took it all at a fairly easy pace. 
Eventually hopping a ride on the bus to escape the late-afternoon swelter, I sank into the seat and panted, trying to cool down. Carlos sang along with raucous Cuban pop as I sipped at cool water and cleaned some of the sweat from my brow and neck. After the steepest section of hills was up and the weather had started to cool, I was back at it on the bike, 16 km of relatively flat going. 

Reaching a small town for a break, we then continued on to a place called Cayo Jutias. I was feeling the slight tinge of a sunburn, and the stale heat was getting uncomfortable. Jutias was like a small resort, with little shade-covers and plastic recliners that you can rent for 2CUC. If you sit on one even for a rest, they assume you want to rent it and so come by asking for the money. Beware of the roving beach police if you don't want to shell out 2CUC for a plastic seat. 

There was a bar catering mojitos to both tourists and locals, alike. The beach was rather pleasant, and we spent two hours getting to swim and walk around. My neck, which had been bothering me since Havana, was really acting up and making it near impossible for me to turn my head left or right. Charlie, a physiotherapist from England and one of our fellow bike-riders, laid me flat on one of the cheap plastic chairs, and performed some magic on my neck and shoulders.
   It felt wonderful! A bit of healing massage, some salt-water swimming, sunshine and sweat, all coupled with a great picnic lunch - with more of that delicious fresh fruit and those tiny bananas - made it quite the day. 

I can't express how much I believe that a vacation like this is the way to go, if you want to get a feel for a country. Sitting by a poolside having locals dressed in hotel uniforms serve you alcohol may be some peoples' idea of a good time... But frankly, I think the only thing you'd experience about the country and that culture would be the weather. Resorts are catered to our soft, North American wants. Booze, food, lounging, and the languid sheltering of excessive comforts. It makes me sick. Although by riding in our tour bus I didn't have the same sense of connection I might have had if we were backpacking or hitchhiking through Cuba, at least we were there breathing the same dirt and seeing the smiling/confused/frowning/laughing faces of the people who call this island their home. 

It's refreshing to see people out in their fields doing honest work; even if you know that with the way the country is run, they won't be benefiting from their labour as much as someone in a first-world country would. What people need nowadays is more time spent tending animals, chopping wood, plowing fields, carrying sacks.. and just all-around using our bodies to do things that keep us alive. All we accomplish in this day and age is the click of a button or the swipe of a card.


But I digress. After our beautiful ride through the countryside and our play time at the beach, we headed back South, to our hotel for the night, called Los Jazmines. Compared to our bungalows at Agua Clara, this was a 5 star accomodation! No creepy crawlers getting through the windows. The one, big window in the room led onto a small balcony, with a breathtaking view of the Vinales valley. How privileged we felt, being in such a beautiful place at a beautiful time in our lives.

My spanish was picking up. I'd have loved to spend more time listening to it and trying to speak it. I picked up that otra vez means once more/again, and tal vez means maybe. Oh, and that me gusta mucho Cuba.
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