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You Are Viewing Bicycle Touring With Kids

A One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part III)

Posted March 9th, 2013

After an all-day bus journey, we turn up in the central Cuban city of Cienfuegos around sunset.

We’re happy to be here at all because the bus was overbooked and about 10 people were left behind in Viñales. This is a side-effect of travelling in the high season in Cuba: very busy public transport.

Thankfully, it’s no problem to find a room for the night so we quickly park our luggage and go exploring. Within a few minutes we end up at the pier, where a group of men are fishing for their dinner.

Fishing off the pier in Cienfugos

We’re not here for the fishing opportunities, however. We’re here to go cycling in the surrounding area. There are numerous day trips outlined in the Bicycling Cuba book and the next morning we tackle one of them: out to a nearby penninsula and back by ferry.

The road out of the town has plenty of traffic, but it’s all relatively slow-moving. We don’t mind sharing our road-space with this kind of traffic!

Public Transport In Cuba

Before long, the sun is rising and we’re drinking heaps of water to cope with the heat. We’re so glad we brought our water filter. At the rate we go through water (several litres a day), it would cost a small fortune to buy it all, not to mention the environmental cost of continuously throwing out plastic bottles.

Hot and thirsty cycling near Cienfuegos

There are also hills. Okay, it’s not quite the Himalayas but with temperatures over 30°C it doesn’t take much to wear us out.

Hills in Cuba

Eventually we get to the beach, where we take a short break before hopping the ferry back into Cienfuegos. The locals pay 1 peso for the ride and bikes go free. We each pay $1 American dollar and another $1 U.S. for our bikes. There’s no way around the tourist charge: they know we don’t have any option, aside from backtracking 30km.

Bikes on the ferry

And then, just as we’ve paid up (all the while muttering under our breath about the inflated cost), this boat rolls up.

The real ferry boat

We ask the captain where it’s going. He mumbles something about Cienfuegos. We become confused. There’s more questioning (from us) and mumbling (from the captain) and then we realise…. we’ve just paid $2 U.S. each for a ride on the wrong boat. Damn!

Off one boat, on to the other, another $4 U.S. paid, 20 minutes below deck with 100 other sweating people and …. finally … Cienfuegos. That was an expensive and exhausting ferry ride!

On the ferry back to Cienfuegos

Back in Cienfuegos, we’re on the final days of Luke’s course of antibiotics so we do some general lounging. This includes a bit of bike-gazing …

Bikes In Cuba

… boat watching …. (this is a fishing boat, made out of styrofoam)

styrofoam boat

… and sunsets on the pier. Next stop, Santa Clara!

Cienfuegos Pier

*This is the third in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. Click here for the first entry and here for the second. More coming soon!

A One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part II)

Posted February 10th, 2013

After a rocky start to our Cuban bike tour, we’re finally starting to enjoy ourselves. The cycling around the Viñales area is beautiful and it’s not hard to see why this is one of Cuba’s most popular tourist regions.

Touring near Vinales

The towering cliffs remind us a little of the limestone mountains in Laos. Thankfully the road condition is much better than the mud we had to plough through in 2008!

Mountains & Roads in Laos

Since we’re still waiting for Luke to complete his course of antibiotics, we decide to follow a few of the day trips from the Bicycling Cuba book. We load Luke in the trailer, play a bit of peek-a-boo with the sun shade and off we go.

Luke in the trailer

First we head for a local swimming hole. It’s Christmas Day and yet we have the whole place to ourselves.

Swimming Hole

On our way back, we cross paths with this cyclist. He’s taking a bicycle-load full of cabbage and spring onions to a local market and when we meet he’s actually pushing the bike up a steep hill. For Cubans this is fairly typical. They transport all kinds of things on bikes that seem terribly awkward and heavy to us.

Bok Choy seller and his delivery bicycle

The next day we ride 30km to the waterfront town of Puerto Esperanza. The name sounds lovely but in truth the town is a bit rough around the edges. We try to walk out on the pier but after just a few meters we’re stopped because the boards are literally falling apart around our feet. At least the view is nice!

Puerto Esperanza

Despite a lack of general charm, we do manage to find one very good thing in Puerto Esperanza: the Villa Dora guesthouse where we order lunch. Within half an hour a lobster dinner is laid out in front of us, complete with a salad and two beers on the side.

One of the best lobster dinners we had at Villa Dora in Puerto Esperanza

This turns out to be one of the best meals in all of Cuba. Instead of the tough meat or overcooked fish that we’re normally served, this lobster is tender and delicious. It even comes with a sauce! Sauces of any kind are a novelty in Cuba and we even though our meal turns out to be fairly expensive (24 CUC or  €17) we decide it’s worth every penny.

We complement the chef on her cooking skills and she bluntly declares:

It’s good because I know how to cook, and most people in Cuba don’t. They overcook everything.

We would have to agree. Time and time again during our month in Cuba, we were disappointed by the food. Aside from the breakfasts, which are overflowing with fresh fruit, eggs and bread, we soon tire of rice, beans, more rice, more beans and mountains of tough, dry meat.

Ugh.

Thankfully we manage to find relief from the Cuban street restaurants. They’re rarely open in the evenings (except in the biggest cities) but during the day we can feast on things like street pizza, available everywhere and freshly cooked for just pennies.

Street Pizza (we consumed hundreds of these in Cuba)

We also stop frequently at small fruit and vegetable stands by the side of the road, where we can buy cucumbers, tomatoes, pineapples and bananas. They’re grown in organic gardens all over Cuba. Our Swiss army knife comes in very handy to carve up all our market purchases.

Vegetable seller (pineapples cost about 10 cents)

For snacks while cycling, we can find a good selection of cookies in the small corner shops.

cookies

And finally, we occasionally stumble across a tasty plate of spaghetti.

Cuban spaghetti

It’s food like this that will keep us going as we throw our bikes on a bus to the city of Cienfuegos, where we’ll cycle 500km around Central Cuba.

*This is the second in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. Click here for the first entry. More coming soon!

A One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part I)

Posted February 6th, 2013

Aaaaaaaahchooo!

It’s December 17th. We’re on a plane to Cuba and excited to cycle for a month around the island but there’s a problem: in addition to our bikes and bags, we’ve also managed to pack a winter flu bug from Europe. Friedel is sneezing and feeling sorry for herself. By the time we get settled in our Havana hotel, she’s lost her appetite and spends the next two days in a hazy, feverish sleep.

Luke thankfully takes little notice of germs or jetlag and instead focuses on countering the 30°C heat by splashing around in his personal, portable bathtub: an Ortlieb bicycle pannier.

Luke in the "bath"

By day three, Friedel has mostly recovered and declares that it’s time to escape the city so we load up our bikes, turn west and cycle out of Havana. The first few kilometers are chaotic: blaring horns, clouds of black smoke from the cars and potholes all distract our attention. We never feel unsafe or threatened by the traffic but it’s also not what we would call pleasant cycling.

Once beyond the city limits, it’s a different story. The roads are nearly empty and there’s plenty of time to admire the stunningly blue water.

First day leaving Havana

It’s not just the colour of the water that’s intense in Cuba. The sun is also a force to be reckoned with. It’s been a long time since we were cycling in such a warm climate but we recover our old habits quickly enough.

The routine goes like this: Up at 6am to pack bags and shower. Breakfast at 7am. On the road before 8am. Cycle like mad until about 11am, by which point it’s time for a break in the shade. We stop frequently in the afternoon and this means that our progress is very slow but this isn’t a concern for us. We’re in no hurry and roadside rest stops are also a chance to play with Luke.

Just outside of Mariel

As usual, we’re amazed by this little boy of ours. The common ‘wisdom’ seems to be that travel and kids are incompatible but our experience has been just the opposite. Is everyone else misguided? Are we just lucky? We’ll probably never know but we can genuinely say that travelling with Luke is no harder than staying at home.

In fact, travelling with Luke is even better than being home because we can both focus on his needs. We are not distracted by work, household chores or the internet. For his part, Luke shows his natural travelling genes by adjusting remarkably well to every new situation, food and experience that we throw at him.

Everything, that is, except the germs. A mere 100km out of Havana and it becomes clear that Friedel passed her illness to Luke. He starts crying for no apparent reason. We feed him, change him and play with him but to no avail. We know something is wrong so we make a beeline for the nearest B&B. That’s how we end up at Villa Juanita, just outside the tiny tourist village of Las Terrazas. It’s on the main road but there’s little around for entertainment aside from the ‘farmer’s market’ that rolls in by horse and cart once every couple of days.

Farmer's Market

We end up spending three days at Villa Juanita, nursing Luke back to health. While we’re there, we play countless games of Scrabble and test out the famous Cuban medical system. The doctor doesn’t speak much English but does give us medication to bring down Luke’s fever and enough antibiotics, painkillers and vitamins to fill an entire pannier. The cost? Free. Even the taxi driver didn’t want to charge us for the journey into town and back.

Finally, we’re ready to move on but Luke has a course of antibiotics to take and they have to be kept refrigerated. This means we can’t cycle from town to town – at least not for a few days. Instead we take a taxi to the provincial city of Pinar del Rio, get a room in a casa particular (a type of Cuban B&B) and go exploring.

We end up at a baseball game: Pinar del Rio versus Matanzas. The tickets to a national league match are 4 cents each (1 Cuban peso). Without a zoom lens, our camera doesn’t do a good job of capturing the game but we do grab this shot of kids in the stands.

Baseball Game

Note the tobacco leaf in the logo of the baseball team. Tobacco is an important crop in this area, as we see the next day when we cycle the 30km or so to Viñales. The broad leaves of tobacco plants are sticking up everywhere from the bright red soil.

Tobacco

The other thing we soon notice are revolutionary billboards, often with images of Che Guevara. We stop to pose by the first one, but soon become immune to them as there’s literally one (and often several) in every town.

Eight days, one taxi ride, 130km of cycling and several vials of antibiotics later we arrive in Viñales. The views are inspiring. It seems the perfect place to park ourselves for another few days to celebrate Christmas, allow Luke to finish taking his medicine and try to get our bike tour back on track.

*This is the first in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. Click here for Part II. More coming soon!

Where Baby Sleeps When We’re Bike Touring

Posted December 13th, 2012

When we began camping and bike touring with our son he was just a few months old. One of our biggest concerns was finding a way for him to sleep safely and comfortably.

Baby Asleep In The Tent

Most advice online was targeted to people travelling by car. Hauling a large and relatively heavy travel cot around by bicycle was not an option.

Since we co-sleep at home anyway, we didn’t actually feel the need for a travel cot. If we had, we probably would have gone for something like this Samsonite Pop-Up Travel Cot. Someone gave us one of these and we were impressed by how lightweight and compact it is.

Samsonite Cot

For overnight camping you’d have to add an insulating layer (the ‘mattress’ that comes with it is pretty thin) but otherwise it seems quite handy for a very young baby that can’t roll over. Older babies will not be safe in this cot as they can easily tip it over.

We never used the Samsonite cot. Instead, we started with a Z-lite mattress, folded up to suit Luke’s proportions. We put it between our two camping mats, and it turned out to be pretty good for changing diapers as well as sleeping.

Sleeping Arrangements

At night, we covered the mattress with a soft blanket. Luke was dressed in PJs, a down sleep sack and a hat. We had another blanket that went over top of him as well. Since temperatures were close to freezing at night, we added a hot water bottle for good measure. As you can see, Luke was a pretty happy camper.

Camping With A Baby

When Luke was 5 months old, we decided to ride our bikes to France. This was a 2-week journey and we wanted a more compact sleeping mat than the Thermarest Z-lite mattress. We invested in the short version of the Thermarest NeoAir. The NeoAir is wonderfully light (just 230g) and we hope Luke can use it for camping until he’s 4-5 years old.

Thermarest Neo Air

By this point, Luke had made it clear that he didn’t like sleepsacks so instead we invested in a sleeping bag that would cover both mum and Luke at the same time: the Vaude Sioux 500 XL.

Vaude Sioux 500 XL

This set-up worked really well for us, and we’ll use it again next summer.

Now that we’re off to Cuba, we’re planning to do exactly what we do at home: co-sleep. Obviously not every family will be comfortable with this but for us it’s the most pleasant and practical arrangement.

Want to know more about bike touring with a baby? Here’s a video of our summer bike tour to France:

And one made by our friend Blanche, which tells more about our set-up.

 

Going Light: Our Packing List For Bike Touring In Cuba

Posted December 12th, 2012

We’ve been planning for months and now it’s almost here: departure day for our flight to Cuba!

With less than a week to go, we spent yesterday packing our bags. Thankfully – for once in our lives – we have plenty of room to spare. It helps that we’re going on a ‘credit card’ bike tour: staying in hotels and leaving all the camping, cooking and cold-weather gear at home.

Normally we love camping but on this trip we have to contend with a couple factors. The first is a limited luggage capacity. When we booked our flights, we were quoted €800 to fly two full-sized touring bikes to Cuba and back with KLM (it seems this fee has now dropped by half but that’s not what we were told at the time). This was a great incentive to use folding bikes and work within standard baggage limits. The restless sleeping habits of a young baby were also a good reason to go for hotels and B&Bs instead of camping. After years of budget bike touring, it’s time to splurge a little!

That said, you could easily camp in Cuba if you wanted to.

Our full packing list is below. The luggage weighs about 22kg (including the weight of the panniers). All of this will go as carry on (we’re each entitled to a bag of 10kg as carry on luggage). Note:

  • About a quarter of the weight in our bags consists of diapers and food for Luke (rice crackers, dried fruit). Our bags will either be considerably lighter on the return flight, or full of rum and cigars.
  • Electronics such as our laptop and iPad also account for a lot of weight. These sorts of things aren’t necessary for everyone but they are something we like to take along.
  • There are no toys or books for baby. There will be plenty of entertainment from the two jokers this kid has as parents, not to mention the adventures that Cuba itself will bring.
  • The clothes we’ll wear on the plane are not included in the weight but are mentioned in the packing list.
  • We think this list is complete but – as always – we’re human and sometimes we forget stuff. If you think something’s missing let us know and we’ll update the list if necessary.

Put together, our collection of “stuff” looks something like this:

Our stuff for Cuba All packed up in 3 neat bags

The bikes and the bags they’ll fly in total about 30kg (Brompton – 12kg; Speed TR – 15kg; bike bags – 1.2kg each). Luke’s Chariot Cougar 1 trailer weighs 11kg but technically it’s a stroller, not a bike trailer. We can gate check this and it doesn’t count in our luggage allowance.

Want the full details? Read on!

Dahon Speed TRThe Bikes & Bags:

Bike Parts, Tools & Accessories

Electronics

  • 1 Panasonic Lumix GF1 camera
  • 1 iPad 3, plus case
  • 1 13″ Macbook Pro laptop, plus case
  • 1 Kodak Zi8 video camera (a few years old but fine for our purposes)
  • 1 Gorillapod tripod ($80 from REI)
  • 2 USB sticks (for back-up of photos)
  • 1 cellphone (very old; not a smartphone; only for emergencies)

Clothes for Friedel

Clothing (Friedel)

  • 3 pairs socks
  • 3 pairs underwear
  • 3 pairs trousers (3/4 length, lightweight, zip-off)
  • 3 lightweight tops (2 long sleeved)
  • 1 bra
  • 1 large, lightweight scarf (for breastfeeding cover, as a picnic blanket, etc.)
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 pair Teva sandals
  • 1 pair cycling shoes
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 Gore-tex paclite jacket (£159.99 from Wiggle)
  • 1 merino wool hoodie
Andrew's clothes.

Clothing (Andrew)

  • 3 pairs socks
  • 3 pairs underwear
  • 2 pairs trousers (1 pair zips off into shorts)
  • 3 lightweight tops (2 long sleeved)
  • 1 merino wool t-shirt
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 pair Teva sandals
  • 1 pair cycling shoes
  • 1 pair swimming trunks
  • 1 Gore-tex paclite jacket

Baby clothes!

Clothing (baby)

  • 4 shirts
  • 1 hoodie
  • 2 pairs light pants
  • 1 pair heavier pants
  • 2 pairs shorts
  • 2 onesies (to be used as light, summer PJs)
  • 3 pairs socks
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 pair normal shoes
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 swim diaper (not something we’d normally use but it was given to us, so…)
  • 1 sippy cup

Toiletries

  • 150 disposable diapers
  • 2 packs baby wipes
  • 2 cloth diapers (just in case!)
  • 2 tubes toothpaste (one for kids, one for adults)
  • 2 bottles 50 SPF sunscreen (one for kids, one for adults)
  • 1 First Aid Kit with medicines (paracetamol, sinus medication)
  • 1 toiletry kit (shampoo, soap, dental floss etc…)
  • 1 travel towel
  • 1 Mooncup

Maps and Books

Emergency baby food.

Miscellaneous

  • A variety of snack food, mostly for baby (dried fruit, rice crackers)
  • 1 notebook with pen
  • 3 pairs sunglasses
  • 1 Eagle Creek Pack-It cube
  • 1 MSR Miniworks EX water filter ($89.95 from REI)