Santiago de Cuba to Guantanamo – 88 km

We left Santiago de Cuba on the Autopista. Picture a four lane divided highway with people walking down the middle and bicyclists riding down the sides while trucks belching black smoke race by.

The route climbed steadily for 15 km out of the city and the land grew more lush and green as we rode. We passed two cyclists decked out in all the gear on racing bikes coming back into the city.

About 15 km out of the city, just past a control point, we turned off the highway and started along a rolling country road and into a strong headwind. In the city of La Maya, we stopped at an El Rapido to buy ice cream, water, sandwiches and a Cuban energy drink. The crowds were pushing in around us, so we quickly got back on our bikes to ride out of town where we sat in the shade to have lunch.

As we sat, on ox drawn cart approached with three boys. One boy picked up a machette and started walking towards us with it held prominently in front. I think we were supposed to be scared, but we said Hola, then smiled and laughed. His friends broke out laughing and he ran back to the cart to join them.

The road from La Maya rolled gently through farmland with the mountains on our right. Palm trees, cactus hedges and banana trees lined the road. School children in their uniforms cheered us on up the hills and people clapped as we crested the tops.

The further from the city we get, the friendlier the people. Once again, the homes are tidy and well kept.

Just inside Guantanamo province, we stopped to rest under a tree by a lake. Men are fishing from the edge of the water. Some are collecting minnows with small hand nets. Others are fishing from the bridge, line in hand.

A couple of kilometres further on, we come out onto another autopista. This one goes nowhere, just ending past this road in the forest. It is post apocalyptically quiet. We rode side by side down the centre of the three lanes on our side of the highway as vultures circle overhead. We half expected zombies to come staggering out of the forests.

The headwind grew stronger as the afternoon wore on. Back on the country roads we struggled against them and even had to peddle to maintain speed downhill. By the time we entered Guantanamo, we were ready for the day to end.

Entering the city was much more pleasant than yesterday in Santiago. Nobody heckled us and we rode right up to the Casa Particulare. The sign on the door said ‘Prohibido Entrar Con Bicicletta,’ but we knocked anyway. The Casa looks like nothing on the outside. If it weren’t for the blue anchor like sign on the outside and the Bienvenidos on the door, you wouldn’t know it was here.

They were happy to let us in with our bikes. It is a cute comfortable place with a clean room and a small courtyard. Everyone is friendly even though our Spanish is limited and they made us feel at home.

After showering, cleaning our clothes and tidying up, we headed out for a drink before dinner. The central square is beautiful. Everyone is well dressed and seems happy and well off. Schoolgirls in their uniforms call after me and giggle as I pass. Cubans sit eating and chatting on patios around the square.

We find our way to Bar Kumura just off the Parque Jose Marti. It is a great little place, open to the street and a small open courtyard in the back where we are sitting drinking and writing our journals. Everyone is so well dressed, we could be in Spain or the Bahamas. Four young Cubans sit at a table near us looking through a photo album, maybe of their wedding.

We returned to the Casa for the best meal we have had in Cuba yet. For the first time, we had more than we could eat, but wanted more. Satisfied, we headed out for the walk around town to see the sights.

We circled the square then headed further down Garcia. We were passing a cool looking bar called La Ruinas which looked like it was built in the ruins of a building. A young Cuban came out to talk to us. We felt like we were being scammed, but we didn’t care. We were going to go in anyway and he seemed nice enough.

We bought a beer and sat down to talk. He told us that he is a rapper and was going to play at the bar later tonight. He introduced us to another guy in his band and then to his wife, a pretty, young woman. We talked as much as we could and drank our beer.

The bar was cool. Huge, open windows were covered in vines and there were high, crumbling ceilings. It did look like ruins, but it was well done. Finally we got up to leave, telling him that we might come back to see him play. And then it came. He asked us to buy him a bottle of rum and a beer for his wife. I offered to buy them both a drink, but he said that they only sold rum by the bottle. It did look to be the case and a bottle was only $4.50 CUC, but I wasn’t cool with that. I bought his wife a beer and told him we would think about coming back. Obviously we wouldn’t.

We walked around the corner to a cafe, had an espresso and checked the guidebook to see what the road ahead would be like. We were back in our room by 7 pm, exhausted from the riding as usual.

The pillows on our bed feel like plastic, blow up camp pillows and we can feel the springs in the mattress, but it is still much better than the rocks in the sand at Punta de Piedra or the moldy headboard in Santiago de Cuba. For some reason, we are really happy here and we are not looking forward to leaving in the morning.

Leave a Reply »»