The Flight To Cuba

Our bikes and our bags are checked and we are sitting in the first class lounge enjoying the drinks and feeling out of place. When we booked our tickets on points, the only seats available were business class, so we paid for the upgrade and here we are. Everyone else in the lounge is well dressed and over-weight. We are dressed in our zip-off expedition pants, Salomon adventure racing shoes and t-shirts. We look like a couple of back packers that have managed to sneak in for the free food.

Juliette forgot her Canadian citizenship card. The blood drained from her face when we realized. It was too late to drive home, we will just have to make due. I have read that Cuban officials can be real sticklers for proper documentation and may not let you leave the country if everything is not in order. I guess we will just have to deal with that in two weeks.

We are now in seats 1A and 1C on the plane watching everyone else board. They are all dressed for their Cuban holiday at the beach resorts. Once again, we feel a bit out of place.

When we land, we hope to find a taxi that is big enough to take us, our bags and our bikes the 60km south to Bayamo where we will try to find a hotel. If our boxed bikes don’t fit in a cab, we will have to assemble them at the airport and ride into Holguin.

As we flew in low over Holguin, Juliette was taken by how dark the country is. There were small clusters of lights and then the city of Holguin appeared. Minutes later we touched down and taxied to the small terminal.

When we exited the plane, we were greeted by the warmth, humidity and the familiar sweet smell of jet fuel and third world agriculture. Once we passed through passport control and customs, I became a bit worried. The terminal was really small and there wasn’t a currency exchange that I could see. Everyone else was grabbing their bags and heading for tour busses, but we had no Cuban pesos for taxis.

Luckily their was an exchange open in the arrivals section of the terminal. We changed $1500 to $1296 convertible pesos (CUC) which is the tourist currency. Outside we found a hatchback Lada cab that barely fit our bikes and our gear. Soon we were tearing off down the highway at scary speeds with Spanish music blaring and Juliette pressed up against the door by the bikes and bags.

The countryside reminds me so much of Africa or Peru. People were walking and biking down the highway, seemingly oblivious to the passing cars. Our driver tore down the narrow road at 120 km/h flashing his lights and honking as he raced past other cars and trucks.

When we finally got to Bayamo, the driver stopped every few blocks to ask directions to the main square. The roads were filled with people on bikes and we saw very few other cars. The city is beautiful and so alive.

Our hotel, the Royalton, is right on the main square. It is a beautiful old building with a grand lobby and a marble staircase. Our room steps out onto a marble balcony overlooking the square which is packed with people enjoying the evening.

We are both exhausted by the trip, so we just unbox the bikes, filter some water and settle in for the night. Every hour, the clock on the square chimes, then church psalms are sung. We are definitely in Cuba now!

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