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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!