Mechanic in the jungle and Cuban cowboys
We spend the night in a tent by rocky coast. Early in the morning I notice a few people with flippers and diving mask on. They are langouste hunters. The idea for special breakfast comes by itself.
Arriving to a nearby town I talk to cook in one of the food stands. He turns out to be a very helfpul guy, so he gladly prepares us a decent meal according to his improvised recipe.
That day my bike breaks down again in a very spectacular way. One of my pedals breaks apart. We manage to replace it with a spare SPD and from now on there are two different types of pedals on my bike. Another breakdown makes pedaling not possible – my crank is rotating but the bike would not move an inch forward.
Another walking part of our trip starts and it continues until we reach the first town on the way. In Union de Reyes we get to know amazing mechanico. One special thing about him is that his workshop is located in kind of a jungle.
Somewhere between the banana trees you can discern a makeshift hut, inside which there is a set of Cuban tools and a phenonenal worker who knows how to use them. The guy fixes and checkes bikes in minutes.
Eventually it is quite late already, so we decide to stay here for the evening. There is an open street fiesta today with lots of local people having fun. It is Afro Cuba’s band performance. We find a nice place to sip rum and talk with strangers. There are uqique people around, for example, a ham seller, a retired baseball player and an old lady constantly telling her about her daughter. When it is bed time, it is just to find a place to pitch a tent. Our mechanic recommends a good spot.
In the morning we leave following a dirt road. I notice that the landscape changes quite quickly and at some point it resembles the African savannah. Taking the opportunity we stop two trucks, both extremely dirty and rusty, to give us a ride. Thanks to this operation it might be more likely that some other stages we can also cover by bike. The driver is a pretty crazy, rustling along dirt road, rushing through the villages and maneuvering between parked cars and children playing on the street.
Cumanayagua, Barajagu and subsequent towns tend to resemble increasingly more the wild west. Here and there you can see cowboys on horseback, drunk cyclists and horse cab drivers. This special atmosphere of a bygone era is even more empasized by horse-drawn carriages with small fireplaces in the back serving as rear lighting. A real travel in time.
Upon reaching village of Matagu we are overwhelmed by the heat. For local people it’s nothing, they are having fun at a street festival. At one place I notice a line. At the very beginning of it, there are two beer salesmen closed in a large cage behind the bars. Sitting slumped in Wellingtons they dispense draft beer and spill a lot of it around. Simply come over with your own bottle to have it refilled. One and a half liter beer cost here 10 pesos, which is little more than a 25 cents. I have not seen such a crowd of happy and genuinely smiling people in a long time.
We get to Santa Clara. Here, at the Plaza de la Revolucion, is the world’s largest statue of El Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Just next to it there is a mausoleum where you will find plenty of authentic items used during the revolution in the Sierra Maestra.
Che is undoubtedly a true national hero, a romantic revolutionary and a man who, with his own hands, gave Cubans something which the American protectorate was not able to give – freedom. I definitely know that there has been about million of different publications on Cuban Revolution, but what certainly caught my attention is that today, more than half a century later, the worship of a national hero is just as strong. It is present everywhere, all over the island, in every corner, on every poster and wall inscription. Fidel undeniably was right, announcing at the symbolic funeral in 1997, “Why did they think that by killing him, he would cease to exist as a fighter? Today he is in every place, wherever there is a just cause to defend. His unerasable mark is now in history and his luminous gaze of a prophet has become a symbol for all the poor of this world.”
Caibarien is our starting point from where we cycle through probably the longest causeway in the world. It turns out that we have to cycle for more than 50km to the first human settlement. It is by no means feasible on our Cuban bikes without any technical problems. Fortunately, one of the workers takes us on the top of a service truck. We decide to take a day off to rest, both from cycling and repairing bikes. Our search for a wild beach spot becomes riduculous. Cayo Santa Maria is either one big construction site or the oasis for tourists. Shortly it starts to get dark and to that end, my real derailleur gets devastated while screwed into the wheel spokes. This is a major failure. In order to forget about all this drama going on we just buy a bottle of rum and decide to take on a camouflage to pretend being guests of one of the resorts.
It turns out that even in Cuba you can still meet tourists having no idea about two different currencies in circulation in the country. They would look with disbelief and enthusiasm at my big bundle of peso cubano, which I pull out from my backpack.
We get to know a young and smiling Polish-Hawaiian girl. She came with her boyfriend for a week long holiday in Cuba. She continues, (…) the plan is to stay five days at the beach, but we are also going to Santa Clara to see… what was this guy called … – we wait a bit before dropping a hint – aah yeh, Che Guevara, that is right!
I do not know if you can call it an ignorance or just a modern way to explore Cuba? Although the country has not yet switched from communism, mass tourism has managed to effectively take control in some parts of the island.
But there is nothing wrong with that! After all creating the aforementioned paper imitation of a country, Fidel secured a way to attract foreign visitors. It is enough to give them a colorful drink with a straw and show the white sand so they will not even wonder if there is anything elase existing outside the resort’s walls, not to mention investigating if there is another currency than the peso convertible.
My friends tow my bike in turns to the local airport. Not an easy one but after a couple of hours we finally manage to stop a but. Allegedly foreign tourists have no chances to take state owned national transportation bus company Astro. That is a myth, since we manage to get on together with our four bikes and sidebags.
We return to the mainland. There are some more bike mechanics to meet and new adventures yet to come. That is going to be the same Cuba I already missed.