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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!

Posted March 6th, 2013

Our recent photo contest to find a cover shot for the upcoming 2nd edition of the Bike Touring Survival Guide received an outstanding response: over 700 photos were entered!

With so many great photographs, it was very difficult to shortlist just 10 photos. We ended up picking 12 favourites. There were many superb photos beyond those shortlisted but, for various reasons, they weren’t quite suitable as cover shots.

The shortlisted photos will now be judged by two bike-touring photographers, Paul Jeurissen and Amaya Williams. The winning entry will be announced on Friday, March 15th.

Without further delay, here are the 12 shortlisted photos (in no particular order). Clicking on the photos will take you to the image on Flickr.

#1. Early Winter In China by Cyclingthe360.com
Early Winter in China

#2. On Tour In Chile by Garths On Tour
DSC_2668

#3. Iceland by Mattaos
Matts photos

#4.  Land of volcanoes, sandy paths and salty salars by Gerard Castellà
BTSG2013

#5. Back On The Road by Solidream
Back on the road

#6. Laguna Tuyaito, Paso Sico, Argentina by Piciclisti
Laguna Tuyaito, Paso Sico, Argentina,

#7. Cañon inesperado by Alvaro & Alicia
Cañon inesperado

#8. On the way to Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina by Ana Carolina Vivian
Somewhere on the way to Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina.

#9. Kluane lake, Yukon (on the Alaska Highway) by Lorelyruss
throughthestreetsofanywhere.wordpress.com

#10. Near Passu by Sloths On Wheels
Near Passu

#11. Descending From The Atlas Mountains by Leave Only Treadmarks
Descending From The Atlas Mountains - Morocco

#12. Magical road near Skuru by Vellowallah
P1000347

Posted February 20th, 2013

This picture was taken a few moments before we almost died.

The day we almost died

The day was March 21st, 2008. We were biking across Iran with our friend Bijan, on our way to the holy city of Mashhad. By 7am, we’d finished breakfast and packed our bicycles. We picked up the camera one last time, snapped a quick shot of our camping spot from the night before, and rolled our bikes onto the road.

On the face of it, the cycling conditions that day could hardly have been safer. The road stretched out straight ahead and far behind us. Visibility was excellent. There was a shoulder, and no traffic at that time of day.

We took the first pedal strokes. Up, down. Up, down. As we eased into our rhythm, Friedel contemplated crossing the road to take a photograph of Andrew passing by.

Then it happened. We heard the squealing of tires and saw a blur in our rearview mirrors. Bijan shouted something. A fraction of a second later a car flew by our left side at incredible speed. In front of our eyes it rose into the air, rolled a few times and landed upside down on the other side of the road.

Silence. Terrible silence. The kind of eerie calm that only happens in the face of tragedy. In all honesty, we aren’t sure if it was truly silent or if we were just in shock. We realised that someone had just died in front of us and we were mere seconds away from being part of that accident; another statistic on the roads.

Three people died that day. Three children were left without parents. We could so easily have been among them. If we’d been cycling in the other direction on the road, if the car had veered right instead of left, if Friedel had crossed the road to take a picture….

That night, we wrote in our journal:

By the end of today, we felt even more pleasure than usual in the simple things in life. We stopped to camp by an irrigation channel, dipping our toes in the cool water and being happy only because we’d lived to see another day. You just never know what tomorrow will bring.

The next morning we got up and carried on, cycling down some of Iran’s most beautiful roads.

the next morning we carried on

We continued on our world bike trip for another 18 months, crossing Asia, Australia and North America. We kept cycling because we realised that turning tail and heading home wouldn’t save us from an untimely death. Such events are simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully for us, on that day we were (just barely) in the “right place”.

Not so for Peter & Mary, who sadly died earlier this month on Thailand’s roads. Like our experience in 2008, however, their fate only encourages us further to continue doing the things we love, with the people we love. We’ll do our best to stay safe, of course, but ultimately we also realise that death is a fate that awaits us all and we don’t want our last moments to be the closing act that follows a lifetime spent on the sofa. As the famous quote goes:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’

So if you’ll excuse us, we have a cycling trip to plan….

Posted in Inspiration
Posted February 18th, 2013

Pete & MaryThe internet can do funny things sometimes, including making you feel very connected to people you’ve never met.

Pete and Mary were two such people for us. From the earliest days of their round-the-world bicycle ride we exchanged emails, chatted on Twitter and watched their videos. They even sent us photos and stories for the 2nd edition of our Bike Touring Survival Guide.

Was it any surprise then that we cried a few tears when we heard this news? Rest in peace, Pete & Mary.

Pete and Mary, RIP from Tom Waugh on Vimeo.

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!