Hola, Cuba! We are in our Happy Place

Stepped off the plane and were thrilled to bits to see that our bikes arrived intact. Nevermind that in Toronto they made us unpack the boxes and take everything (everything!!) out of the box for inspection. That’s why they say to be at the airport three hours early. Our pre-arranged taxi driver found us and delivered us to our Casa Particular in Holguin where Oscar our host made us feel very welcome. Oscar we learned, had been working as an accomplished lawyer but now chooses to spend his time operating his Casa.

Randy re-assembled the bikes on a lovely outdoor balcony overlooking what appears to be a park where we saw happy Cuban kids skateboarding (sans cellphones) and hanging out just having fun. Overlooking the balcony we see the road users, and it’s definitely not all cars: an equal mix of bicycles, horses pulling buggies, rickety buses, motorcycles, pedestrians, and some cars.

The Myth of Cuban Food: Busted!!

Yep, The bland food myth–busted! It may be too soon to call it, but based on our first (and only meal today) in an authentic Cuban restaurant we are smiling ear to ear having each ordered up some mystery chicken and a side of rice. (Chicken = $4 and rice = $1). Lesson learned here: Cuban portions are huge. Chicken arrived all sizzly and inviting, and the rice….they know how to make rice! Happy, happy, Randy and Anita.

Cuban culture, sans-cellphone style

The bad news is that cell service is far too expensive for Cuban citizens to be addicted to their cell phones. The good news is that in the town square on Saturday night you see families socializing! Kids roller skating, people talking, sitting on benches everywhere just being happy and enjoying life. Absent are cell phones. There is a carnival type atmosphere.

Conclusion: We Love Cuba!

(Apparently, the internet here is very very slow. Until we get a faster connection, photos are darn near impossible to upload!)

Aviles restaurant in Holguin (recommended by Oscar)

Our taxi that met us at the airport.

Randy gets busy re-assembling the bicycles for the journey.

Across the street there appears to be a celebration happening.

People still use pay phones in Cuba.

The interior of Aviles restaurant.

The exterior of Casa Oscar, a 1930s style architectural style.

Packing the Bicycles (Totally Randy’s domain!)

Time to actually get those bicycles disassembled and squeezed into boxes for the flight. Randy’s bike is big, and it takes some engineering ingenuity to make it fit. We’re attempting to travel with no checked baggage other than bicycles so we’ll be squeezing helmets, water bottles and everything else we can into the box. There’s a weird scary feeling, hoping the bikes make it all the way to Cuba intact.

Bubble wrap, pipe insulation, or cardboard—many parts have been disassembled and protected. Tires deflated and handlebars & pedals removed. It’s a tight squeeze! And we’ll have to remember to throw in an extra roll of packing tape in order to bring those babies home again!

Squishing the bike into a box

While bikes are being packed, I focus on my own gear. I’ve sorted, made choices and took a way all the “extras” in order to shrink it all down to just the essentials. Whatever space remains we’ll be loading up with little gifts for Cubans, things we read about that might be well-appreciated (other than beef jerky!). Everything needs to fit into two panniers each on the bike rather than the usual 4, simply due to the fact that we have no camping gear.

Anita’s gear

 

Packing like a Minimalist!

Minimalism is key when travelling with all of our gear loaded on our bicycles. Randy is the resident bike mechanic, so he’s prepared for just about anything! Spare spokes, 4 tubes each, spare tires, tools and little pieces of hardware that only he knows how to work with. As far as clothing, we have just three changes of clothes for off-bicycle activity and two complete sets of cycling wear. Laundry soap will be our friend at the end of each day.

One of our goals is to try and make sure that just about everything serves double duty if it’s to occupy valuable space in our panniers. CampSuds soap is a wonderful one-ingredient-does-all solution; laundry, body wash, shampoo and dishes. One tech towel will serve for showering and days at the beach too.

Let’s talk food. I’m a picky eater and we’re headed to Cuba. We’ll be needing some emergency food for when all else fails so we are lugging a costco sized bag of dried mango slices and another of trail mix. We have beef jerky to gnaw on when we feel a little need for some salty-ness. Which brings us to a very interesting but true fact: Cubans are banned from eating beef, making it one of the hottest underground commodities around. They are not allowed to either buy, sell or eat it. In fact, we hear that it’s more dangerous for Cubans to be caught in possession of beef than cocaine. A little more research is needed on our part to determine if we are even legally allowed to bring it into the country.

Let’s talk water: When we’re cycling we need water. LOTS of water. And we aren’t entirely convinced it’s safe from taps everywhere so we’ll be taking water purification tablets and also a SteriPen (still awaiting delivery). The SteriPen will use a UV light to kill 99.9% of the evils in our water. And if something still manages to squeeze on through the pharmacist in town loaded us up with electrolytes, antibiotics, immunizations, Pepto-Bismol and Immodium.  We are ready for the traveller’s apocalypse.

Preparing: Maps, Guidebooks, Planes & Bicycles

A good tour always starts with a good map. Fortunately for us, Randy loves maps so he’s naturally the one to take the lead on that one. We started out with a nice big National Geographic Adventure Travel Map (water resistant too!) and Randy got to work researching and plotting.

Much of the decision making about our route came from reading tips and tales from various guidebooks and online blogs by those who have gone before us. While having a paper copy of a guidebook in-hand is nice, we realized afterward that we could have saved valuable space and weight by purchasing e-book formats instead.

Flying with Bicycles

There are logistical concerns. Packaging materials need to be either stored somewhere near the airport for our return or strapped on our bikes and transported with us for the entire journey.  We opted to fly into and out of the same airport, affording us the opportunity to find storage nearby. Our solution was to pre-book our first night at a Casa Particular in Holguin where our host, Oscar, has arranged for taxi pickup at the airport upon our arrival. With no availability for our final night stay in Cuba, Oscar has also made arrangements for nearby storage of our bicycle boxes until our return voyage home.

Cardboard boxes are our friend. Randy scooted down to the local bike shop and brought home two bicycle boxes that they happily parted with for free. Every airline’s policies vary a little, but WestJet seems to have the best policies where bicycles are concerned. ($30 per bike, per flight direction = $120 for two bicycles, return) .

Preparing Bicycles for Cuba

Nothing will be left to chance. While we will be prepared for just about any type of repair on the road, prevention is our preferred method. Therefore, a set of new tires were in order for my bike. Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. There are reportedly a LOT of possibilities for punctured holes in bicycle tires. Additionally, the terrain is expected to be somewhat….how shall we say? Rough! Randy also spent a lot of time cleaning every detail, affording the opportunity to identify any potential issues before they arise on the road. Finding bicycle parts in Cuba will be a challenge to say the least.