Chivirico to Santiago de Cuba – 79.8 km

Last night we ordered everything we could and ate until we were stuffed. By about 8:30, we were fading and excused ourselves to head off to bed.

All the guidebooks on Cuba say the food is terrible, but so far I have enjoyed everything. It might be that I am always so hungry, but everything is well cooked if simple. Fried bananas often substitute for potatoes. The meat is usually fried, but always tasty. There is fruit with most meals in hotels. Even the food on the street is good, but simple.

My first day riding, I developed a bad heat rash on my forehead, chest and upper back. I broke out into hundreds of tiny pimples. I finally got a chance to wash and scrub properly last night and not it is pretty much gone.

This morning, Juliette got up early and sat on our balcony watching the sun rise. The hotel is high on a hill surrounded by the Caribbean on three sides. We sat by the pool and had a huge breakfast with the best coffee we have had so far.

Nancy is already set up at a table by the bar with a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other. She has a small CD player with speakers playing music and is doing her crosswords. All of the guests seem to know one another and everyone says hi to each person as they come out for breakfast. This is such a pleasant place. It is well worth the brutal climb up the hill and the high price.

We finally pulled ourselves away from the food and got on the road just before nine. The ride back down the hill was nerve racking with our heavy loads, the steep grade and all the potholes. We will probably need to replace our brake pads after this trip.

The road for the first 12 km was flat, but in very bad condition. It was full of potholes and just a rutted dirt road in places.

We stopped at the Sierra Mar, the sister hotel to Los Galeones. We still have our all inclusive wrist bands, so we can get water, exchange some money to replace what we lost, buy some shampoo for Juliette and rest in the shade for a bit.

This is our fourth day on the road and we’ve had a couple of long, hot, 100 km days, so we are both feeling a bit slow this morning. The headwinds and heat wore on us and the bad roads continued to Caletòn Blanco.

Juliette’s knee is really hurting today, so we took it easy and rode slow. We stopped at a nice beach at about 40km for lunch and a swim in the ocean. There were a couple of large hills, but most of the route was fairly flat.

The road got a busier and busier as we got closer to Santiago de Cuba and the landscape got dirtier and shabbier. In the country, even though the homes are very poor, you look in the doors and they are immaculately clean with shining floors. As we get closer to the city, things change. The dirt and hopelessness accumulate.

Homeless men called after us as we passed through the outskirts of the city and the fumes from the trucks choked us. As we rode into the centre of the city, the traffic, pollution, people and noise pressed in on us. I began to feel nauseous from the fumes and claustrophobic after being out in the open and quiet for so long.

We rode straight for the Hotel Los Americas, but they had no rooms. We crossed the street to the Hotel Melià, but they don’t allow bikes inside. They helpfully told us that we could leave them in the parking lot. We rode off.

We are staying at the Hotel San Juan in the middle of a park in the east end of the city. I think it might have been the old US consulate and it was once beautiful, but it is now run down and shabby. Our room smells of mold, the fixtures in the washroom are rusting and flaking and a few disgruntled tourists sit around the algae lined pool contemplating how they managed to end up here on their vacation.

For us it is perfect. It is quiet and away from the city. We sit by the pool drinking mojitos, cervaizas, and repeatedly telling the lifeguard that we don’t want a massage.

We went to the restaurant Lenningrado for dinner. It is in a beautiful decaying old building with high ceilings and once ornate trim. The tables are lined up like in a cafeteria and the light is harsh and glaring. It evokes images of communism at its worst.

Juliette had a salad and the same chicken dish I had by the pool, but here it is three times as expensive. I had the chef’s special, much like chicken cordon bleu, but done with pork. It was good, but the entire meal was ruined by the stark atmosphere.

We stopped and bought a book about Che on the way back, grabbed a cafe au lait and an espresso at the hotel bar, then were back in our rooms reading by 8:30. So far, Santiago de Cuba doesn’t hold much appeal for me. Maybe it is just because I am on the defensive. The heckling of the jinteros and the traffic as we rode into town threw me. I’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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