ray ban
Cycling in Cuba

Cycling in Cuba
Cycling in Belize and the Yucatan, Mexico

So, is BIG BROTHER watching? Several friends have suggested that as soon as we put these journal pages onto the Internet our own US Government Watchdogs will become Government Attack Dogs. Well, we’ll see. You know, in the HOME OF THE BRAVE, LAND OF THE FREE, it isn’t against any law to travel to Cuba, it is against the law to spend money there??? In our opinion the entire EMBARGO is a dinosaur, a left over from the COMMIE HATING DAYS. Don’t they know that Communism has faded? The fear of it has been replaced with the fear of terrorism. We didn’t see any terrorists in Cuba but they do have free education, free dental and free medical insurance for all. Isn’t it time to open the flood gates? Let freedom flow through free access. It shouldn’t take long for things to change.

At any rate, we wouldn’t have missed the trip for the world. It is a very interesting part of OUR WORLD. So, read all about the beauty of Belize, see the Historic Sites of the Yucatan and get our perspective on the people, places and old cars of Cuba.

If you can’t ride it, READ IT!
Our journal pages are for our own use and your enjoyment. This chapter is not intended to promote or even encourage tourism there. In fact, until things change, if you're on a short vacation you should probably try Mexico, one of the Central American Countries or a Caribbean Island.

September 26, to November 8, 2005
The Boat to Belize
September 26, 2005
Honduras to Belize on a Boat

Up early packing and readying. Down with bags then worked up a sweat getting them on the bikes. Our pre-ordered 7:00 AM breakfast was slow service, again. There are a couple of guys in the other room, we think the staff served our breakfast to them? When we finally got ours it wasn’t even close to what we’d ordered last night. Did we send it back, no. We can’t afford to be late this morning.

A walk to the boat dock and we met our pal Junior. Remember, we met him on bicycle as we entered Puerto Cortez? He told us that it was too early and guaranteed our seats. He suggested that we bring the bikes but we feel more comphy with them under the stairs at the Hotel Prince Wilson. So, back to the room. Really glad that we left the AC going. More CNN News until Junior knocked on our door.

Moto & Fish head We followed him back to the boat, met the Captain then he made a deal for a ride in the back of a pickup truck to Immigration and the bank. The driver is charging us 40 Lems each. We told Junior that it only cost 100, down and back? Then the really interesting part of the trip, we had to sit in the back of the truck. It slightly miffed us but the upside, we were joined there by 8 other boat travelers. It was fun comparing notes. One young guy, Brian, is with a Teen Missionary near the shore of Lago Yojoa in Honduras. One couple from Belgium, Francois and Sara are going to Placencia, a small town south of Danriga, on a different boat. The rest, Keely, Ben, Sarah and Phillip are Peace Corp volunteers in Belize. They’ve been vacationing together in Honduras.

The boat ride was a bit bumpy, nothing like the ride back from the Galapagos but bumpy at times. Our bikes are snug, in the cabin. They actually take up the entire aisle. When Phillip went forward to take a nap he had to crawl over them. We pulled into Danigra in just 3 hours.
Phillip Sleeps Keely, Ben, Sarah & Brian Sea Shack

Boat to Belize

Belize ImmigrationOn the wooden pier at Danigra we all had to talk with Immigration before they would allow us to get our things off the boat. The crew and I struggled to get the bikes out of the cabin then lift them onto the dock. We had to lay them down on the dock while we filled out the immigration forms. An easy process, the Officer was just sitting casually on the dock. He glanced at our passports, took the form then waved us in to Belize.

Danigra GirlsSea Clift B&BThe Captain of our ship said that the best Hotel in town is Pal’s Guest House. We had to ask a couple of times but finally made our way there only to be disappointed. It looked like a concrete, 3 story walkup prison. Across the street and on the beach was a house with a sign, SeaClift B & B. It looked like our kind of place but when we cycled to the fence the welcoming committee of mean looking dogs worried us. There is a bell but the place looks deserted. The ringing only excited the yapping dogs, more. Then a gal came out and said that they did have a room and quoted $75. What a bargain, the deal here is that Belize Dollars are traded 2 for one US $. We pushed around through the yard amidst a now friendly pack of 3 dogs.

The rooms are very nice, in fact we have a choice. Each of the two rooms is similar but only one has a fan and TV. Another treat, all channels are in English, the official language of Belize. The gal, Selma, took us around to the side and opened the laundry room door where we stored the bikes.

We’d just settled in when another gal came to sign us in. She said that the rate was $75 US. We objected and she gave in but took breakfast out of the equation which was fine with us. The rooms are just bedrooms with private baths in a fully furnished house. We have kitchen privileges and Cat wants to cook.

Very relaxing, she prepared pasta that we had on board and we ate in front of the TV which is satellite and has 90 channels. Oh yes, we had a bottle of white wine aboard, too. A very relaxing evening.

September 27, 2005
A Day in Dangriga

A lazy morning then we decided to take a walk and look for coffee. A little bakery had muffins and coffee. Pretty good and pretty expensive. Things here are expensive, as they have no industry to speak of and everything, including most food, is shipped in.
Daniga Main Hut &Boats Sand spit & Sailboat
Seaside Homes Blooming Dales Vanessa’s
Laundry Day Pink & Blue Cat Relaxes

We did find an Internet Shop and spend a couple of hours there. Lunch meat at a little store and we went back to enjoy daytime TV and sandwiches.

I hit our keyboard and Cat went back to Internet to add names to our list of friends and clean up messages. She stopped at the Market on the way back and bought pork chops and fresh veggies for dinner and ham and eggs for breakfast. We’re really making ourselves at home.

September 28, 2005
Dangriga to Belmopan
55 Miles (89 Kilometers)

Awoke to a steady downpour. Watched, hoping it would slow or stop while we ate our lumberjack sized breakfast. It did lighten up so I pulled the bikes out and we loaded up. When Cat went up to pay our landlords, Bridgett and Brian, insisted that we chat a bit.

Bridgett & Brian

Bridgett & BrianBrian is a Century 21 Real Estate Broker. It’s a fairly new career for him. He has been in Public Education most of his working life. In fact he was doing consulting work for the Seattle, Washington School District when he met Bridgett. She lived in Los Angeles and was Curator of the African American Museum at Exposition Park across from USC. As fate would have it she left there and applied for a job with Brian’s firm. The rest is history. She too has a career here as CEO of the Belize Citrus Growers Association.


They have grown children, a daughter in the States and son here in Belize. They also have 2 young adopted sons, Clifton and Sean. Clifton is Garafuna, Sean is a mix of Garafuna and Honduran. Both had been abandoned by their birth families. Brian and Bridgett told us of that a lot of children, especially those like Sean of mixed heritage, are left on the streets or in orphanages. Both Brian and Bridgett are Rotarians and they’ve just started a program sponsored by Rotary called CASH. Children, Active Safe and Happy. It’s designed to help these homeless waifs find a better life. Let us know if you’re interested in details, we’ll put you in touch with Bridgett and Brian.

A great part of the joy of this Odyssey is meeting people like Brian and Bridgett!

Reluctantly we left in a slight mist, waved our goodbyes and hit the road. We’d only gone 5 miles when Bridgett passed and honked on her way to work. We took pictures of her office but decided not to bother her and spend more time since we have a tough road ahead.
Pinky’s Garifuna Museum More Laundry
Citrus Growers Ass’n Hillside Homes More Hillside
Jorge & Yvonne    

The road was fairly flat and dry for the first 26 miles as Brian had told us. A quick stop for soft drinks and we met Jorge & Yvonne. They own the Store are actually farmers. This little village was booming when they built the Store. Now he says that farming is really slow. Citrus prices are down so he and his brother try to scrape out a living selling staples to neighbors.

The Big PushThen came the hills. The first was so steep that we were ground down to a push. The ups continued but we were able to ride them, slowly. Then, just as we crested the summit it began to pour. At first we just ignored it and rode on then it became so thick that traffic couldn’t see us. We pulled up under a little grass roof bus stop and waited. It slowed slightly so we decided to make a run for it. There were a few more ups but mostly downs between us and Belmopan. The rain slacked then stopped. We rolled into town and did the ask, ask and finally found shelter at the Bull Frog Inn by 6:00 PM.

The rooms are simple but clean. The price like too many things here, is too high but we were ready to stop. Paul checked us in and sent us to a warm shower, the right way to end this rough, cool, wet day’s ride. The room is too small for the bikes but Paul arranged for us to park them in another that is unused.

Met a guy named Pat, from South Carolina, on the way in. He’s with a Concrete Construction Company overseeing construction of the new US Embassy here.

Dinner in the open air, mosquito filled restaurant. Pat was there, we talked a bit then one of his Foremen and family came in. Dinner was okay, the beds felt great. TV, again satellite and too many choices.

September 29, 2005
A Bus to San Ignacio

Breakfast is just okay. A fast affair then off to the Bus Station and San Ignacio. We booked the direct bus. It is twice the price but air conditioned and makes no stops. Takes about 1 hour less time, too.

MayaWalk Tours, Jimmy and Jose

MayaWalk Tours office is adjacent to the Bus Station. We walked around the building and into the open front office and store. Nice guys, Jimmy and Jose, they don’t have anyone booked for a trip to Tikal tomorrow but feel confident that they will. The deal is, we have to pay more if we have the Van to ourselves. After discussion we paid the “us only” fare with the promise that they’ll refund us $10 if they get other clients.

Mr. Checks SmilesSan Ignacio MainThen we walked, looking for a placed that Jimmy had suggested for a room. Walking in the hot sun began to take a toll. We asked a group of Police clustered around a US Embassy car, they sort of shooed us around the corner. At last, we gave in and haled a taxi. He drove us to the place, we took one look and had him drive on.

Martha’s Guest House

When we were walking we came upon Martha’s Café. There is a building next to it that looks like a Hotel. The ladies in the Café told us that the Guest House near the Center is open but this new annex isn’t, yet. We had the Taxi drop us at Martha’s Guest House. What a treat, we met Martha, looked at the room and booked. It is cute, clean, air-conditioned, very reasonably priced and walking distance to everything.

Next stop after settling in, lunch. A very cute and well known place. Several other obvious tourists there, reading their Lonely Planet Books as they sipped and nibbled. The Internet Shop around the corner consumed an hour, checking and answering. Then Cat went for a haircut and I returned to Martha’s for a nap.

Dinner down and more chit chat with Martha. She has just completed the new Hotel but won’t open until the season begins later. He tells the story of being raised on a ranch near San Ignacio then working until she could buy her own place. She and her daughter run the Restaurant and Guest House. No mention of a Mr. Martha, she skirted the issue only discussing her difficult years and how she loves working with her daughter. Really a nice, hard working gal.

Francois & SaraInteresting, at dinner down we found François and Sara, the couple from Belgium that took the other boat from Puerto Cortez. Fun comparing travel notes and stories. Dinner was very good, Pizza for Cat and Steak for Pat.

A little TV then lights out. .

September 30, 2005
Cat’s Birthday #52

Masks Since we had to be at MayaTours office by 7:15 we walked to the Restaurant next door to them for breakfast. As we ate Jimmy gave us the bad news/good news. We are going alone so, no refund. The good news, we have the van and guide, Edgar, to ourselves. 

A Rough Ride to Tikal

IHello Guatemalat’s an 80 Ks ride, the last 30 of which is on rough dirt road. We crossed into Guatemala, and had to leave our Belize van and driver, walk through, and pass Immigration then board another Guatemalan Van. New driver, too. That’s when the road turned to grit. We bumped along and the driver told stories of having just finished work with Survivor Guatemala. You know, the Reality TV Series. They just finished taping the episodes here, last week. He had a “Pride and Joy” baseball cap with the emblem above the bill. Edgar was thoroughly impressed and wore the hat most of the way to Tikal.

Bumpy road to Tikal

The good thing about having Edgar to ourselves, we really swept through the Ruins in record time and didn’t miss one climb or walk in thick jungle. That’s the difference between this site and other Mayan Ruins, it’s in thick jungle and a hilly area. Some of the hills are man made or should we say Maya Made. These guys were very clever, constructing high ground using the dirt from water storage reservoirs. At this point we’ll let the pictures do the talking. Hope you find at least 1000 words in each.

Tikal is a wonderful experience. It’s not as visual as Machu Picchu but you do get the feeling of what life must have been 2.000 or more years ago. Back when as many as a Million people lived and worked in a complex society. Signs of their lives are seen on the trails and in the clearings. Te clearing, the main squares, with their Temples reaching toward the sky, are memorial to these long gone peoples.
Tikal Celeste Big Cedar
Tikal Cat’s BD Welcome
Toucan Jungle Takes Spider Monkey
Spider Cat @ Acropolis Limestone
1000 years old Carving Temple
A Frame We Edgar
Temple Fantastic Faded Glory
Temple Door Temple Temple
Bats on Toes A Frame Big Temple
Temple & Square Temple Door Stairs
P&C&Temple Sacrificial Stone Carved Stone
Temple Carving 10’ Sun God Temple & Square
Stones & Stairs Temple Carvings Mayan Path
Stone & Moss Tall Temple Grassy Stairs
Stair Climbers View from Top Carving
Mayan Roots    

Where Did They Go and Why?

From more than a million to almost extinct? Where did they go? There are many theories the leading one, overpopulation drove them to famines during dry years. Some scientists today are using Tikal as a model when studying the affects of too large a population. They say there are some parallel issues we’re dealing with today.

Express Bus back to Belmopan

The trip back to San Ignacio was just a reverse of this morning’s trip. Edgar jokingly tried for the hat but the Guatemalan driver only laughed, as we bumped along. Back across into Belize and our other van pulled up within minutes. They hustled, pulled up at Martha’s and waited while we picked up our bags then dropped us at the Bus Terminal in time to catch the last Express Bus of the day.
Jaguar Deer Serpent

San Ignacio BridgePaul @ Bull FrogWe were in Belmopan before 5:00 PM. Another Taxi and it was Happy Hour at the Bull Frog. A nice Birthday Dinner for the Cat after a hard days ride to an unusual place. A Birthday she’ll never forget.

Fatigue caught up with us fairly early, we were off to bed.


October 1, 2005
Belmopan to Belize City
50 Miles (80 Kilometers)

Breakfast was not cheap and not that good. We collected the bikes early from the un-used room and loaded and pushed them out into the restaurant area. Sitting alone, we pondered the advice, “The road is flat or downhill form here to Belize City”.

Road to Belize CityCaution So, an early start that immediately took us into a narrow road that undulated up and down. Not so much up that we had to push but enough that we did hit Granny Gear a few times. 

A soft drink stop at a poorly stocked Café/Service Station. Nice guy working there, he used to live in New York. Most of his conversation was complaint, he explained that Belize produces so little that they have to depend on imports. That leads to high prices.

Bar/Restaurant. The guy there, Bruce, told us that they had no food, more a beer bar. He pointed down the road and suggested what he called a Fast Food place. We thanked him and rolled back out through the puddles.

Westby’s Cool Spot is like a Drive In Restaurant. Several locals sitting, eating and watching as we propped the bikes up and began to figure out the menu. The locals stirred, we turned and there were 2 more “Road Warriors”, Sarah and Emily, pulling in. Had to be a rare occurrence here, no wonder the others all stared as we settled in and ordered. We took a table together and talked as we ate greasy chicken. They’ve been Peace Corp Volunteers, just finished their 2 year tour of duty in Honduras. They’re both Education Specialists and have been working with kids in a small village. Now, a big adventure, they’re cycling back home. Well, to Sarah’s home in San Simeon, California. Emily is from Durham, North Carolina. They expect to be in California by Christmas. Pretty strong cyclists, pretty brave young girls.

Sarah & EmilyAfter brief goodbyes Sarah and Emily took the fork in the road to the left. They’re heading toward Valladolid, Mexico. We veered right, toward Belize City.

The Girls Push Off

Belize CityMedian Cemetery Our early start had us in Belize City by 3:30 PM. The strangest thing about entering town is that there’s a Cemetery in the middle of the road? It skirts both sides of the highway too but there’s an island of Head Stones, right there, in the middle of the National Highway. Very strange, obviously the highway came along after the cemetery was established. Also, the relatives of the Median Dwellers must have preferred an eternity of traffic jams rather than moving their loved ones?

Rolling along and following our map, we were soon lost. Asking for any Hotel, we were told to go to the Swing Bridge . An old draw bridge, actually a bridge on a swivel that swings sideways to allow boat traffic to pass. Across, we were directed toward the Tourist Zone then to the Radisson Hotel. They did have rooms but at a price we shouldn’t buy into. Then a guy sitting on the sidewalk pointed toward the next driveway and said, “The Great House”. A very nice Hotel, large room and Satellite TV. The only downside, all rooms are upstairs. Cat got us checked in while the Bellman and I struggled up the steep slippery tiled stairway.

Cat negotiated and even better price by promising to stay 3 nights. (Todd, the director of LandRider Bicycle’s Infomercial has sent a Video Camera that will arrive Monday. So, we’ll stay and explore.) We were now at less than ½ the price of the Radisson. Steaming hot water for a shower that felt great even after a sizzling hot bike ride.

Dinner down at the Smokey Mermaid Restaurant. Pretty good wine, smoked pork chops for me, pasta for the Cat.

Sunday, October 2, 2005
A Walk, A Rest

Our included breakfast is served in the Smokey Mermaid. The desk clerk has to give us a voucher because the Restaurant isn’t part of the Hotel. W enjoyed juice, fresh fruit, toast and good, strong coffee.

Jim & CharleneAs we set off we ran into the only other people we’d seen at dinner. They’re from Canada. Jim is touring on a Motorcycle, his girl friend, Charlene, flies in to meet him and ride a little from time to time. Too bad we didn’t talk last night, they’re off today and she’ll be returning to Canada, soon. They rode away and we set off to explore the area and look for an Internet connection and Market.

There’s a tall lean lighthouse on the breakwater at the end of the street. Not just a lighthouse, it’s also the crypt for a Brit who had lots of money. He lived here, invested in the arts and theatre then left the remainder of his estate to the people of Belize. Sorry but his name has escaped us. The harbor is fairly picturesque. A guy called out, “Hey, take my picture”. So I did. Funny, he’s standing in front of a sign for a Bakery and the line above his head says, “Yu Dun Seh It”.
Old House Under Sail Skinny Lighthouse
Wake Zone Yuh Done She it Park Art

Our walk around, looking for and Internet Shop proved fruitless. Oh, they have them but they’re all closed on Sunday. Most of the shops are closed today, too. We did find Brodie’s Market and bought lunch meat, cheese and bread.

With little else to do, we picnicked in the room, watched movies and rested our tired and cramping legs.

Dinner down again. They had a lamb special that was really tasty but messy. The meat was on bones, we picked them up and ate like Cave Men. There are a couple of other tourists here but they kept to themselves. Maybe due to our interesting table manners?

CNN news then the end of a very restful day.

October 3, 2005
Wild goose Chase to FedEx

Today’s breakfast was fractured, the girl told us that we couldn’t have fresh fruit, just coffee and bread. We complained and told her we’d had fruit yesterday. She sort of apologized and told us that we weren’t supposed to have had it yesterday. So, we were banished back to the “Bread and Water” breakfast.

Old HouseRasta BuddiesOur quest for the day is to find FedEx and retrieve the Video Camera. Cat found an address in the Lonely Planet, we walked and asked until we found it only to find that they’ve moved. At Mail Boxes Etc. we asked the guy to call and see if FedEx could deliver to his shop. He called then told us that the package was being held because there may be Import Tax due. He told us that we’d have to go to the Airport to see the Customs Officer.

Geez we hate the hassle of Customs Officers. Our thoughts flash back to the dilemma in Lima. Then there was the hassle of getting out to the Airport. Taxi fare was $15 out and $15 back. We did find a local bus that got us close for only $1.50 each. Close was too far to walk so we had to take a Taxi. Turned out not to be that far but in the hot mid day sun it would have melted us. Cost for Taxi, $4.00. A $7.00 trip.

Then, when we found FedEx, the guy there checked his computer and told us that there was no Import Duty problem? Geez, all this, at the cost of $14.00 US, for naught? He called the office downtown and confirmed that they had it. In fact he was able to have them deliver to the Hotel. A little good news amidst the disturbing.

A couple of guys in a Taxi who had just dropped someone at the Airport tried to bargain with us for the ride back. They dropped the price from $15.00 US to $10.00. When we told them we’d take the bus for only $3.00. The driver looked over and said, “You’ll be on the Chicken Shit Bus”! I said, “Noting wrong with a little Chicken Shit, in fact some of our best friends are Chicken Shits”. They laughed but they still thought we were cheap skates.

Internet then another trip to Brodie's for lunch things. By the time we got back to our Great House, FedEx had already delivered. I spent the afternoon putting to get the Video Camera together and trying to figure out how it works. Cat worked on filling in missing days in her journal. Another picnic and more TV, too.

E & J GalloDinner down again, we both chose the fish special and it was great. A fellow we’d seen at breakfast, Robert from Arizona, sat next to us and we chatted. He’s retired from Banking but is here working as a Consultant with the Belize Ministry of Health. Nice guy. Oh, the only white wine they have is Ernest & Julio Gallo, one we’d pass up back home. Here it tasted pretty good. Imagine a California Wine in Belize.

A little TV news then sleep.


October 4, 2005
Boat to Ambergris

Richard & Marshall Richard and Marshall, a couple from Colorado sat near us at breakfast and we chatted. They’re here with kids, one son, his and daughter, hers. It’s a vacation with a little business thrown in. Marshall owns a couple of properties on Ambergris Caye and they’ll explore the possibilities of selling one of them. Richard is a sculpture and has a Gallery in Telluride. Marshall is a Psychiatrist. She told us that her first husband and son were killed in a plane crash. She has a tough time flying. I can relate to that, not the loss but the uneasiness from the time the plane lifts off until it stops rolling at the destination.

The boats leave at 10:00 AM. We passed the main boat line and pushed around the harbor to Triple J. Tickets cost $10 less and the boats look similar. We bought the cheaper deal. Got the bikes onto the dock then sat and watched a Coast Guard inspection. They checked the engines, counted the lifejackets and made lots of notes. The crew stood by waiting and watching. Finally they signaled that we could board. A couple of guys helped lift the bikes aboard, we leaned them across the stern area. A little late due to the shake down but we were finally off to Ambergris.

River HarborCruisers Ashore The wind was whipping around the harbor, the water was choppy. W watched as 2 launches delivered passengers from a cruise ship laying outside the barrier reef. The Tourist area is alive this morning. All the empty booths of yesterday are full of trinkets and souvenirs. The Cruisers were anxious to get off the boat and spend.

Once we cleared the Harbor the water flattened and the boat flew across the turquoise sea. They make a short stop at another Island and drop a few of the passengers then on to Ambergris. In a little less than 2 hours we were there. They dropped us on a Pier and we pushed ashore. Unsure of direction we stopped at Pelican Properties. When in doubt ask a Realtor.
Triple J Captain Drummer Bikes on Board

Chris, the Owner Broker was friendly as a good salesperson should be. He allowed me to make a quick trip to his Restroom. When I told him we were going to stay at Julies place, Caye Casa. He knew her and started giving us directions then said, hold on, a second and called Julia. When he hung up he said, “She’s on the way here, it’s easier to lead you there than to describe directions.

Julie pulled up in her Golf Cart, traded familiarities with Chris then asked us to follow. The streets are sand but hard packed sand. We whisked up the main street then right out onto the beach. There to the sand was packed enough to ride. The place, 2 houses, is very cute. The room is a suite, clean and neat. Even a little kitchenette with microwave. And, a TV with lots of English language stations. We’re right on the beach, heavenly.
Ambergris Casita Divers Green Seas

After settling in we walked to Papi’s for burgers and fries. Not great but not bad. Then on to the Internet Café to check with family and friends. Back to our little paradise and an afternoon of rest and TV.
Sandy Main Street Way to Sea The Main

Stormy WeatherFish KissJulie gave us a ride to the restaurant Blue Water and urged us to take a Taxi back. It’s a little too far to walk after dark. She insists that the Island is safe but still thinks it best to take a Taxi. The Blue Water is a wonderful restaurant. The owner, 23 year old Kelly is a delight. She is also developing a Condominium Project right here in town called The Phoenix.

Pizza and steak. All very good, a little expensive but good. We’ve learned that Belize is a lot more expensive than the other countries in Central America. The taxi back to Caye Casa cost $7.00 Belize, that’s $3.50 US and it’s only about a 1-mile ride.

CNN News then off to sleep.

October 5, 2005
Ambergris, Lunch with Bob & Diane

Breakfast at home, we had juice, bananas, Coffee and muffins. Our appointment for lunch is the culmination of more than a year of communication over the internet. Clarence and Annabel, the couple that we met in Tanzania used to own a Restaurant here. They urged us to see Ambergris and meet their friends Bob and Diane when we do. So, we have an appointment and Bob is going to pick us up. He arrived in his golf cart, the preferred mode of transportation here then drove us to his boat, the other.
Julie Dug Out Captain Baxter
Pier & Boat Julie’s Caye Casa  

We set off walking but soon knew that it was a mistake. The sun was so hot it baked our brains. The little bugs so thick that we were both itching, scratching and scurrying from shady spot to shady spot. Along the way we watched the Hand Pull Ferry plying its little tiny trip back and forth with payloads of locals

A Hand Pull Ferry

Wilkie is at the tiller and he skillfully powered us through channels of Mangrove then past the famous “Pull Ferry” and out to sea. As we passed Bob told us that they’d soon build a bridge, too much traffic for this old Ferry to handle. Ambergris keeps growing, that’s progress but sometimes the old things that mean so much will just fade to memories. Well, that’s life, right?
Bob & Wilkie Hand Pull Ferry Full Load

Hand Pull Ferry

We’re headed down coast to see Bob and Diane’s new homes project, Seascapes. Diane was there, waiting for us. They gave us a tour as Bob checked with his workmen. The project, 8 luxury homes, is completely pre-sold. Both Bob and Diane are easy going and easy to like. She sold Real Estate with Jon Douglas Company before she and Bob got together and began their Ambergris adventure. Like some of the advice we got when we sold out and hit the road, her Office Manager told her that she was crazy to leave her career behind to go to some god-forsaken place.

That was good for a laugh, I know of the gal who gave her that advice. In fact she and I have several friends in common. We walked down the beach as we talked then sat on a balcony overlooking the white sand and turquoise sea. This is a paradise. The restaurant has just re-opened under new management, the food and service were good. The conversation was so much fun that we made a date for dinner tomorrow night.
Developers The Pool Bob & Diane

More MainPiers & BoatsBob and Wilkie whisked us back into town via boat. We walked to the Internet and spent a little time and money then went back and lounged around on the porch of our Casa.

Dinner, we ordered chicken to be delivered. No veggies or potatoes but we did have some left over pizza. Plenty to eat.

It started to rain, we watched it pound down on the hard packed sand then turned our attention to the TV. A good movie then CNN News.

October 6, 2005
A Golden 66 Birthday in Ambergris

Birthday DipSo here it is, truly the beginning of my golden years. Wow, 66, seems like just yesterday I was a kid. Well, I’m still a kid at heart. A short dip in the beautiful Caribbean, what a way to start a birthday and a new time of life. The water is cool, invigorating and refreshing. Another breakfast in, we found some wonderful Cinnamon Rolls at the bakery around the corner. Also fruit and coffee.

Faced with choices, we decided not to go snorkeling. It sound great but would take most of the day and cost $50.00. We chose instead to take a walk up coast to Clarence and Annabel’s old place, The Capricorn Resort Restaurant.

We set off walking but soon knew that it was a mistake. The sun was so hot it baked our brains. The little bugs so thick that we were both itching, scratching and scurrying from shady spot to shady spot. Along the way we again watched the Hand Pull Ferry plying its little tiny trip back and forth with payloads of locals
Sail Away Unbelievable Big Succulent
Beauty in a Bench Amberg Iguana Stork Beach
Beauty & Beach    

The Capricorn is further from town than it looks on the map, about 4 miles. We passed it, asked then back tracked and took photos. The place is closed for the season. The Time Share Resort, Captain Morgan, is open, we checked with them regarding the boat back to town. The Salesman was interested in our trip and told us to wait at the dock for a free ride to town with the Resort Boat. A good tip, a good ride under a shade cover with the crew as they joked and kidded.
Capricorn Capricorn Cats

Internet then lunch at Fido’s, burgers and fries. Cat went back to answer messages, our new Journal entries have hit so we have the normal 300 messages to scan through. I hit the keyboard trying to catch up on the next Journal Pages.

It began to rain as the dinner hour approached. Julie volunteered to drive us to B & C’s for a drink before dinner. It’s next to the Blue Water, yes, it’s so good that we’re going back tonight. By the time Julia wheeled into the parking lot it was really pouring. She joined us for a drink and introduced us to the local bar crowd. Fun folks, they all know Clarence and Annabel, some keep in touch via e-mail. We had a group photo with them sending good thoughts of our Tanzanian friends.
The Beer The Bar B & Cs Crowd

25,000 Days On Pacha Mama

Birthday SushiKellyBob and Diane came by boat with umbrella on high. They had to run through buckets of water to get to the downpour. The sushi was as great as the evening, my 25,000th, more or less. (66 X 365 plus leap years.) Kelly was, again, the perfect Hostess. We really had a great time, talking adventures and Real Estate.

They had to don their rain coats for the boat ride, we dashed to a Taxi.

October 7, 2005
A Boat to Corozal

Muffins again, another just like home morning. It’s still drizzling this morning. I spent the morning finishing journal pages, Cat was back at the Internet keyboard. She found Chicken Burritos and brought them back for lunch. By 1:30 PM we had the bikes packed and ready to roll. The boat leaves at 3:00.

David from Italy on Bicycle

David As we pedaled out of the yard, waving our goodbyes, a guy, David, cycled up. He’s from Italy and cycling around Belize for a month. Fun to try to talk and cut through his Italian and Italian accent.

Got to the Boat Dock with plenty of time to spare and a good thing that we did. They made us take all the bags off. Stacked near the bow, the crew loaded them aboard. The bikes were clinging to the transom just ahead of the outboards. I worried about them taking spray but they assured us they would be dry.

Caribe & CloudsSpeedWe grabbed a couple of seats near the back and a good thing that we did. The boat was full and a few minutes late when they finally pushed off and headed across the translucent Caribbean waters. It was a beautiful, flat, sunny 2 hour ride. We were at the dock in Corozal at 5:00 PM.  

Bikes AboardGhosts & Goblins Loaded the bags then rode through town asking directions. Tony’s Hotel is on the fringe of town. It’s a bit on the seedy side abut does have a pretty nice restaurant and, free Internet. Bikes and bugs in room, we took cold showers just to rinse off the sweat then walked to dinner. Only one other diner, he and I seemed to really enjoy the 50’s and 60’s Rock ‘n’ Roll music.

No white wine, we were reduced to drinking red which was quite good. The food was just okay.

October 8, 2005
A Short Ride to Chetumal
26 Kilometers
Bienvenidos Mexico
1050 Mexican Pesos to $1.00 US

Early breakfast then an 8 mile ride to the Border. A very simple crossing, I stood the guard while Cat went inside. No line for foreigners. We are now in our 56th Country. The poor citizens of Belize had a different line and a totally different story.
Welcome to Mexico Cancun Corona & Corn

First MayanMayan ReliefThe ride into Chetumal takes us away from the highway. We decided to go the side trip rather than risk the distance to another Hotel. Oh, then too there’s the need for Mexican Pesos. So off we go. 

The search for a Hotel took us to the door of the Holiday Inn. Wow, $120 US per night? Where are the cheap Mexican prices we’ve been looking forward to? Too rich for our blood, they suggested Hotel Los Cocos, a place down the street. As we exited a little lady approached and offered her family Hotel for only $20. We did take a look but it was a little too rough looking. So, it was the Coco.

The room is clean with a view of the pool. We stowed the bikes then had tacos and burritos for lunch. This is Mexico. I even took a dip in the crystal clear pool. Them, we just relaxed in the room and watched some English language TV.

Dinner back in the Hotel Diner. Fish wrapped in foil with a baked potato and Veggies. Not very Mexican but very good.

A little more TV then sleep.

Sunday, October 9, 2005
Chetumal to Limones
92 Kilometers

Up early and ready to roll. We had to shoulder our way through the huge French group to get a table for breakfast. Our plan to cycle 20 to 30 Ks was dashed when the Desk Manager told us that there is no Hotel there. The only place he knows is in the little Pueblo Limones.

After the back track we found the main Highway to be like a freeway with huge shoulder for our safe riding. True to our Desk Manager’s word, we found in Barcala that there is no lodging there, the next is Limones, Cabanas just another 50 Ks up the road. We bought a couple of Gatorades then Valentin, the operator of a little kiosk store, gave us the bad news. He was so interested in our journey that I took his picture after he insisted that we take a bottle of cold water for the road. What a nice guy, our first of many in Mexico.
Bumpy Road Casita & Cart Valentin

Cat on RocksPier & CanoeLunch, we turned off the Highway and went toward a tiny town. Every ask ended with the person pointing onward. Then, a little resort down a steep and bumpy rock driveway. They have a pier, canoes and a water slide. A few kids swimming and a couple of couples drinking beers and eating in the little Restaurant. The girl presented us with a menu then took it back verbally. They only had one of the items, She called it “Fish al la Plancha”. That should translate to grilled but when it arrived it was fried and full of bones. Hungry, we ate around them and had a couple of Cokes. It was tough push back up and we had to compete with a road grader now tearing into the rocky road.

Road construction out of Barcala then the freeway skinnied down to a narrow 2 lane. The afternoon sun bore down on us, as we sweat our way into Limones. Another little store, more cold drinks under a Hotel sign. Cat looked at the room and came back with a wrinkled nose. Pretty bad and a spiral stairway that we’d never get the bikes up. The woman was pretty nice, she told us there is another place but it doesn’t have air conditioning.

Preacher Barry, stuck in Limones

Blind Faith

The Pueblo is like Boron, CA, my old hometown. Just one string of businesses along the highway. We rode slowly on looking when a guy called out, “Hey do you tow speak English”? Reverend Barry is from Illinois. He’s stuck here and trying to raise enough money to get his family out of Chetumal. They flew down but when they changed planes in Acapulco they lost their luggage. He asked us to give him a loan with his watch as security. We’re too close to out of money to loan. He walked down the street as we rode.

Rev. BarryBarry told us that this wife and kids are in Chetumal. We offered bus fare but he is actually looking for enough to get back to Acapulco or Chicago. He says there’s a good Christian guy at the Auto Repair down the street. As we walked he began to laugh. “Look at the locals, they’ve probably never seen a black guy or 2 cyclists like you guys before. We’re like a parade here”. That made us all laugh and, he was right.

The sign for the other rooms was so small and hand written we almost missed it. Then we thought it was a bar with boom box music so loud it hurt our ears. NO, it was a nice looking place, a 4 plex, around the corner. The family lives in the little house next door. The kids brought a top you spin off a string out and made a little show for us as we pushed into the yard. The room is tolerable, the shower cold. As we settled in they even put their copy of Jurassic Park on the TV. We lounged and enjoyed our 2nd or 3rd viewing, mainly because it was in English. As soon as it ended they switched to Cartoons in Spanish. A nice gesture to us.

Geese & GobblersWe walked back to the bus stop restaurant. There was a Girls softball Team practicing. Great to watch, sort of like back home. Dinner, chopped meat in a slightly hot sauce, rice and tortillas. We washed it down with cold, great tasting Mexican beers. The waiter was very cool. He speaks English because he used to live in the US. Sounds like he was on the move most of the time. We thought he was the owner but he is just working with the family.

Back home, they had a Dance Contest running on the TV. We watched for a while but drifted off before the winner was chosen.

October 10, 2005
Limones to Felipe Carrillo Puerto
66 Kilometers

We were disappointed when we went back to the Bus Station for breakfast. Our pal wasn’t there and the gal who served us definitely got us for Gringo prices.

Antonio & Uncle Transito (You Must be Crazy)

The ride is flat and simple except for the fact that there are no stores or any source of food or drink. We pulled in at a little grass shack with a sign about Boat Trips to the Lagoon. The guys inside were all swinging or snoozing in hammocks. One spotted us and leapt to his feet. They have no food but do have a bottle of cold Coca Cola. We bought it and sat on the door step drinking as he, Antonio, worked with his limited English to communicate. They are Indigenous and therefore allowed to conduct tours here. He says that they do pretty well during the season. We told him about our languages on the web-site and he got it. He and his Uncle, Transito did “You Must be Crazy” in Mayan. You can see that we were having a little difficulty but they were great.
Mayan Zone Laguna Narrow Bike Lane
Antonio & Tio Transito    

 "You Must Be Crazy" Mayan

Though the road is narrow, the traffic is very friendly. They swing wide, even honk and wave encouragement. We rolled into Felipe Carrillo Puerto and found the only decent Hotel by 2:00 PM. They had a room on the ground floor and we were able to squeeze the bikes down the narrow hall and into the tiny room. We immediately headed for the restaurant and lunch. Cat noticed that the guys at two different tables were wearing crosses. Men of the cloth she called them. The nearest, Raoul, is a Missionary, studying to be a Priest. He has really been around, even did a stint at the Vatican. Originally from Canada, he expects to be stationed here after achieving Priesthood.

The afternoon was simply lying in the room enjoying the AC and the TV.

Dinner down, very good pork chops and enough that we were able to save some fro the road, tomorrow.

Back to the AC and TV until lights out.

October 11, 2005
Carrillo Puerto to Tulum
A fractured 112 Kilometers

Up and into the diner for breakfast early. We’re anxious to get into Tulum and take a day off the road. We almost gulped down the simple breakfast and were on the road in record time. With 100 Ks to ride we were doubly anxious.

The road is flat and fast. Another day of no food or drink. We rolled into Tulum, the village, by 3:00 PM and headed for the best looking most crowded restaurant. There was a wait, the place next door was empty. The only guy there stood and invited us to take a table as we leaned the bikes. His Nephew owns the place. We ordered but the Nephew screwed up. A completely different lunch than what we thought we’d ordered. A bigger price, too. We were miffed but didn’t want to wait for them to cook again.

The Uncle also took on the roll of helping us find a Hotel. He got a guy from the place next door who he purported would be able to help. He had a loose leaf notebook with Hotel flyers and suggested one around the corner.

After another disappointment, following him to the place only to learn that it was booked and basically a back packer place with dorm rooms, we returned to the Restaurant. The Uncle told us that the best place in town, Seascape, is 5 Ks or so out of town. The booking agent was almost running along beside us trying to get a deal as we rode away.

Another 8 Ks only to find an All Inclusive Hotel with an attitude. Yes, they have a room and it’s only $140 per person per night. They didn’t have any idea who the guy with the notebook was and they have no rooms for $75 US as he’d suggested. I tried to work them, told them our story, even told them we would just sleep there and move on in the morning. They only knew how to say “NO”. For $280 I also said “NO”.

RJ the Realtor

So, back into town. Nearing the village we stopped at the ReMax Real Estate Office and talked to RJ. He’s the Owner/Broker. Originally from Texas, he’s lived here for more than 15 years now. We asked about rooms on the water. He told us that there are plenty but they have no electricity and there are a lot of mosquitoes down there, this time of year. He was a classic Texan, accent and all. He dealt with us between rental calls. We almost felt like helping out.

His recommendation is Don Diego. He says that he sends his clients there and they all rave about the place. We’d seen it on the way into town and decided against due to the location, off the road down a junky looking street and almost 1 K out the other side of town. We’re in no position to be choosy at this time. Both of us are drained from the heat and what is now a 112 K ride. Geez, if we’d pulled in when first we saw the place we’d now be off the road for 3 hours.

Charles, his Mom, Minh & 2 French Girls

Minh & CharlesReflecting PoolBack through town and down the bumpy little road to Don Diego de la Selva. Charlie, the young owner, is from Paris, France. His Mother, Minh is also from France by way of Viet Nam. The room is really nice but no TV. This is a get away place and they see no need for it. There are 2 other guests, French girls, Cristine and Sandine, friends of Charlie’s.

Dinner is available if arranged in advance. Though a little late, they will have enough for us. After wonderful warm showers and a little well needed rest we sat near the pool and ate a very interesting meal of shrimp in light curry sauce and rice capped by a small bowl of delicious homemade sorbet. Awe, so very French, so very wonderful.

As we ate a couple, Father and Daughter came in. They’re definitely staying here but Charles had to tell them no when they asked for dinner. They didn’t seem too upset. They’re from the States, we said hellos and promised to talk at breakfast.

Fatigue drove us right to bed, on a full stomach.

October 12, 2005
A Visit to Ruinas Tulum
Caroline & Father Tage

Breakfast of blended melon, bread, jam and magdelenas washed down with coffee. Caroline and Tage joined us. The girls sat and talked with Charles. Caroline is an Attorney, they live in Tiberon, near San Francisco, CA. They’re here helping someone in the family with the purchase of Real Estate. Sort of secretive about the transaction. Nice to have a rapid speaking English language conversation.

Road to Don DiegoDon Diego (Zorro)We walked into town looking for an ATM and Internet connection. It was so hot we were glad not to be cycling. We found both and spent time answering messages. Lunch at the place we missed yesterday, it was great. No wonder it was so crowded yesterday.

Colorful BasinsA taxi back to Don Diego which by the way, Don Diego de la Silva is the name of the guy who is Zorro. We lounged and waited for clouds to cool things down. Then at 3:00 PM we taxied to the Ruinas de Tulum. The clouds and a breeze had cooled things. No wonder the Mayans choose this beautiful site for their only seaside community.

We were amongst a horde of tourists but did find ways to get photos without including too many of them. Another amazing afternoon in the midst of a place where life flourished so long ago. Hope the pictures do it justice.
Tulum Tulum Tulum
Tulum Tulum Rock & Color
Temple Door Temple Temple Relief
Temple Guard Gray, Green& Maroon P&C & Temple
Temple & Sea Beach Below Temple
Tulum Temple    

Dinner with Charlie, Minh and the girls, again. A wonderful Roquefort Soufflé followed by polenta with octopus in tomato sauce. What a treat. Caroline, her Father Tage and friend Katalina went out to dinner but chatted for a minutes as they passed. The girls went dancing after dinner. We went to bed.
Cristina & Sandrine Caroline, Tage & Katalina Swingers

October 13, 2005
Tulum to Playa Del Carmen
65 Kilometers

Breakfast, another treat of Banana Cake with our coffee. Caroline, Tage and cousin Katalina stopped and talked for a bit. Still no deal so still no info on the purchase. Guess we won’t know until she sends an e-mail one of these days. Curiosity is killing us. The girls slept in, too much party last night. Charles suggested a small Hotel in Playa del Carmen, even called and reserved a room for us. We cycled away at 8:30 AM.

Attempt to take pics at Tulum Ruins

TulumWe rode to the gate and up to the ticket windows at the ruins hoping to find someone with authority to allow us a picture inside. By the time we went from person to person with no luck the crowds of tourists were arriving in droves, bus after bus. No one would take the chance, no one had authority? They said that we’d have to go to Cancun at the Museum Office to get permission. So, as the others continued to file in we rode on. Oh, we did get a picture at the sign.

ClaitonHot, flat and fast. At 20 Ks out we heard a yell from across the street. Another cyclist in the shade of a tourist shop. We pulled up, went across and sipped a soda while talking with Claiton from Brazil. He’s on a 16,000 Kilometer, 9 month journey. Difficult to talk with as he is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish but speaks little English and you know where we are language wise. We thought he was headed in the opposite direction so finished our drinks and moved on.

 Claiton Cycles

Another stop seeking shade and a soft drink at a service station, he caught us. We sat in the shade and chatted then rolled out and on down the road together. Another stop for soft drinks at McDonalds, I went for an McFlurry instead. Cooling and fulfilling. The 3 of us posed with Ronald McDonald to cap off the experience.
Dona Isabela Bahia Principe We, Ronald & Claiton

Hotel Casa De Las Flores, Under Construction

Colorful Claiton followed us and tried to negotiate a room but the price is above his usual Hostel. Beatriz, the owner suggested a place, he suggested dinner then rode on. Our room is simple but nice. The older guy, sort of a guard, helped us get the bikes into the office and assured us that they’d be safe. A warm shower and little rest then dinner.

Beatriz recommended Tango Tacos. A short walk, great food, meat, potatoes and veggies. A bigger than normal price but worth it.

A little TV then bed.

October 14, 2005
A Day in Playa Del Carmen

Breakfast, a total rip off at a nice looking little hotel down the street. Juice, toast and coffee, $600 Pesos. ($6.00 US) The coffee was weak and the toast like cardboard. Then as if to add insult to injury he charged us extra for the coffee. The total bill was 900 Pesos. That’s worse than a rip off.

Quinta Street is a pedestrian way and the main thing happening here. All the usual stores and shops full of tourist things. The nearby beach is beautiful. No wonder tourists flock to this place.
Unused Pool Playa Quinta Caribe & Boat
Playa Scene Mas Playa Tequila
Amigos Senor Frogs Quinta Again
Colorful Coconuts    

Some Internet work, lunch in the room and rest. Cat went back to the Internet, I hit the keys of our computer.

Night in PlazaFunny Later we walked around, found the Mall and Rolandi’s Restaurante. Great pizza and people watching. The streets come alive after 8:00 PM. One of our favorite characters is a guy with a pair of stuffed Levis. He’s wearing a big sombrero with a cigarette dangling from his lips. His stick is, he throws the legs over women’s neck, stands behind them and friends of the gals take a picture. It appears that he’s sitting on her shoulders. Very funny.

For us, 9:00 PM is sleepy time.

October 15, 2005
Playa Del Carmen to Cancun
70 Kilometers

A very good breakfast at a place on Quinta Street we saw yesterday. Good food at a good price. A couple from Italy sitting behind us asked if it was okay to take our picture as they left. They’d seen our shirts and he’s an avid cyclist. We tried to get the point across that we’d like to have their picture but language got in the way. They walked on before I could get the camera out. We were on the road by 9:30 AM.

CoronaCancun Flat, fast and hot as heck, again. Then came the clouds and be blessed them until they began to spit down rain. Onward, until we were getting a good soaking. On the outskirts of town we pulled into McDonalds to escape the rain and fill the growing empty feeling in our stomachs. We really turn into fast food freaks when we have the opportunity.

The coastline off to the right is lined with high-rise hotels. No, not for us, we’re headed downtown, another Charles suggestion, Hotel Margaritas. Even the catchy name sounded right for us. Easier said than found, we worked our way through heavy traffic asking and asking until we found it. Not what we had really expected, it’s fairly simple but they do have an elevator, we can keep the bikes in our room and they offer free Internet. No CNN or much else on the TV. Hoping for more, we settle in rather than search longer.

We’d seen the Wal-Mart sign on the way in. Cat couldn’t stand it, she had to check it out while I began the process of bagging the bikes for travel to Cuba. She came back with bags full of essentials and an overwhelmed feeling. She said it was like stepping back to the Wal-Mart in Oxnard. Rows and rows of everything. No shortages here.

First Margaritas and Mariachi

The Mariachi sounds were loud lured us right into La Parilla. This is Mexico, Mariachi, Margaritas and great Mexican food. There was a table of women celebrating a birthday, we think. I took their picture with sombreros on as they sang. This is a fun place.
Sombreros Margaritas La Parilla
Parilla Cat & Cow  

 Mariachi and Margaritas

Great food and music, 2 Margies each and we went back, Cat straight to bed me straight to the Internet. It was suddenly midnight? How the time flies when you’re having Matgies and Mariachis!.

Sunday, October 16, 2005
A Day Off in Cancun

The penalty for 2 ½ Margies each is a slight headache and a slow awakening. Our day starts with a Tylenol then breakfast as usual. No, not an included breakfast, not even a good breakfast. The only thing good about it was the price and that good was only in the eye of the owners. Strange town, hungry, we just hate to go exploring with a dull head and on an empty stomach.

Circling the Hotel Zone

After an hour at the Internet downstairs we walked about 2 Ks toward the Hotel Zone at the beach then caught the bus that makes the circle route. Our fellow passengers were mainly Hotel or Restaurant workers. We just sat and wondered at the huge concrete memorials to opulence in vacationland. This is a world renowned playground. Famous for the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean and all the other accoutrements that tend to form in places where big money is being spent. We didn’t even de-bus, just rode to the turn about then had to pay another 180 Pesos, about $1.80 to ride back.

The beautiful sea that we and thousands of others come to see is hidden by wall to wall buildings. Barely a glimpse from the bus and no photo ops. The entire loop is more than 21 Kilometers neatly measured out with large markers. I have been here once before, a trip with winners, those agents with the Real Estate Company I owned back then in 1985. We stayed at the Club Med and I had no idea it was in this “Hotel Row Zone”. It’s the last resort, so to speak, on the 21 K loop. We did decide to find a Hotel around the kilometer 9 – 12 area when we return. There are restaurants and fast food places clustered there.

More of the best feature of our Hotel, the included Internet and a little lounging around watching limited English language TV. (No CNN or any English language news but we get good snippets from Yahoo.

I reluctantly drug the computer out and continued my quest for the perfect journal page. Cat went walking, shopping and returned with sandwich goodies. Another picnic in room.

Dinner, we chose to walk to an Argentinean Parilla down the street thinking giant steak. The prices on the menu drove us back to the Pasta side. It too was expensive but fairly good and it went well with our wine. No more Margies for the moment.

October 17, 2005
Arranging for Cuba Flight

Today we walked to breakfast, a Health Food, pastry place Cat has spotted. Cappuccinos were delicious with the fresh croissants. Even fresh juice and fruits. All a bargain considering it was the same cost as the cardboard toast and Nescafe of yesterday.

Martha & Carlos
Zenaide Helps With Ticketing.

Another place Cat spotted on her reconnoiter, a travel agency sporting a Cubano Airlines sign. The owners, Martha and Carlos are experts on Cuban travel, they’re Cubans. However, neither speaks English and we all know the depth of our conversational Spanish. As we struggled, a gal who as also buying tickets and speaking with them fluently, turned and said in perfect English, “Can I help you guys”?

ZenaideXcaret PosterZenaide, originally from Brazil, is now from California. She’s a Nanny for the rich and famous. She’s going to Havana on a quick turnaround to meet friends. She says her friends call her “Z” and we were glad to be counted among them rather than continue to try Zenaide which has a tongue twisting affect on ignorant English only speakers. She is opting for a standby position on tonight’s fully booked Mexicana Air Lines flight due to her short amount of available time. Her R & F family has moved to New York and she has to get there and back to work in just 3 days.

With her help we booked tomorrows Cubano Flight. Not much time to prepare but then we work best under pressure. AND, the threat of Hurricane Wilma is looming on the horizon here.

I spent an hour pounding out the remaining details on our Central American journal pages and got then sent to Wally our Wizard Web-Master then turned full attention to preparing the bicycles for flight. Cat headed out on a quest for travel bags, you know, those plaid plastic things that we put our panniers in when flying. She found them at an Indoor Market then scurried to Mall of the Americas looking in vain for a Lonely Planet book on Cuba. She did find a Burger King and returned with a bag full of fast food lunch.

Cat made another trip to Wal-Mart for food and other essentials we think we’ll need. I continued the breakdown and packing of bikes and bags. By 7:00 PM we were pretty much set to go so we went to dinner. The Parilla had the same great food, sans music. The choice for wine rather than Margies was ours. We can’t imagine flying with a hangover.

A TV Movie then sleep and dreams of a Communist State.

October 18, 2005
Cubano Air to Havana

Cat got juice, muffins and coffee from a little stand on the corner. Better quality and quantity than the Hotel food and less than half the price. Cat fell in love with the gal there, Olivia. She had lived and worked in Beverly Hills for 5 years and loves to speak English.

Next quest, chain lube and inner tubes. Jonathon, our friendly Desk Clerk told us to tell the Taxi Driver to take us to Mall of the Americas first. If the bike shop there doesn’t have what we need tell the driver to take us to Market 28, the bicycle area.

The nice Bike Shop in the Mall was closed. The nice girl at the Cellular Sales Kiosk told us that they open at 11:00 AM. Way too late for us, we have to leave for the Airport by 11:30 at the latest. So, off we go to Marketplace 28. The driver seemed to know where to go, circled through the same place where Cat had found the travel bags then dropped us and pointed toward an area inside.

The shop, yes there was only one that we could see, was far from what we’d expected. The guy has only a few parts. He had no Aciete, oil for the chain. The only inner tubes were made in Vietnam. We asked if they were fuerte, strong, and he shrugged then said, “Media”. Medium strong. The looked thin and fragile but better than nothing in a pinch.

Hailing another Taxi wasn’t a simple task. Most were across the big double street. Most were full of people. Finally, as time ticked away and we fretted, we flagged one. He drove fast and delivered us to Las Margaritas in record time.

Cat checked us out while the Bellman and I drug the bags and bikes down the hall, into the elevator and out the front door. We’d asked Jonathon to help us find a large Taxi. They’d called but none seemed to be forth coming. Finally as we neared panic the doorman stepped into traffic and whistled a little station wagon down. Tight but we crammed in and were off without what we thought was a minute to spare.

Several Porters surged out and hassled each other over helping us. We always prefer moving our own things when we can. Safer and saves the tip. This time we felt we needed to move fast so we chose 2. They pushed our things, we carried the little bags and we found ourselves at an empty counter. Somehow Martha had told us and noted on the tickets that our flight would depart at 2:00 PM and we must be at the counter 2 hours in advance. A Cubano Air worker lounging nearby waved to us to come to counter 24 and told us that they would open the windows at 12:30. Wow, all that hurry and worry for naught.

Rick From Chicago

Well, we were definitely first in line. At last, as other passengers began to fall in behind us we spotted a guy at the saran wrap machine. I wanted to encase the bikes but the young guy was hesitant. Then he told us it would cost $120 Pesos, about $12 US. I began trying to bargain but he turned and walked away. Back in line, he returned with his boss. He was a real hard nose. When he offered to wrap for 900 Pesos I was ready to go then he clarified, that was for each bike? Half again more than the young guys offer. I objected and a couple of guys in line took up for us. When they spoke to him he unleashed a barrage of Spanish. A guy in front of them, Rick from Chicago, said, “He’s bustin’ there chops for trying to help you”. I stood directly in front of the boss and said, “Forget it, we don’t need or want your service”. One of the guys did a translation as I turned away. The Boss spun on his heel and disappeared into the gathering crowd.

Smoke Filled Aisles

Rick’s married to Cuban girl and comes often. He never really made it clear what he does but it sounded like he is connected somehow to something interesting. He told us that he hosted a group of Doctors on a cycling tour of Cuba a year ago. His best advice was not to worry when the 41 year old Russian built Yak Aircraft is taking off and the aisle fills with what looks like smoke, it’s only condensation.

Check in was fairly painless except for the overweight charges, $60, we were 30 kilos heavy. We’d expected that but when they demanded cash. They did take Mexican Pesos so we made it. We shuttered as they threw our matched set of plastic bags and the bikes onto the conveyer. Mexican Immigration was just a rubber stamp affair. Lucky for us, Martha had already paid the departure fee with the cost of the tickets.

The flight was delayed, for no apparent reason and with no explanation. We all just sat patiently and chatted. Rick is just a couple of seats ahead and he says this is almost standard procedure. Finally we rolled back, bumped along the runway and lifted off at 3:00 PM. As the cabin filled with condensation and some of our neighboring passengers eyes filled with fear, we were glad that Rick had given us the heads up.

One hour flight was smooth as glass and into a new time zone so arrival was at 5:00 PM. local time. First stop, the Immigration booths. We started in as a couple but were quickly rebuffed. So, Cat went right and I left. The woman took my Passport ran it through a computer scan then she really gave the booklet a going over, page by page. Then it was face study time. She stared at the picture then at me then back to the picture then me, at least half a dozen times. Finally she stamped my Visa then buzzed the door on the back side of the booth. I spilled out, into the luggage area and heard Cat banging on her door. It was sort of stuck and she wanted to make sure she was getting in.

One good thing about Socialism, they don’t hustle you over luggage portage. In fact the carts are free and there are no Porters. Our bags came round shortly but we were last out due to the bikes. Special handlers brought them around to us and left abruptly without extending their hands for a tip?

The Cuban Money Exchange Game

You’d think that changing money would be a simple thing. However it gets confusing when you’re changing one currency foreign to you for another. The guy at the counter seemed almost gleeful as he counted and recounted our Pesos. Then, he whipped out a small pile of Cuban CUC. I questioned the conversion rate. He said, “Mexican Pesos weak”. We were happy that we only had a small amount to change. Our Pesos had cost about 10.50 for $1 US. Here they were selling 1 CUC for 13.94 Pesos. The 1000 Pesos Cat had in her wallet had shrunk to only 77 CUC’s. Good golly that’s more than a 20% discount. Wow, we may be in trouble. The only hope we have is that the banks won’t be quite as tough. Easy to figure that at this discount rate we won’t have enough money to last 21 days.

Capitalists in a Communist Country

The next dispute should never have happened. Martha told us that we’d be picked up by a Comby, a van. She said that they would know we had bicycles and extra bags. The guy meeting us was supposed to speak English and accompany us to the Hotel. He struggled with the English but got out the fact that we were the only passengers so they would only pay for a little taxi. He agreed that our things wouldn’t fit then suggested that we would have to pay for the extra to hire a van. Futile to argue in two languages but we tried. I even made him call his Boss. That went nowhere, too. Starving and tired of the hassle we had him call a Van up. We had already found that a Taxi would have cost $10 CUC. The Van driver wanted $20 more? After a shouting match he agreed to $15 and we loaded up. This Comrade is definitely a Capitalist!

Usually we are the center of attention when we wheel into a nice Hotel. Here at the Havana Libre we were just in the way. A French group was leaving for dinner in a caravan of classic cars. It was like being caught up in a Hollywood Premier, cameras flashing and people jostling for position. This is the Cuba we were hoping to see..

The Bellmen here are definitely Capitalists, too. They let us load our own bags on the luggage cart then hustled to move it inside. The good news, they didn’t flinch when we asked to take the bikes to the room. The place used to be a Hilton and is supposed to be in the Melia Franchise Group now.

The hallways smell of mildew and the carpet is faded a stained. The Bellman sort of apologized as we rolled to the room. Then he made a big deal of demonstrating the lights and TV remote before holding his hand out for a tip. Hey, we’re Capitalists too, he deserved a tip. We reckon that he had to pay the piper and then some to get this job. Rick mentioned that a Brain Surgeon makes $20 a month. Our 2 CUC tip makes the Bellman better paid.

Patience and Persistence Shall Prevail

Another test of the system, the language and Cat’s ability to cope. We realized that the bags were all bound with zip ties and we couldn’t break them open. Cat called Guest Services and asked for a knife. The girl hung up without making it clear whether they were sending one or not. She called the Bellman, the same one who had just accepted the 10% of a Brain Surgeons wages, and asked for a knife. He said, “No”.

Miffed, Cat went down to the Cafeteria and asked for a knife. The waiter asked why and she explained. He said, “No, knife is for eating”, then turned and walked away. Okay, my turn, I called the Front Desk and asked the girl who speaks good English if they had a knife we could borrow to open our bags. Time continued to tick by, I called again and she said, “I have something better”. Shortly a knock on the door and there she was with a pair of scissors in hand. Patience and persistence had finally prevailed.

It’s now pitch black dark out, only 8:30 PM and we’re starving.

That Old Sovietski Attitude

Cat tried to call for room service. The girl on the phone was curt and not helpful at all. Rick had warned us about employee attitude and urged us to be patient. I remember having lived through this same situation in the Soviet Union. I tried and gave up. They seemed to be saying that we cold only have a sandwich. I set off down to the Italian Restaurant. The waiter there told me that they don’t do room service. I asked if I could order to go. That caused a hubbub as the entire staff seemed to get involved. At first it was a “No”. Then as I whined about our hunger and the difficulties we’d just endured they weakened. We could have 2 plates of pasta and a serving of bread. Since we carried a bottle of wine along on the flight we would at least have sustenance.

Cat wasn’t very happy about the deal. They wouldn’t deliver, they called and I had to do the waiters duty. Dinner, soup and chicken, wasn’t great but my service was sterling. The best news, we do have CNN in English, our first dose of understandable news in 2 weeks.

Flying, especially in an old plane, is as demanding as cycling. Carrying the bags, even with a little help is tough, too. We were both bone tired. Cat continued to harangue about the situation, I told her what Vince Lombardi had said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”!

October 19, 2005
Wilber Helps us RIDE OUT OF HAVANA, on a Bus!

We awoke to CNN News that Cancun is being battered by Wilma. Then the real bad news for us, she’s correcting her course and heading for Havana. Cat got really nervous, the kind of nervous that makes her chin quiver when she talks. I feel that if we have to camp here we’ll be high and dry. She points out that we’ll also be broke before Wilma passes this point of land. There’s a travel desk in the Lobby, the Desk tells us that it opens at 8:30 AM. We want to be their first customer today.
Havana Morn Havana Havana Waterfront
Havana Sunrise    

Our included breakfast buffet is quite good. A wide variety of foods that even range to items we’d normally only see at the evening meal. They have a Pianist playing near the door for mood with the food.

WilberThe girl at the fist desk listened with that curious look on her face then called to Wilber. He’s the guy on the 3rd desk, the one who speaks English. We told him our plan to cycle from Guantanamo to Havana and our potential money problem. He had 2 pieces of bad news for us, the exchange rate is the same at all banks but may be better at the Money Exchange place they call Cadeca. The 2nd, that really made Cat’s chin quiver, he thinks all transportation, for sure the trains, have suspended service due to the Wilma’s looming threat.

Good thing for us, Wilber’s not a quitter. He got on the telephone and made several calls then said, “There’s a bus to Santiago de Cuba at 3:00 PM today. Maybe the last until after Wilma? I booked seats for you, okay”? Cat was ecstatic, not about having to get ready to go in just a few hours and definitely not to have to endure almost 16 hours on a Cuban Bus, but to ride out of Havana rather than riding out the storm. The quiver was replaced by a big smile, we were headed out of harms way.

Short of Money and No Way To Get More!

Wilber made calls, even found a Casa Particular in Santiago de Cuba for us. As he did the paper work and vouchers I walked around the corner to the Bank. Unfortunately, he was correct, the bank rate was the same as the Exchange at the Airport. Our 5,500 Pesos that had cost almost $550 US in Mexico brought only a paltry 405 Cuban CUC. The Embargo disallows US Banks from doing business in Cuba. No Bank or ATM here will recognize our credit or debit cards. We have what we have and we’ll just have to stretch it, make it last.

Fate, Wilber and The Lonely Planet

Fate seems to have a way of providing for us. When we asked Wilber where we might find a travel book on Cuba he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a well worn copy of the 2000 Lonely Planet Cuba. We’ve known him only for minutes yet he’s willing to trust that we’ll return it, a book worth more than a month’s wages, to him. I wrote his name and telephone numbers inside the front cover. He knew that even if we found a copy for sale here, we couldn’t afford it. What a guy, what a friend.

EdselCadillacWe walked to an Internet Connection Wilber had suggested. They charge 6 CUC per hour when the system is working. Unfortunately it isn’t, today. After a wild goose chase we gave up and went back to the Libre, paid 9 CUC for an hour and let our family and close friends know that we’re okay and moving out of Wilma’s way.

Ford Lunch, a sandwich at a little place across the street from the Libre. We shared a table with a guy here from Germany and his friend/interpreter. His business is Industrial Laundry Equipment, sold to Laundromats and Hotels. They sipped beers while we ate our sandwiches. This place, Havana, is expensive, the sandwiches and soft drinks cost 10 CUC’s.

With all our worldly possessions stacked on the sidewalk we watched while the Bellman whistled and waved at passing Taxis. Though we’d asked for a large car the desk assured us that it would be easy to find one. Now, the moment of truth was stretching beyond 1:30 and Wilber had strongly suggested that we be at the Bus Terminal by 2:00 PM. Finally a small station wagon pulled up, the bellman explained then gestured to our pile of bags and bikes. The driver seemed ready to pull away when I jumped into the mix and assured him that we could get it all aboard and with a little arranging and re-arranging.

As we set off Cat asked the fair. I saw him push the meter which was out of site to her. He gestured then said something about perro, in Spanish. When I said “No comprende”, he laughed and then, in perfect English said, “We call the meter the Dog that Bites You”.

RobilioRobilio, our new friend and driver, has lived in Miami. His daughter teaches school in San Francisco. We told him of our friend Franklin who lives and teaches in SF, too. He filled us in on sights of Havana as we drove then helped us unload at the Terminal.

15 hour 50 minute bus ride to Santiago de Cuba

Cat watched our things as I carried one piece at a time to the counter. Curses, they charge for excess weight, not much but now every little CUC counts. They sent the bags up a little conveyor then asked me to carry the bikes out onto the platform. As I emerged a guy grabbed the first bike from my hands and motioned for me to get the other. When I came back out he was trying to jamb my bike into the bay. I screeched, he stopped and we found a way to lay them down and not break them.

Tim From Chicago

While I got things in, Cat struck up a conversation with Tim, our second new friend from Chicago married to a Cuban girl? He has bags of diapers, baby blankets, even a stroller. Yes, he’s a new Papa. Their baby boy arrived unexpectedly early, while he was in Chicago. He’s 2 months premature and weighs in at only 2 Kilos. (Less than 4 ½ pounds.)

Tim’s another gem for us to meet. He’s a painting contractor, his wife is a Pharmacist here in Cuba. They’ve applied and will soon be able to move her and the new baby to Chicago. Well, they’ll split time between there and here. He’s adding a second story to the house they bought here. They’ll live up and his Mother-in-Law will move into the downstairs.

Enlightening, talking with Tim. He likes life here, like Rick, he says it’s a great place if you have a little money. As for being able to leave, the Government provides free education and expects those who learn to invest in their fellow citizens. One immediate effect of the Revolution was brain drain. Why would a Brain Surgeon work for $20 per month when they can make big bucks up north? Castro and his fellows countered that with a very good education system. They now send well trained Doctors and other medical professionals to 3rd world countries. Remember the girls in Honduras telling us about Cuban Doctors there? They take the same attitude as our Military, they’ll school you but they want a return on the investment. Geez, you just can’t escape that Capitalist thing can you?

The bus is as cold as a meat locker. It departed exactly at 3:00 PM. At 6:30 we pulled in and the driver, Emilio, announced a 45 minute break for dinner. We walked with Tim to a little Fried Chicken place nearby, his wife’s favorite he says. They had only one greasy chicken leg for each of us, no potatoes or any other side dishes. As we burned our lips an old guy walked up and allowed me to take a photo. It may be my favorite, he looks so Cubano with the hat and cigar.
Big Bus Cubano Emilio, Clerk & Chef

 Riding Out Of Wilma

Back at the Terminal, Cat & I decided that we needed more food. Emilio gestured that we should hurry then went to bat for us with the clerk and Chef at the little counter. They hustled a couple of sandwiches out for us. Emilio was gunning the engine and ready to roll as we ran back and took our seats. The sandwiches and remaining wine did fill us up.

Sleep was fitful at best. The seats are small and hard. We had to ask our neighbors across the aisle to turn their vents away from us. We could see our breaths and had our jackets over our heads to try to stay warm. The road broke down to very bumpy at some point. The Bus Stations in strangely lit places were good for a toilet stop or more often then not, just a peak from under our jackets. How we wished we’d have known about the cold and brought our towels or rain jackets.

October 20, 2005
Bike Repair and Sight Seeing

Arrived in Santiago on time, 6:50 AM. Matilda and a taxi were there to meet us. Boy were we happy to meet her. Don’t know how we’d have found her place. When we drug our bags and bikes out the driver of her car, well the Pirate Taxi she’d brought, called to a buddy. The two taxis charged us 8 CUC. WOW, we may go broke here?

Staying with Nelly.

Surprise, we pulled up at a 3 story house and Matilda introduced us to Nellie. Seems that Matilda’s house, which is just around the corner, is already booked. We have a bedroom without windows and a 3 step, step up toilet with suicide shower. We would have loved to hose down but the electricity is off and cold, after freezing all night, just doesn’t sound good.

Nellie did make us breakfast of ham and cheese sandwiches and sweet coffee. The power hadn’t made the predicted comeback so we decided to walk into town. Smaller than Havana it has a distinctly different feeling. Plenty of old cars on the streets, a photo dream for me. The buildings too make great pictures. Many of the old cars are Private Taxis. They all pull up and ask if we need a ride. Hungry drivers looking for a fare, Capitalism in an overly competitive market.
 Henry J Push Start La California
Blue Building Cathedral Carlos Manuel de Cespedes
Old Beauty “58” Ford Pontiac & Ladies
Russian Jeep Chevy Busy Street
Sidecar Circa 1522 1522 AD

Drawn in to a small square by the shade trees, we sat and ordered Chinese food. The waiter listened as we asked the size of plates and what to order. We asked for 2 different plates then changed the order to fried rice. When he finally came back, food in hand, he had 3 plates. Way to much for us, we told him that we only wanted the Beef dish and fried rice. He whipped out his order ticket and really yelled at us. Okay it was a language faux pas but he was as involved as we. I yelled back, he backed off and took the pork plate back to the kitchen. When we asked for the check we apologized, he seemed to be over the problem, maybe he’d sold the dish or perhaps he got to eat the mistake? At any rate he was all smiles when we slipped him a little tip.
Remember Harry Sidecar Harbor
Municipal Building Musicians Santiago
Che ‘57’ Ford Bacardi Museum
Palace of Justice Park Dolores  


Back at Nellie’s, the power was on. The AC felt great and we got our slightly warm showers. Then, we lay back and relaxed. In fact we fell deeply asleep. Strange how one can lose sense of time at times like this. We awoke in the darkened room and both thought at first that we’d slept through the night. My glow in the dark watch said “5:00” and we assumed AM. Surprise, it was actually dinner time.

There’s a girl staying in the room at the other side of the downstairs area. She said “Hello” as we emerged from ours then turned back to her task of cleaning.

Nellie came down, Cat asked about a Taxi back to town for dinner. Nellie insisted that it was very safe to walk. So, here we are in a strange place, a strange culture and setting off into the dark. There are street lights but they’re dim and poorly spaced leaving large blocks of blackness. Plenty of people sitting on their porches or steps. Most spoke to us in friendly voices. W never felt threatened of fearful. It was sort of like being back in my old neighborhood in Spokane, Washington in 1950 when I was a kid.

We beat a fast path to the Pizza Place we’d staked out earlier this afternoon. Pretty good Pizza and they had a news channel on TV. Even in Spanish it was easy to see that Wilma has began to loosen her grip on the Yucatan and move toward Cuba. We thank Wilber and our lucky stars that we’re not there.

Though I felt pretty good with the local people I suggested we taxi back to Nellie’s. Cat was more concerned with our finances and insisted she felt safe to walk. Very dark, very safe, we’ve begun to feel like locals.

October 21, 2005
A Visit to the Castle

We thought we heard someone prowling around the house during the night. No problem for us, we figured it must be Nellie’s Daughter. We decided to have breakfast in, Nellie rousted Yanelis, the daughter, and they made eggs and coffee. Served with juice and coffee. Yanelis is 19, she told us that she will be going to Miami in December. Jokingly I asked if she’d go by boat or plane. She laughed and told us an interesting story. Her Grandfather lives there and they have put her name into the lottery that would allow her to enter the US since she was 7 years old. This year she pulled a winning number. She’s anxious in a nervous sort of way about going. Her English will need to improve but she should do well. She’ll work with Grandpa at his Grocery Store.

The suicide shower is only luke warm but that’s way ahead of cold. Our toilet is a step up throne room. Like so many things in an extreme Socialist State, it is functional. Not built for beauty but function.

I rode Cat’s bike down the street to a garage door bike shop. Her rear wheel has loosened at the axel. He wanted to take the wheel apart and check the bearings but I told him it was fairly new. So, he just tightened the axel. Then, I wanted to lube the chains, he handed me a can of thick oil. I leaned the bike in the shade and slathered it on.

Second trip with my bike, just oil on the chain which I did in the shade. Then I remembered that I should check the air pressure in the tires. He handed me a pump and gauge and I went to work. Sweat and work that is. When I had 65 pounds in both I rode back and brought Cat’s bike back for the same. The guy refused to accept any money. I insisted and slipped 1 CUC into his shirt pocket and said, “Para un cerveza”.

When I rolled into Nellie’s yard Cat met me with a frown on her face. She noted that my shorts were torn, worn torn from stem t stern. I Changed and she went looking for a seamstress. Nellie’s friend next door stitched them up both legs, for re-enforcement and style. They look good but probably won’t last too long.

When we asked Nellie about a trip to the Fort she yelled to a guy down the street. Pepe is a cousin and speaks a little English. Our first need was a Market. He led us down the block and around the corner where we found Chilean wine. Only 4.50 CUC but, we’ll give it a try tonight. As we walked past a fellow with hair down to his knees he said, “Hello”. Yes, Adriano speaks English and is a High School Math Teacher. Strange how sometimes we are too quick to pass judgment. What a nice guy. He says that he hasn’t cut. his hair in more than 10 years. Yes, he likes Reggae Music, an easy assumption.

Oh, lest we forget, as we went toward the store we saw a lineup of people. They were waiting to fill their canisters of Gas. Pepe says that everyone uses Propane to cook. They have to re-fill about once a month. However, the Gas tank has just had a delivery and they wont to make sure they don’t run out between now and the next shipment.

Getting GasAdrianoAnother anomaly, Adriano, a Rasta Man with hair almost to his ankles smiled and said “Hello” as we passed. Yes, he speaks perfect English and contrary to his looks, he’s a teacher of Mathematics at the University. Another lesson in being non-judgmental and not jumping to conclusions based upon a casual glance. He is quite proud to tell us that he hasn’t cut his hair in more than 10 years. Also, he loves Reggae Music and the casual lifestyle of Rasta People. Not exactly our idea of what a teacher in a Communist Country should look. Adriano turns out to be a very nice guy, probably a great teacher, too. 

To the Castle With Jimy the Pirate

Next the Castle. We walked up the street with Pepe. He seems to know everybody, says hello and shakes a lot of hands. At a corner he said he’d get a taxi. When we asked the price he said 20 CUC. We’d talked with a couple of Dutch girls last night who mentioned they’d gone and the car cost 15. I told Pepe and he walked to the corner and talked with a guy in a Lada. He came back and told us to walk with him, around the corner. Strange we thought, later we learned that the guy is a Pirate Taxi, unlicensed. Guys like Jimy, the owner/driver, take a big chance hiring their cars. Especially to foreigners.

Jimmy had to park down the road from the Castle. We did gat a picture of Lighthouse Morro Stgode built in 1842 and hope that our friend who collects them sees is. The Fort is just that. It clings to a cliff overlooking the Caribbean on one side and Santiago on the other. They have a few mannequins dressed in period piece. Pretty smaltzy. Pepe too Cat’s sunglasses and put them on for a picture. Then he asked for them. When we told him she needs them he asked for my sandals. Then he sort of handed us off to a girl guide. We’d paid $4 CUC each to get in. She pointed to pictures and repeated the written word. After a couple of rooms she asked for money. We told her that we appreciated her effort but would continue alone. She was sort of surly. When we told Pepe we were disappointed that the guide’s service wasn’t included he sort of stopped asking for things.
Morro Stgode Lighthouse Cannon & Fort Cannon
Drawbridge Soldiers & Guns Castle to Sea
Coast Santiago View Pepe
Jimy & Pepe Orlando’s ‘55’ Olds  

Jimy dropped us off on a side street. Pepe told us he had an appointment. We were happy to be on our own. It’s tough to have a volunteer guide, he meant well but was mostly in the way. Guess we’ve been traveling too long?

Walking the streets of Santiago is a wonderful experience. Our first real look at life in Cuba. They have lots of old trucks that serve as Public Transportation. They’re obviously needed, they’re jammed to the rafters with Cubans headed home from work. Our quest for Internet was thwarted by a lack of Cards. Yes, you go into the Telephone Company and buy a scratch off Phone Card then assign a computer. Unfortunately, the Phone Company was out of Phone Cards. They were kind and sent us toward a Hotel that’s on our route back to Nellie’s.
Pink House Truck Bus Packed
Communista Old Beauty  

The Hotel only has 2 machines. We put our name on the list then took it off. It would be too late to start and hour by the time our turn comes. Then, hunger drove us into the little attached restaurant. Strange, too, they have a full menu but no food. Well, that’s a little unfair, they have Pasta. So, we ordered Pasta. Then sat and waited and waited. The waitress seemed lost in her own life. Just sort of walking around talking to herself. We were ready to give up and move on. When we told her that she somehow put things in motion and the Pasta arrived almost immediately. It was only luke warm as though it’d been sitting waiting for her to make her move? We ate!

A Sovietski Holdover

DominosVladimirWalking back down the street to Nellie’s we met another young guy who spoke English. He walked tight up and engaged us in conversation. He’s a College student and his Major is language. He wants to work with foreigners and said that he needs to practice. We talked small talk until he told us his name, Vladimir. Yes, a hold over from the Sovietski era. He was proud to tell us that his Father speaks Russian. A very nice young guy, he walked along and pointed out things of interest in the neighborhood.


Carlos & MatildaRounding the corner to Nellie’s we saw Matilda and her Husband. Carlos. We got their picture then stood and talked at the fence like neighbors often do. Life here reminds me of life in the 50s. Everyone in the neighborhood knows everybody else. There seems to be little or no fear of robberies and everyone seems very patriotic.

After resting and soaking up cool from the AC we asked Nellie about dinner. She was really happy to know that we would eat in. More than just the chance to show us her culinary skills, we think that the Casa Particulars must pay tax on room rent but may slip meals by without tariff to the State.

Dinner by HeadlampThe steak was thin but fairly tender, the rice was rice and she did a garnish of avocado. Pretty tasty except just as she served the lights went out. Another electrical failure. Nellie sys that it happens often but doesn’t last long. With our headlamps on we began to eat. Pretty funny, then Nellie came in with battery operated neon lights. We finished eating then took a seat on the porch. Lightening may have caused the power failure, the rain was coming down pretty hard. It was so hot inside that we sat under the little porch and watched the locals. They come and go despite the rain. As though it wasn’t there.

Our little room with wall to wall bikes was cooling a bit but really dark. Fatigue was filling us, we hit the bed at 9:00 PM.

October 22, 2005
Santiago to Contramaestre
81 Kilometers

Neither of us know for sure what time the electricity came back to us. Both remember feeling the light through our eyelids for some time. Yes, we went to bed with the lights on so, when the electricity returned we were both staring up at the bulb.

The High ThroneDespite the light up, we slept well. It was 7:00 AM by the time we began pulling ourselves out of bed. Wash, shave, and then pack. Bags on bikes and in the hall then breakfast. Yanelis served us eggs, ham and juice. The Cubano coffee is served in a small cup and full of sugar. More of the strange juice, Cat doesn’t like it much but sucked it down for strength and hydration. Nellie called a friend in Baire, a small town abut 100 Ks away and they are saving a room for us tonight. That took a load off Cat’s worrisome mind.

Goodbye Nelly and Yanelis

Nelly’s HouseNelly & YanelisGoodbyes included pictures, of course. Kisses on the cheeks and well wishes for both Mom Yanelis. They are really sweet people. They warned us again of what everyone we’ve talked with in Cuba calls, “The Mountains of Santiago de Cuba”. 

Climbing With Lazarus

Lazarus It was a fast 5 Ks on a wide road then the up started. It is steep but we managed it without pushing. Lazarus joined us about half way up. He’s riding a broken down one speed. No pedals just the bolt against his worn out Deck Shoes. He really pushed hard to stay with us at times. Though he spoke little English we did get a feeling for his life. He has a big machete strapped to his handlebars and is headed to the fields looking for a little work. He rides this route every day, shirtless and sweating. When we stopped at the summit we gave him our extra bottle of water. 

Ghastly Gitmo

GuantanamoOnce the road flattened we were able to enjoy the countryside. It’s verdant, green and lush. The king of crops is Sugar, of course. We passed the turn off to Guantanamo and paused long enough to take a photo. We have hated the way our friends, George, Dick and Don have been using this place. Now, there is another layer of ilk. The lease for the place is 100 or so years old. Our Government doesn’t really need it and we pour tons of money into it but we keep it like a thorn in the side of Fidel etal. We have begun to wonder if part of the reason we now hold “Enemy Combatants” prisoners here, without charges, for almost 3 years may be because we also have laws that make it tough for protesters to get near the place? Most can’t or won’t even get near this Island?

Cheap Lunch, Worth Every Cent and not MORE.

The road flattened and our speed picked up. Pulled into Palma Soriano for lunch. Asking we were getting the same answers, there’s only one Restaurante, further down the Main Street. We found it and pulled the bikes inside. The women working there were fairly cordial, the even le us wash our hands in the kitchen sink as the toilet has no running water. Everyone was paying attention to us via by side glances. Then a guy came over and said something about the best food, a steak. It would turn out to be the only food available but the price seemed very high to us. As we struggled to understand and decide whether to order just one plate the waitress also struggled then found some coins and explained with them that the cost is 8 Pesos for each plate. The exchange for Pesos to Dollars is 25 for $1.00. Geez, the plate of beef and rice is only about 35 cents each? Of course we ordered 2.

Jimy Wants Money, not Advice

They had no soft drinks, only beer and rum. Cat chose to stick with her water as she often does. I on the other hand chose beer. Pretty good and very cheap, 40 cents each, so I had 3. As we chewed, yes they were tough as leather, a young boy, Jimy, sidled up and stood next to the table. He looked well fed and extremely well dressed. When he spoke in halting English we asked if he was studying it. He kept a constant line of chatter going, much of which we had to guess at. We did get that his Father is living in Miami. Then, as we were leaving I told him that he must read the book, “Old Man and the Sea” by Hemmingway. He acted as though he didn’t understand so I decided to get his address and send the book to him when we get back to CA. When he started to write the address a good looking woman and her came zipping across the room accompanied by a guy. They were both well dressed and sporting nice watches. She helped him with the address then began asking for money. I tried to explain that I would send the book for his studies but she insisted that we should give money. Sorry Mom but we have a Family of our own to take care of. Jimy looked sort of embarrassed.

Onward, we passed through small picturesque Pueblos and countryside. Palm trees and corn fields, this is the corn basket of Cuba.
Stage Coach Palm Farm Pueblo Palma
Corn to Palms    

Contra MaestraFrank PaisNellie had called a friends in a little town, Baire, and they are expecting us. Nellie had estimated it was about 80 Ks. We were wearing down, hot and tired. There were a few small hills but it was the heat that was doing us in. When we finally rolled into Contramaestre we sought soft drinks. A young guy sitting, drinking beers told us that Baire is another 10 Ks, maybe more? Nellie had been sure that there was no Hotel here. The girl selling us Tu Colas, told Cat that there is one and pointed it out. Cat walked while I waited and drank another Cola.

Bad news, the Hotel is completely full on this Saturday night. However, a guy, Wilson, standing nearby as she asked, told her that he knew a place where we could stay. Cat came back to me with Wilson in tow. She is really tired and ready to stop, even if this guy poses a risk. To me, he looks like a Hells Angel. He has tattoos down both arms but seems sincere. Wilson led, we followed. He took us down side streets then back streets of dirt and rock. Just as we were ready turn back he pulled up at a very modest house. Of course this is not a licensed Casa Particular but then, can we beggars be choosers? .

A Night with Marylou’s Family

Wilson asked us to bring the bikes inside immediately. There is the problem of being caught with Foreigners in your home. Not a problem for us but for the Family. There’s a name painted on the house, Liza Haley. We were intrigued because we have a wonderful friend, Lisa Haley, back home. She plays Cajun and Zydeco music. Wilson introduced a woman but we didn’t get her name in the hustle to get us inside. No, her daughter is Liza who lives in Germany. She, Mary Lou, is our Hostess, Mom and more. What a nice gal. Our Buddy ;Wilson, quickly disappeared but we have a feeling he’ll get a piece of the 10 CUC that Mary Lou is charging us.

Marylou’s KitchenMakin’ UpThey have no food to offer but will let us use the kitchen. Mary Lou had us put the bikes in a side room but told us that our room was on the other side then opened the door to a flood. The roof has leaked during the last few days of rain. She is mopping like crazy. She invited us to use her shower but we decided to cook first then shower. That meant a wait as Mary Lou wanted to clean the kitchen. Obviously she hadn’t been expecting guests. So, during mopping and cleaning Cat and I took seats in the living room and watched as Fidel did his nightly presentation. It was so similar to last nights at Nellie’s that we thought it might be taped? (Funny, when we asked what he was talking about, Nelly told us that it’s all minutia!)

Betty & FranAs we waited, Yanet, Mary Lou’s younger daughter came out and began applying makeup. It’s Saturday night and obviously she’s goin’ dancin’. Her little boy, Fran sat next to her then slowly worked his way onto my lap. What a great little 4 year old boy.

This is a busy house, a couple that they introduced as neighbors came in and Mary Lou cooked rice and beans for them. We now think that they may live upstairs? Then a few neighbors drifted in and out, chatting with the family and checking us out. Finally, Mary Lou felt the kitchen was usable so Cat took the Macaroni and Cheese in and got things going. I moved the bikes into what we now know is Daniel’s bedroom.

Daniel, Mary Lou’s 19 year old son is another really great kid. He helped with the mopping and the kitchen cleaning. He and Sis, Yanet, are going out tonight. While we ate they started music and began practicing dancing. He is now dressed up in his Levi Outfit and Yanet is sporting an orange stripped dress. They put a CD o and began to really gyrate. I even got a little video of them. This is a wonderful experience for us and we sense for them, too. Isn’t this just like so many Saturday Nights in so many other places? Young people love the same things, everywhere.
Marylou & Kids Yanet Made Up Daniel Ready to Dance

Daniel & Yanet Dance

The end of a very interesting day. We finished our food as they excitedly exited.

Sunday, October 23, 2005
Contramaestra to Bayamo
48 Kilometers

We are now part of Mary Lou’s family. When we came out of the Daniel’s bedroom she motioned for us to sit at the table. Then she served eggs, bread and coffee. When we asked how much she said, “Nada, nothing”. Fair is fair and now that we’re family we expect to pay our way. Cat left 2 CUCs on the table. Quietly Mary Lou accepted.

She and Fran, the only ones awake at 8:00, went out, looked both ways then waved for us to exit. Hugs and a short goodbye then we bumped off down the dirt street, to the highway and a Service Station/Mini Mart, we need water.

A Foreign Moment

Lada LimoFarmA line of people stood staring into the window. There was a guy inside talking with the clerk. The next in line told us to wait 5 minutes. We stood, the one inside picked up a few items then checked out. As he exited Mr. Next in Line was allowed in. He too found a couple of things and paid. Then, an embarrassing moment, as the clerk let him out he motioned for us to come in, surpassing the rest of the line? They all seemed okay with it? A couple even smiled and waved us in. Locked in now, we got our water and paid. Then the Clerk opened up again and ushered us out. Maybe this system is for security? Everyone tells us that it’s very safe here? This looks a little suspect to us. Perhaps it has to do with those who have CUC and those dealing in Pesos?

Clip, Clop, Clip, Clop

The road is flat and we rode fast. The short distance was ours in an hour and a half. Then the search fro lodging. Wilber’s Lonely Planet has several, we stopped first at one called Hotel Telegraph. They have rooms but no TV and only fans. Onward to what the book describes as the best value in town. Hotel Royalton has recently been renovated. They took me up to a couple of choices for rooms. The one on the 3rd floor has a Plaza view. They have none down and no elevator. We took the Plaza view then they helped us store the bikes in an office where they keep the computer and satellite TV equipment. The very best thing is the rate, 24 CUC.
Farm Fidel Says Water Well
Plymouth Fury Barn Cattle Cool It
‘57’ 4 Dr Hardtop Bayamo Plaza  

Cyclists Rene & Susaune from Germany

An air conditioned room and hot water. What a treat. We cleaned up then went down for lunch. Another treat, they have a wonderful Restaurant. Then a walk looking for a Super Market and Internet Shop. Found both and both were closed. Very few shops open on Sunday. We did spot another couple cycling in a couple of blocks away. Hustling, we finally caught them at a Casa Particular. Rene and Susaune were hot and tired, they’d ridden in from Holguin. Not a long ride but all uphill and against wind. And, it’s there first day cycling here. They just flew away from winter and into Cuba yesterday from Germany. They’re still Jet Lagged. They wanted a rest and cold shower. We made a date to meet later at our Hotel.
Susaune & Rene Bayamo Street Cuban Character
Cespedes Perucho Iziquerado  

Walking around is like being in a time warp. The old cars are plentiful, the old folks sit and chat in the Plaza and a sound system is filling it with music. As we photo-ed a strange fellow scooted across the marble surface and right up to us, in time with the music. He slipped directly up to the lens, I took him to take home. He reminded us of some of the more interesting people that followed our band.

Wine, Smuggled From the Spanish Restaurant

Back to the room, we asked and voila, they programmed CNN in English to our TV. We caught up on all the latest news, 3rd treat of the day. I typed a bit, Cat went on a wine safari. The girl on the desk gave us the name of a place where they have white wine. Interesting story, Cat found the place, a Spanish Restaurant. The waiter told her she couldn’t come in wearing shorts. Not a problem, the prices are too high and like in Spain, they start late. They do have at couple of bottles of Spanish Table White. She asked about buying it to take away? The Waiter shrugged at first then pointed across the street. Strange but she did as told and soon he came across with the bottles in a bag and collected the money. The price was about the same as it would be in a store. Contraband wine, a good deal for us.

Susaune & ReneDinner down, a little disappointing. Pasta with a strange tasting sauce. The wine was fine, not great but way ahead of none. As we ate Rene and Susaune joined us. They’d already been fed at the Casa but had a couple of beers and told us of their plans. They have a month to cycle and will spend most of it here in the southeast. They’ve visited Cuba before but didn’t cycle the first time. They have done cycle touring in other places. WE enjoyed sharing stories of the road. A very nice couple.

More of the same old news, we say that if you miss a few days of CNN it’s like a Soap Opera, you can pick right up where you left off.

The Province Granma

As a footnote, we passed from Provencia Santiago de Cuba into Granma today.

October 24, 2005
Bayamo to Las Tunas
82 Kilometers

Our included breakfast was pretty good, should get us to the search for lunch. I took the duty of bringing down bags and loading bikes while Cat went searching for money. On the trek she ran into Rene and Susaune who were on the same hunt. The bank didn’t have money to change and sent them to the Cadeca, the local Money Exchange place. A Very slow process.
Post Office Havana 754 Ks Fidel Says
Modified ‘50’ Ford    

Mary the Bread LadyMilda & Juan I was beginning to worry by the time Cat got back at 10:00 AM. A late start on a hot and windy, narrow road. Rio Cauto is about half way to Las Tunas and we’re hungry. The first place we came to had soft ice cream cones for 1 pesos, about 5 cents. We each had 2, fearing that it may be all we find for lunch. Then we found a bakery but they wouldn’t sell us bread. A gal there, Mary, got 4 rolls and handed them to Cat. When we tried to pay she refused. I pulled the camera out to memorialize the moment. The gal and guy in the little window said something, we figured they wanted a picture too. Somehow they got the point across that they’d given us the bread. So, meet Milda and Juan the one armed baker. What kind and generous people.

There is a row of little food booths across the street. We were hesitant to eat the street food so went to what they called a store. It’s like a temporary metal building but it’s closed until 1:30 PM. So, we sat in the shade and waited. As the time to open neared a small crowd gathered. Cat waited her turn then bought Tu Colas. They had no real food.

Pizza Man & AmigosTreeBack to the stands. I stood the guard while she shopped food. She was pretty excited when she came back with 2 folded pizzas. She described the process, the guy puts dough in a black, iron skillet. Smears a little sauce on top then places it into a homemade looking wood burning oven. They take them out and hand them to you with a bit of cardboard wrapped around to shield your hand from the heat. It really is delicious, and cost only 4 Pesos or 20 cents, each.

We sat on the bank of a muddy creek and watched a fisherman haul out a big one as we consumed our feast. What a find, we only hope that this is a traditional food and we find the tasty morsels in every town ahead of us.

The road took a turn for the better and we found ourselves zipping along with a brisk tail wind. We swept into Las Tunas before 3:00 PM. The Hotel Las Tunas is off the Highway. After asking we finally had to backtrack a bit then pull a long slow hill that the Hotel sits atop of.

No Elevator and no Wine in the INN

This Hotel is imposing in a Sovietski sort of way. A big box, functional with out a stylish flare. The good news, they have a room for us. The bad news came in bunches. First, the elevator is broken and second, our room is on the 5th floor and third, they have no wine. Then a bit of good news, they say that they’re working on and should have the lift working soon.

Cerveza TimePool & BeyondWe settled onto a table in the Lobby and sipped beers while we waited. After 2 each the Security guy came running to tell us that we could take the bikes up, now. The Asensor (Elevator) rattles and jerks but works. With the bikes in our room we got our showers. They did tell us that there would be warm water but it never got as high as floor 5.

Dinner down, another Sovietski experience. People stand in line and wait for a table without being told to do so. They just seem to know. We fell in then the Waiter came to the door and motioned to us. Another embarrassment until we realized that the others were a group. He showed us to a small table but the AC was blowing a hurricane on us so we asked to move.

Dinner was pretty good. Pork for the Cat and a steak with rice for me. They did find a bottle of Cuban white wine. It looked like a Riesling bottle and was so sweet we had a tough time consuming but did our best. Even a bad wine is okay at times like this.

TV here is limited to a few Spanish only stations. Yes, they did have Fidel and Hugo on, telling it like it is. We went directly to bed and sleep.

October 25, 2005
A Day of Rest in Las Tunas

Included breakfast was at best fair to say the least. Juice, egg and bread. Funny we have always thought of Cuba as a coffee country but all we’ve had thus far has been second rate. Oh, and the bread was just plain white, not toasted.

Peddy Cab ride with Geovanny

GeovannyTown is quite a way from the Hotel. The Desk Clerk suggested a Peddy Cab and haled one for us. The pedaler, Geovanny, is new on the job and not too strong. During his first 3 days he hasn’t learned where things are so it left us going in circles and asking. We wanted the Telephone Company. A call to Tim, our friend from the bus, to let him know that we are coming to Camaguey and want to meet his little family and, we want to use the Internet. We spotted the tower with the dishes but Geovanny had a mind of his own. So, after several times around several different blocks, one of the other drivers he asked led us in.

This Etacsa Office has only one computer. A we waited we worked on a call to Tim. It took several people to finally get a point across about which Phone Card we would need. Then which phone to use. Finally we connected only to talk with his Mother in Law who speaks no English. We did ask her to let him know that we’d be in town in 3 days.

As we checked messages a guy stepped inside then sighed and asked how long we’d be. We only had a few more minutes to go but there were a couple of young girls seated waiting. They spoke up in good English and told him they only needed about 15 minutes. They’re from St. Lucia, the Canadian guy asked if they’re students. “Yes, Medical Students”. He said that a lot of people come here to study Medicine. A very good teaching school that cost a lot less than most.

The search for cash, Banks closed, power outage

Strong & FreeBlue BuildingOur next quest for money was thwarted by a power outage. There are several Banks on one street. None were open, we couldn’t understand until a guard got his point across, no electricity. He pointed down the street and said, “Azul senale” the blue sign. We can only guess that the power grid starts and stops at that point or they have a generator. At any rate, no matter what the rate, we got no money. They don’t change money at the only operating bank in town?

Found a Market with electricity and a few things on the shelf. Then with a bottle of cheap Chilean White and 2 of Mineral Water we set off, back up the hill to the Hotel. Too far and too hot, we’d been tailed by a couple of Peddy Cabs so chose one. He was a husky guy and took to the hill with gusto until we neared the Hotel. Then he pulled up and pointed to a trail up a dirt bank. Steep and slightly wet, it didn’t look like a good way to wag our bag of grocery up. Slightly disgusted, we told him that we expected to pay less. Remembering Rick’s advice that a Brain Surgeon makes $20 per month the 2 CUC he was charging seemed too much, especially if he doesn’t go the distance. The thought of discount brought new strength to this Brain Surgeon Cyclists legs. He pulled round the corner and up the same driveway we’d pedaled yesterday.

I sat up the computer while Cat sought lunch. She returned with a couple of Ham & Cheese Sandwiches, the staple of Cuba. We ate in the room and spent the rest of the afternoon there, writing and resting.

Dinner down, and it was okay. Chicken for Cat and Pork Chop for me.

October 26, 2005
Las Tunas to Sibanico
82 Kilometers

Hotel Las TunasGrande MonumentBreakfast was the usual fare served with the usual flare, girls who seem disconnected from the task at hand. Bikes packed, we brought them down one at a time in the now working elevator. Out the door, down the drive and Cat posed in front of the giant Memorial of Independence across the street.

Fearing running short of funds we cycled back into town and resumed our quest for CUCs. The first bank we came to and the Cadeca were both still dark. At our third attempt we found cash, whew. So, we now know the streets that lead to banks here and, we’re off to a late, 10:00 AM start.

Hit a Cyclist, Go To Jail

Though the road is narrow its flat and fast for us. Drivers of trucks, buses and cars are all very cautious, we’ve heard that if they hit a cyclist it is automatically the driver’s fault. We like that law, written or not, they do observe it. Why not have a law like this everywhere?
Finca School Kids Hiyo

Lunch With Students, Prof Told Me Not to Hand Out Cards,

Students & ProfessorBonita Cubanos Lunch at Hotel Guaimaro, a run down place in a small town. It was teeming with students, here on what they called a “Social Event”. They wore the Red with pride but acted just like young people everywhere. They sort of joked, we think about us, in Spanish until I took the camera out and got a photo of them. Several were camera shy and scampered. One couple, handsome boy, cute girl, liked the picture and loved the one I took of them. As I handed out our cards a guy walked up and too one form the hand of a girl, read it then handed it back to me. He indicated that he didn’t want me to hand them out. I asked, “Why, we’re just 2 people, husband and wife, traveling around the world on bicycles”? (Of course I was struggling to get my question across in Spanish.) As I continued I handed another to a girl with her hand out, he turned and walked away.

The waitress told us that they had no chicken then she delivered fried chicken legs, rice and beans. Had to fetch drinks from our bags, this place too has only Rum and Beer to drink.

We had thought of staying here but after seeing the place we decided to move on. It seemed a long ride to Camaguey, too long for us to make, today. Plugging along, we came into a tiny Pueblo, Sibanico. There is a small hotel, not much better than that of Guaimaro but we’re now worn down and tired. They do have a room but we’ll have to wait for an hour.
Kincaid Cuban Pond & Beyond Rock & Cattle

A patio out back is full of Etacsa, the Telephone Company workers sipping beers and joking with each other. Why not join them, what better way to spend the waiting hour? The girl has 2 kinds of beer, a local and Crystal. The local is favored by the workers and for good reason, Crystal is 1 CUC or 25 Pesos. The local is only 10 pesos or 25 cents. We chose local, too.

Dr Jorge, Gilberto, Pedro, Norge and the best Cheese in the World or at least Cuba.

Company Pride in Cuba?

Dr. Jorge, Gilberto, Pedro & NorgeThe Phone Company guys drifted out and a group of 4 others came in. They too were laughing and having a real happy hour. One, Jorge, speaks some English. He’s a Doctor, a Pediatrician. The others, Gilberto, Pedro and Norge, work at a Cheese Factory across the highway. They say they make the best Cheese in the World. It took little urging from Jorge to get Pedro to run across and get a wheel of it for us. You know, it’s a Government owned Company but these guys have at least as much if not more pride in their product than any Corporate workers could, or would. In one of the pictures we took Norge was looking longingly at the Woman Desk Clerk. That caused a stir, seems that she’s Gilberto’s girl friend. Lots of laughs

Charles (Atlas) carried the bikes up the stairs. Pretty bad room.

Charles (Atlas)The Desk Clerk, who remains nameless to us, introduced Charles, the Hotel Manager. Apparently she’d been waiting for his approval to allow us a room. He also spoke English, even more than Dr. Jorge. He took Cat up to see the room. She reported back that it’s very basic but 2 rooms, one for the bikes. When we told Charles that we would take the bikes up he introduced a guy as the Security Officer. He was adamant that he’d watch them and we should park them in a room near the desk that didn’t even have a door. When we told Charles that we have our cloths in the bags and absolutely wanted them with us he explained to the Security guy then got behind me and lifted as we struggled up the stairs. Then, he went back down and carried Cat’s bike up, under his arm. I called him Charles Atlas. He knew abut Charles Atlas and explained to the others. Another laugh. A lot of laughing going on here, maybe a bi-product of the local beer?

Everyone Owns Everything!

Primal BanoThe shower is a hose hanging into a bucket. The water is cold, very cold. We thought it over and decided to go without. We’re in a suite of sorts. The first room was a living room but the furnishings, save a couple of broken tables, have long ago disappeared. The bedroom is just a bed. There’s a list of furnishings on the back of the door sort of teasing us with things that once were like a TV, chairs and a refrigerator. So, like in the Russia I experienced in 1989, some of the Comrades will steal from themselves. That is if you buy into the theory that everyone owns everything.

Showing absolutely no willpower, we cut the wheel of cheese open and gorged on it. Best in the World? For sure the best in Cuba!

Dinner was another room full of workers. Another group of Telephone guys drinking, eating and laughing. So much like the camaraderie of workers I’ve known in my young years as a Meat Cutter with chain stores. The food they were being served looked good. We tried to order the same but the waitress let us know that they only had enough for the workers. Let’s assume that they weren’t being prejudiced, perhaps the workers had ordered in advance? At any rate, we only got a few pieces of boney ham in the rice and beans. Oh, they did find a bottle of white wine, the same Chilean we’d had before and it was even better priced, only 3 CUC.

Road grime and sweat aside, we were so tired that sleep came easily.

October 27, 2005
Sibanico to Camaguey
45 Kilometers

Nobody stirring in this Inn. They told us last night that they don’t do breakfast here but we would find food in the Pueblo. Taking the bikes down is a much easier task than that of Charles, last night. It was a little tough getting around the tiny halfway landing.

Finding food isn’t an easy job here. There were a couple of Café looking places but they only had soft drinks or beer, no food. Each place pointed and promised food that wasn’t there. At last, a sandwich place. The food of choice or the only choice they have here? We admit, they tasted very good, perhaps partly due to hunger? They’re bigger than those of the Hotel and the cost is much smaller. The women only had Ham or Cheese, we asked for a combo, she took the cheese out of a cheese sand and put it in a ham. Get beyond the limited choice and imagine, these great tasting morsels only cost 4 Pesos, or 20 cents each. The only drink available is a cloudy looking fruit and rum punch. We opted for our onboard lemon lime drink. Rum for breakfast, no wonder these Cubanos laugh so much?

Marc, His Young Bride, Her Mom and Her Young Boy Friend

Tree & GoatsMachi, Digna, Elizabeth & Marc With only a short distance to cycle we rolled through the countryside at a rapid pace. Our only stop, for a soft drink, was a steep climb up to a Restaurant above the highway. A group of people were also taking a break from driving. Marc is from Paris, France. His wife, Elizabeth, is Cuban. They met at a party while the group of revelers played a game. Seems that he and Elizabeth were born on the same day. They had to dance together and that was the beginning of a global romance. Spring and Autumn romance seems to run in Elizabeth’s family. Here Mom, Digna’s boyfriend, Machi looks about the same age difference as Marc and Elizabeth. She moved to Paris with Marc but was so homesick that she came back. She’s been here 2 months now he’s here to take her back home. They’re going to lunch at an Uncles place near here, a going away party for her.

Break The Rules, They Pay?

They were in a car, we asked about owning it and Marc told us that it belongs to Government Company the driver works with. He said that it is illegal for him to be riding with them and he has to duck down as they pass through the road blocks. As in all crimes against the Government there would be no penalty to Marc if caught. However, the driver could lose his job and license to drive. Well, if we think about someone taking a Company car on an unauthorized trip with other than employees they’d probably lose their job, too.
El Rancho Revolution Grande Arboles Old & Older
Old & Older    

Wilber’s Lonely Planet tells us that the best Hotel in Camaguey is the Gran. After last night we can use a little pampering. Angling through the streets, we were soon lost. As we studied the map a young guy cycled up and offered a room at a Casa Particular. We waved him off, told him w were gong to the Hotel Gran. We thought we had the directions but he urged us to follow him around the corner. He seemed happy to be helping and was quite genially. Several turns through the narrow streets and we could see the Hotel sign. Suddenly he was more interested in money than friendship. I got one of our cards out and handed it to him. He expressed dismay but lost our attention as a familiar voice called out, “Hey Pat & Cat”!

Fate Brings Tim to Us

It’s Tim, AgainFate has it’s way with us, often. It was our friend, Tim, you know, Tim from the bus. How could this be, in a city of 750,000 people? He couldn’t have known that we were coming today or to Hotel Gran. Unbelievable, he was just spending the afternoon looking for a 5 liter bottle of water and toilet paper, 2 things he says are very hard to come by. His wife, Yami and new baby now named Clayton Ander are still in the Hospital. He’s in a hurry to get back because he takes food to them. He says that the Hospital food is terrible but then, isn’t that true at home, too? We stood and chatted then posed for a photo in the lobby before he hurried off. He said he’d try to join us for dinner here, tonight. Isn’t fate strange?

Classic FordNarrow Street So, we splurged on The Gran, they have CNN in English. They also have an elevator and allowed the bikes in the room. The good news ended there, when we got to our much needed showers there was no hot water. At first they told us that it would come to us at 4:00 PM. Cat went out on a Pizza search and scored. Double the cost of those in the countryside yet, still great tasting and, still a bargain at 40 cents each.

Thirsty, I walked up to the Restaurant for soft drinks. The price surprised me and my wallet. I came up short but Maria, the Bartender, solved the problem from her own purse. I told her that I’d go to the room for more money. She was just leaving but will be back in the morning to serve breakfast. When I promised to pay she just smiled and shrugged. “No es imporatnte” she said. Well, she does earn as much as a Brain Surgeon!

Hot water at 4:00 on floor 4 didn’t happen. We ran it for sometime s they’d suggested then called and they sent a plumber. He fiddled with the controls then left. They finally had to tell us that there was a problem. Damn, pay the big bucks only to have them splash cold water on us.

A little walk around as we looked for a place to change money then a disappointment. We had to wait in line with the locals for about 20 minutes then were ushered inside where we had to sit and wait some more. At last, our turn. The guy took our hand full of Mexican Pesos and gave them the typical thorough inspection then rejected one. A 500 Peso note dated May 1995? He tried to explain that they aren’t allowed to take this date? Our only thought is, counterfeiting? We’re so short of funds that losing 40 CUC may mean the difference between eating and not or worse yet, eating without wine!!! The good news, he didn’t confiscate the bill. He counted out the CUC and slipped them across his counter then pushed the bad Peso back to us, too.

As we found the Telephone Internet Shop it began to spatter down rain. When we emerged an hour later it was pouring. We dashed through the street umbrella no high.

Dinner up, Veal and it was good, expensive but good. Ina country where food isn’t abundant, whether Socialist or Capitalist you have to pay, right? We did talk briefly with a group from Holland here on a Scuba Diving Holiday.

Tim was a no show, we figured that he got tied up at the Hospital. We were glad for him that he’s so involved with Clayton and glad for us because we definitely want to move on tomorrow.

So, CNN and early to bed.

October 28, 2005
Camaguey to Ciego de Avila
114 Kilometers

A buffet breakfast, a little short on variety but plenty of the few items they did have. AS promised, Maria was there. I took pictures of the sunrise and one of her. When we were finished, we called her over and handed her a generous tip that included the investment she’d made in our soft drinks. Aren’t people nice?
Sunrise Camaguey Sunrise Camaguey Church
Street Old Church Maria

Out of Camaguey

Who’s Camilo Cienfuegos?

Down and out early, we found ourselves midst traffic, from horse and buggy to trucks and buses taking people to work. Then we came upon a long line of school kids carrying a banner. They waved and shouted then stood on a bridge and through flowers into the river below. He led a column of Revolutionary Soldiers into Sierra Maestra. We learned later that this is the Birth date of Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the heroes of the Revolution. He was killed in an airplane crash just shortly after they won that war. So, on his next birthday kids along the coast near the crash site began throwing flowers into the sea. The tradition has grown into a National Holiday and kids everywhere are throwing flowers in his memory, today.
Stage Coach Wagon Students March

 Students March

V I Lenin, Che and Fidel

V. I. LeninCheOnward then we spotted a picture of V. I. Lenin on a billboard sign. I got the picture then saw Che and Fidel on a building nearby and shot them, too. (Pictures friends, pictures.) Well, according to some of what we’ve read, Fidel really isn’t Communist and wanted to ally with the US but President Eisenhower avoided meeting him, left that chore up to VP Richard Nixon. He branded Fidel a Communist when Communism was the great fear of all Americans like fundamentalism among Muslims is today.

Fidel Wheeling along at a good speed, we were overtaken by a young guy in cycling gear. Reynaldo is a National Bicycle Racer, He was so intrigued with us that he slowed his pace and led us into his hometown, Florida. We stopped and bought Colas for 3 then sat and tried to talk. The best we got is that he is a team racer, 30 years old. He wanted badly for us to visit his home, have lunch there. It’ still a long way to Ciego and a little early for lunch.


Strange Tree Reynaldo In to Florida

Fabulous 57 Chevy & Caddie 4 dr Hardtop

Fantastic ‘57’ 4 Door CaddyThe next stumbling block was old cars. Cuba is famous for them and they’re everywhere. My love old iron had us stopping often and wheeling out the camera. I graduated from High School in ‘57’ and always dreamed of going to our 50th reunion driving a ’57’ Chevy. It may be that we’ll just cycle there, now?

Another Set of Road Warriors

Robert & IdaRolling along, we caught sight of cycles headed out way. Could they be carrying panniers? Hard to believe, Robert and Ida are from Holland. They’ve been riding for the first week of a month long journey. We stood and chatted, compared notes, places they’ve seen and places we’ve seen. Time was fleeting, they have a way to go and so do we. A moment together then off in different directions.

 Robert & Ida

Pizza and Marcos for Lunch

MarcosFinally we got through the traffic and out of town. Another day of good highway and friendly traffic. As we rolled into tiny crossroads Pueblo a guy called out for us to stop. Hungry, we took his advice. We thought that he probably owned or was related to the owner of the little Café there. The good news, the place had one of those little ovens and the smell of pizza was thick in the air. And, Marcos, the guy waving, says that he has a small business selling cheese along the roadside. The pizza was great, hot and cheap. Marcos found ways to communicate the fact that he is a private industry. We’ve seen guys like him holding big wheels of white cheese out as cars and trucks pass by. He may and little cafes serving this wonderful pizza may just be the beginnings of a return to individual business ownership.  

Onward with full stomachs and new friends, we raced with Cowboys for a while. The leader was asking something and pointing to his wrist. I thought he wanted to know the time. When I shouted out “Tres y Media” 3:30, he shouted again and we think he was asking us to give him my watch. He stayed with us for maybe half a kilometer then his 1 horse power machine had to give in to our legs and AutoShifters.
Cowboy on Donkey Rancho Patricio Chrysler ‘47’
'57’ Chevy Pickup Palms & Beyond  

Racing Cowboys

No Room in The Inn, Then a 5 Story Walk Up

As we pulled into Ciego de Avila it began to rain. We’d decided on finding Hotel Ciego de Avila because the guide book described it as modern. With rain now pouring down we pulled into the driveway and saw an almost exact copy of the Sovietski styled Las Tunas. It’s too wet and too late to go looking, we will stay here. Well, that is we want to stay here but after waiting my turn for almost 30 minutes the Desk Clerk said, “Sorry no rooms”. I couldn’t believe it. I stood dripping and whining, we must have a room, where shall we go? What shall we do. He picked up the telephone and called another Hotel. They too were fully booked. Another call the same result. I was getting pretty worried and asked if he knew of a Casa Particular. He held up his index finger and signaled for me to wait. Then he flipped through his book, found a blank line for today and asked when we will leave. “Tomorrow”. “At what time do you leave”? “8:00 AM” said I. He marked on the vacant line and we had a dry place for the evening. (We think that they block the room for both days to keep from double booking for tomorrow. What ever, we’re so happy that even having to leave the bikes in his office and carry the bags up 5 flights seemed small consideration. Room # 519. The Hotel is similar to Las Tunas and the room identical to our #518 there.

Cat scored the last bottle of white wine they had. We sipped in the room as we showered and dressed. Dinner down, the food portions are getting smaller as our appetites grow. Pork parmesan, a small piece of pounded pork topped with processed cheese with rice and potatoes. An extra order of potatoes required to fill us up. We did add a couple of glasses of red wine for flavor. The service was that typical slow and careless style we’re getting used to in these Hotels. .

Wondering how locals can afford this place we began to watch as they ate and paid. They all seem to have chits, pieces of paper that they hand to the servers when finished. Maybe they get free places for vacations? This isn’t exactly a Resort, even the pool had been drained. However, when you work all year and get a free vacation it may seem like a wonderful experience. I told Cat of having seen this in the Soviet Union.

October 29, 2005
Ciego de Avila to Sancti Spiritus
85 Kilometers

The included breakfast was worse than the food last night had been. Greasy eggs and bread rolls. No juice but a weak cup of coffee.

We had the desk call a Hotel in Sancti Spiritus. The young guy told her they had rooms. Then he described it as being out of town. We prefer in town so he called Hotel Rancho Hutuey and told us that he had booked a room. We paid the bill and found that he’d added $2.00 for the calls.

Rural, bumpy road. Stopped for lunch in Jatibonico. The restaurant with a sign for pizza was unfriendly, turned us away. Told us to come back in an hour. The woman said there is no other Pizza I town. (Obviously a Government operated restaurant.) At a Cafeteria down the street the nicer lady informed us that they were out of food then pointed across the street. A wonderful street merchant had a little box stove and was cooking really good pizza. I went across to Oro Negro Service Station for soft drinks. We sat on a little wall and watched locals watch us. A truck full of cabbage pulled up. The nice gal from across ran and got 2 heads, she now has at least some food. Then a guy with the Pizza man did the same. More memories of the Soviet Union.
53 Chevy Herd & Pasture Sancti Spiritus
Cattle & Palms Cabbage Truck Rio Tuinucu
Casa Rio Tuinucuc  

Through Sancti then up a hill and out of town following directions of several. Finally found the place only to be told, again, that they were fully booked. We began to complain and told them about the call this morning. A guy standing nearby, Alfredo, signaled for us to wait. The clerk hemmed and hawed then finally told us we would have room 415, up the hill away from the restaurant. The rate is $55 CUC or about $66.00 US. High but then it is a room and it does include breakfast.

Pushing out of the Reception area we ran onto a group of Brits. Several wanted to talk and did ask questions. We answered as best we could but were anxious to get to a nice hot shower.

Alfredo Rides

Alfredo RidesAs we began to push Alfredo hooped out a congrats on getting the room then chided us for walking up the hill. I offered him my bike, he accepted the challenge and rode to the top while his pals yelled out praise and encouragement. .

 Alfredo Rides

We get CNN in English, that is, sound only. Our room has 3 beds. We pulled the bikes inside. I noticed a squished frog on the door frame. Alfredo said poor frog and asked for toilet paper. He removed it and we both felt badly for the loss. Life here is tough, even for frogs.

Cold water shower, hard to believe at this high rate. I called and the desk said they’d send someone? After a 29 minute wait we waded into the cold.

A Glass of wine while we shivered dry and listened to CNN then off to dinner. We took our bottle along and it was a good thing. They did have white wine but at $20 per bottle. They allowed ours, even iced it and opened it. We were seated in the entry area because the main dining room was full of Brits and Germans, this is a tourist stop.

Chris and Eileen

Chris & EileenTwo of the English tourists, Chris and Eileen, asked to sit with us. What a joy to chat in English. He was in Sales and Marketing but recently downsized his career. He’s teaching for less money but enjoying it a great deal more. Eileen works 3 days a week, too.

A pretty good buffet. We made several trips.

Back at 415, we found a large frog had taken up residence. Chased him for a while then lost him under the furniture. A Saturday Larry King re-run that had an occasional picture kept us awake for abut 20 minutes.

Sunday, October 30, 2005
Sancti Spiritus to Santa Clara
103 Kilometers
An unfortunate missed turn added about 16 to the rainy day ride.
A Family of Frogs

Lil FrogAs Cat lay relaxing a frog jumped from the wall onto her bed. She shrieked as she jumped up. Memories of poison frogs in Central America danced in her head. The frog seemed more filled with fear than she. He took off in large jumps and ended up near the door. Our effort to get him out failed and he leapt under the dresser. Then, a Mom sized jumper climbed the wall and squeezed into a crack near the ceiling. To complete the invasion a baby sized cutey came hopping across the floor. We have been invaded. It made getting up and going was easy for Cat.

The included buffet breakfast is the best we’ve had here in Cuba. Eggs, bacon, fresh fruit. Rate has its privileges. We sat, enjoyed and listened to tourists compare notes in British and German accents. We paid the bill on the way out and promised to leave the key with the Chambermaid.

:Chris Brings WaterAlfredo’s Bike Loaded, we looked but failed to find the housekeeper. We coasted down the drive that Alfredo had peddled up yesterday then it was up to me to walk up the steep drive and return the key. Inside, I met Chris and Eileen and bid them our goodbyes. As I tried in vain to buy a bottle of water Chris insisted on giving us theirs. He rushed off to their room then met us on the street below. He’s a club cyclist and knows the need for water. Our buddy Alfredo came past on his motorbike as we headed out the drive.

IRaisin’ CaneFidel & Chet’s an up and down ride on a narrow road for 27 Ks, back to the Autopista.

Lunch, the last two sandwiches they had a roadside restaurant. Two nice young guys worked hard to serve us then help us get the bikes inside as it started to pour House & Mountain rain. We ate slowly and hoped for a break in the weather. When it dwindled to drizzle we pushed off as the boys waved goodbye. Within just a few minutes we were in a wind driven downpour.

Onward, past kilometer marker 267 where I had estimated we would find Santa Clara. It is pouring rain and the wind is blowing hard but favorably. Then, at marker 254 we talked with a couple of guys getting ready to fish the rushing river below. They pointed back and said, “Diez kilometers”. We’d missed the turn off and overshot by 10 Ks. .

Back to a little bar in the center divider. Hopeful of hooking a ride, we talked with people there, even offered to pay a guy with a roof rack on his Lada to take us to town but he declined. After a failed attempt at calling he suggested trying the Service Station further back up the road. Cycling back is tough, torrents of wind driven rain in our faces.

The people at the Station were less than helpful. We split a pizza as we weighed our options then decided to ride. Another 2 Ks and the a turn off the Autopista to the left, left us facing the full force of the wind. Cat’s front shifter is not getting low gear, this is a constant problem when our hands are wet. We had to walk one hill A young guy ran then walked along with us, shivering and asking for a t-shirt or a pen.

A long 6 Ks into town then we were lost. The best news after an entire day in need of some, the rain stopped. Asking and asking we finally found signs for Hotel Santa Clara Libre, one that Alfredo had recommended. Through narrow city streets in a mist, we finally found the Hotel at 5:30 PM.

Soaked and shivering, we checked in. They had us leave the bikes in a locked, air conditioned room with their computer system. Our ears and fingers froze as we removed the necessary bags with clothing and computer inside.

Our room is on the 5th floor. Two more pieces of good news, the wonderful old elevator works, even has an elevator operator with white gloves. The second, and even better than the elevator news, HOT WATER!

Warm showers, then off to dinner upstairs on floor 10. Red Cuban wine, only. Food is good but portions small. The price was surprisingly large.

Hector PlaysHector played song after song on his upright piano. We sang along, to his delight, as he played a medley of Steven Foster tunes. Then when he got to big band show tunes we continued to sing along, even danced.

Beso Me Mucho

Our request that they program CNN in English was denied. Cat watched a little Spanish language TV, I went to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

October 31, 2005
Halloween and a Day Off in Santa Clara

Included breakfast is so small it’s hardly worth the wait for the elevator then the extremely slow service.

Met a young couple from Seattle, they must be here without official sanction, too. They’re pretty nervous about talking. They sat down, waited, asked questions then left. They’d been told that they could order eggs, there is no selection here other than tiny ham and cheese sandwiches supplemented with a box of pear juice and a cup of coffee. Another sandwich or extra bread will cost extra. We are out of CUC so had to leave with a slight hunger still swirling in our stomachs.
Plaza & Street Bike & Cops Banco
Blue Building Chic Chica Hotel Santa Clara Libre
Provincial Palace Hotel Central Teatro

Down and out, we fell in line at the Bank. Cat asked if they change Mexican Pesos, the guy at the door said yes. I walked around the Plaza taking pictures. She came back out as I finished. She had waited all this time only to find that they don’t change Pesos.

Down the street, another bank. They do change but it was a sit and wait situation. I wanted a picture of the picture hanging on their wall. Fidel with an AK 47 held on high. The guard quickly moved to me and motioned, no pictures. I questioned, even sort of argued but he was adamant and he was the one with the gun. We’d slipped the 1995 500 Peso bill into our stack. This bank didn’t seem to have a problem or missed it as they counted and re-counted.

We got our wet cloths to the Chamber Maid. Don’t you hate that name, Chambermaid? Sounds very subservient and un-Socialist, don’t you think? She promised to have them washed and dry before going home at 6:00 PM.

Internet for an hour, Wally got the Central America Journal Pages posted so there are hundreds of messages. Saw the young Seattle couple again, they have found a Casa Particular and the woman cooked them a good breakfast.

Pizza for lunch. Found an inexpensive white wine and water. Shopping is a real chore here.

On The Trail of Che

Hired a taxi and visited the Che Memorial where he and 17 others killed in Bolivia are enshrined. Interesting, its Soviet style art with a huge statue and stones etched with stories of bravery.
Che Fidel Quote Che
Monument & Crypt Moscow Sky  

Then he drove us to a statue of Che with a child. Finally to the site where Che and his cadre of 80 derailed a troop and ammo train and defeated 408 Batista troops. Sounds more and more to us as though the Batista guys weren’t very motivated, or, could it be that the winners wrote the history.
Che & Child Train Monument Train Monument
Shots Heard Round The World!    

Tired of eating out and the high prices, we found Cheeseburgers at the adjacent Cafeteria. They’re unbelievably inexpensive, like all things paid for in Cuban Pesos. Fifty Pesos for both and, they’re pretty good sized, too.

Sitting in our room, enjoying fabulous tasting burgers and an HBO Movie in English when someone flipped a switch and we lost part of the moment of joy. The movie channel disappeared and was replaced by a Cuban all Spanish political show.

So, it’s early to bed.

November 1, 2005
Santa Clara to Colon
112 Kilometers
Where Are Our Clean Cloths?

A bit of panic, our laundry didn’t make it back to us last night. A call to the Desk and reassurance then off, up in the classic elevator, to breakfast. Same tiny sandwiches, little box of pear juice and a cup of less than inspiring coffee.
Santa Clara Plaza Santa Clara
Tower Old Church  

Back in the room, and our clothing is still on the missing list. So, we decided to pack as best we could and go down to the bikes. As we emerged from the elevator our clothing came to us in a strangers hands. No sign of our friendly laundry lady? The guy wanted more than the 2 CUC she had quoted. We stood our ground since they missed getting them back to us last night, as promised.

Joel & Alex Cat ran next door and bought 2 larger sandwiches for less than ¼ the price of those upstairs. We bagged them, as back up just in case we can’t find food on the road. Finally out the door at 9:30 AM.

Jose, On His Way to Havana

JoseIt was an ask, ask morning trying to get out of town. We had to backtrack all the way to the Highway. Along the way we met Jose. Wrapped in burlap, he seems to be on a religious journey. His little wagon is covered with sayings, maybe some of our bi-lingual friends can interpret for us? We tried to chat but fell short on language skills. He did tell us that he too is going to Havana however, his journey won’t have him there until December. Cat shuttered at the thought. She’s really thinking about the easy life back in Mexico.

El Camino National, The Bumpy Road

Off and on rain did keep things cooler as we rode through countryside and rice fields. Note, we’ve now left the Autopista and are riding on the Camino National. It’s an older road, one guy we talked with called it the bumpy road and it is. A lot of the pavement is either broken up or been covered with a new layer and they forgot to iron out the bumps. Pueblos are few and far between. We saw a couple of little stores but decided to go with the sandwiches and drinks we have on board. So, we found a shady spot and ate as the rest of the Cuban world, what little there is of it out here, continued to roll by.
Old Tree & House Cane to Palms River
Bridge to Cart Church  

TomasOhio StateLater, at a stop for a soft drink a guy named Tomas came walking around the building and was shocked to meet us. He asked where we were going and when we told him in our halting Spanish he said, “Oh my god”! Very nice guy. Then a couple of others stood and listened as we struggled to talk. I took their picture because one wore an Ohio State U. shirt. (We have friends whose son is attending there on a full Hockey Scholarship. Can you believe that a California kid can skate that well? He started as an inline skater then graduated to the ice.) The other had a hat with “Miami Heat” on it.

The Little Train Called George Washington

As we passed a brewery, Cerveceria, the guys all called out, inviting us in for a beer. Sorry guys but just a little too early for drinking. Then a strange sight, a little old steam engine named George Washington and a monument to our First President?
G. Washington Train George Horse & Goat
Cerveceria Man On Windmill Curious Cowboy
Morning Cheers Big Ox Colon

 Otto and Lazaro Find a Room

Taxi TrikeOtto & LazaroThe long ride finally had us in Colon at 5:00 PM. We pulled into the Service Station and asked about a Hotel. Otto, the attendant, pointed across the street but told us he thought they were fully booked with students in town for a meeting. He went across, checked then returned with the bad news. What about Casa Particulars? They asked around and told us that there are none in town. We were really getting concerned but Otto told us to relax, they’d help us find a place. He whistled and a young boy on a small bike wheeled in. Lazaro listened then set off on a quest to find a room. We got beers and sat on the ground, near the bikes. One beer, no word from Lazaro. Two beers, still no word. Worried, we really didn’t want more beer, we needed a shower.

A couple of other guys came over and asked if we needed a place to stay. They’d been drinking and Otto signaled for us to disregard them. We just shook our heads, “No”. It almost felt like they were testing us. At last, Lazaro came wheeling in with good news. He’s found a place but we have to wait until after 6:30? Darkness we assume? Obviously this is another unlicensed Casa. We could care less but understood the reason. Otto shook our hands and sent us following Lazaro.

Lozara, Renier and Andrea

About 6 blocks off the Highway, we rode to the gate of a nice looking place, a guy threw the gate open and urged us to enter, quickly. Renier took us to the back side of their garage. It has been converted into an almost complete apartment. The bed is large and comfortable. They have a tape player with romantic songs? Is this a Sex Hotel? Even a mirror sort of appropriately placed. There’s a refrigerator with beers in it. Pressure off, I had that 3rd cool one.

Lazara & RenierAndreaRenier and his girl friend, Lazara, told us that they have no food for dinner but yes, we could use the kitchen. After a very refreshing shower we went to the house where Lazara and Andrea, Renier’s Mom, helped us with pots, pans then dishes. We had a very good meal at the family’s dining table. Pasta with a can of Tuna on top.

9:00 PM as we cleared the table. Weary from the long ride and wait, we went right to bed.

November 2, 2005
Colon to Matanzas
89 Kilometers

A knock on the door at 7:00 AM. They really want us out early to avoid problems. By the way, it seems that anything before 9:00 AM is early here in Cuba. We pushed out, shook hands with Renier and Andrea then slipped out the gate, hopefully un-noticed by neighbors, and pedaled away.

The No Gringos Bakery

There are no restaurants open. Not even the Service Station place where we got the beers yesterday. The sign says “Abierto 24 Horas” but that ain’t so. Otto wasn’t there, the new guy had no idea where we might find food. Cat saw a line up for fresh bread across the street. We pushed over and she fell into the line. That caused a stir? Then a gal came to her and in English said, “This bakery is for local people only”? Then, she bought 4 rolls and gave them to us? So, that was the deal Remember when we were searching for lunch more than a week ago when Mary, Milda and one armed Juan gave us the rolls? These very low cost stores and bakeries are for the hard working, low paid locals.

Brain Surgeons earn $20, Teachers Here $10

3 blocks down the street we saw what looks like a bar but people are carrying food out. They did have ham sandwiches. We ordered, fearing this might be the only food in town. As we ate a fellow walked up and spoke to us in very good English. Miguel is a High School Math Teacher. He is a bit bitter with the way the system works. He told us that he teaches Math and Languages and is paid the same as all teachers here, 250 Pesos per month. He even did the math for us, “That’s $10.00 US Dollars and these shoes I wear cost $20.00”. Imagine, 2 months work just to buy shoes. He says that he would make more living in Havana but the cost of living is more, there and you must get approval to make the move. Sure they have stores where basic food is cheap and they subsidize rent and utilities but his anger is directed toward the new CUC stores. “First you have to change money which costs money”. he said. “Then you find prices that are so much higher than wages that a family can’t even afford to buy a toy for their child”. We’ve seen the way people stand against the windows of these stores looking longingly at the untouchable or at least unaffordable items inside.

More off and on rain as we rode through more farmland. Then Limonar, a Pueblo off the Highway. We took a turn into small dirt streets looking for food. It was not easy, even getting through the little streets and finally into town. Cat spotted a lady carrying a Pizza. She pointed and told us that there is a house, casa, where they make them. It was just that, a house. The family cooking were working hard at their free enterprise and hungry people like us were lining up. We sat in the shade, across the street, and ate the tasty morsels. They attract more than people, the street is buzzing with a cloud of flies. We were using a lot of energy keeping them off our Pizzas.
Lovely Palm Big Fins Tree & Horse

Ice Cream Man While we shooed and ate several people walked past eating soft ice cream cones. Ah dessert! The same great ice cream, the same The guy dispensing was fun to listen to and watch. He laughed and joked with his customers, may of which were kids from the adjacent school. I wanted a picture of all the kids but when I pulled the camera out a woman teacher put up a hand and said, “No photo”. I argued as the kids posed. I even cheated out a couple of shots but the telephoto was set too close.

Matanzas HarborMatanzas Cathedral Getting into Matanzas has its ups and downs. We pedaled hard up and across a bridge and into heavy traffic only to learn, after asking, that we had passed the street to the Plaza. Back op and over then up, into town. Our guide book suggests that there are 2 Hotels. One it says is under re-construction. As we found the one the book advises is an classic built before the turn of the 20th century a couple of guys found us. They sort of fought a war of words trying to get us to follow them. Each was touting a Casa Particular. Both were saying that neither Hotel is open. Disbelief, I went inside and, as they’d said, the Hotel was closed for repairs, only the restaurant is open. The waiter also confirmed that the other place was still closed, too.

So, we were at the mercy of the 2 touts. One, began stressing the fact that he was a Taxi Driver. He doesn’t want money, he will take us to a nice Casa that sends customers to him. He won the battle but as we walked away the other guy muttered something about “Ladron”, thief and sort of warned us to be careful.

Now our new guide, Elio, continues to insist that he only wants to make more business for his taxi. When I asked where his Taxi was, he said, “At home”. The more we’re around him the less we like him. He keeps a running patter and doesn’t listen. At the door of the Casa he says belongs to his friends a woman answered the bell and told us that she is fully booked. Elio’s credibility last another notch. We now think that he asks the Casa owners for money. The woman spoke with him in Spanish. We got some of the conversation, she has friends who have a room. I actually had to ask Elio to shut up a couple of times as she spoke.

She insisted on writing the names and address of her friends. Elio was insisting that he didn’t need it, I insisted that we did. I even blatantly questioned whether she knew Elio. She didn’t. Then she called and another woman came to the door. She told us in Spanglish that her friend would take us to the friends place. Elio knew that he was in trouble.

Isidro and Noelia

We pushed and followed as he chattered with the woman. Isidro and Noelia greeted us at the door. They thanked the woman and dismissed Elio. We think he was trying to tell them how he had brought us to them but Isidro just waved him off. We thanked him.

The house is really wonderful, as wonderful as the couple, Isidro and Noelia. The room they have for us is downstairs, separated from the house. A nice bedroom with private bath. Yes, they do have warm water, usually. The power is off thus their Suicide Shower won’t work. Isidro had us put the bikes in his little garage next to our room. Then, we just sat, resting and waiting for electricity. I made a tour of the house and took pictures.

Tired of waiting, we walked to a store that Isidro says has wine. It didn’t but the clerk sent us to another that did. Back to our wonderful house only to find that the power is still out. So, cold showers.

Dinner by candlelight. Noelia made a fantastic meal of meat and vegetables for an additional 6 CUC. (The room cost 15) Then as we ate she meticulously filled out the paperwork for room rental including our Passport numbers. We’re pretty sure now that meals are a bonus for the Casa operators.
Cookin’ in the Dark Isidro, Noelia & 2 Cats Living Room
Isidro & Noelia, 1953 Isidro & Noelia, 1963  

A Letter to San Pedro

Noelia told us that they’re in their mid 70s and been married since 1953. They have lived in the house for 11 years and operated the Casa for the past 2. They have a nephew living in San Pedro, California. She was excited to hear that we’ll cycle almost past his door in about 4 months. So excited in fact that she wrote a letter and asked us to deliver. Of course we will! We ate our feast by candlelight supplemented by our headlights.

November 3, 2005
Matanzas to Havana
102 Kilometers

GoodbyesAnother windfall profit for Isidro and Noelia, a wonderful breakfast for us. She cooked eggs, banana strips fried like bacon with toast and blended guava juice. They both stood worrying as we pushed through the house and lifted over the door jamb. What wonderful people, the kind that you feel you’ve known all your life. A hand shake for Isidro and kiss on the cheek for Noelia. Cat got kisses and wished from both.

Imelda & Hilary From Ireland

Back up and over the bridge then around a corner and up. A long slow pull into steep rolling hills. Moving slowly we ran into wind and drizzle then out from under the dark clouds and into a couple of gals on bikes. Hilary and Imelda are from Ireland. One form the north and the other from the Republic of Ireland. They both live and work in Dublin. They’re on day 1 of a 2 week cycling trip here in Cuba. A sort of Resort to Resort trip. They’ll complete their ride in Trinidad. Imelda was having trouble shifting. I looked and found the rear derailleur was loose. A twist of the allen wrench and hopefully the problem was solved? Also, her seat was loose, not a good thing to ride on.
Matanzas Harbor To Habana Hills & Palms
Countryside Imelda & Hilary Cyclin' Irish

Claudina, Eloy and Nintendo

Once we got on the downhill run it took us all the way down and back to the coast. Hungry, we pulled into Santa Cruz del Norte. Asking for Pizza we found a Cafeteria that looked pretty bad. The guy there shook his head regarding Pizza then pointed to a house next door. We pushed over and a guy on the sidewalk agreed with him then called out. A woman came to the door and somehow got the point across that she isn’t cooking today. As we turned to go back to the Cafeteria she started telling us that she could make something for us. Claudina is a hostess with the mostess. She invited us to park the bikes inside her yard then come inside.
Roadside Café Toward Havana Vacero
Burn Off Other Tourists Caribbean
Ox & Caribe Hairless  

Eloy & FriendsClaudina & Mom, MirtaShe seated us in rocking chairs near her 14 year old son Eloy. He’s lying on a mattress playing a Nintendo Wrestling Game. One of his friends is playing against him and another is watching. For us it was like watching our Grandkids. Then as Claudina brought eggs and bread out to explain that she would make us an omelet she explained that Eloy has a Liver Infection. It’s pretty serious, he’s supposed to stay down and rest. When relatives in the US heard they sent the Nintendo Game to him. A really good gift for a sick boy. Especially when the boy lives I Cuba. It’s impossible to buy this kind of thing here even if you have the money. Claudina asked if it is expensive. We cold only guess that it must be at least $150.00. That really made her smile, perhaps knowing that her relatives care so much for her and her son.

Shawnee, Oklahoma?

Another surprise, after she served us a very good omelet with cheese and lots of bread she brought an envelope out to show us. It’s from relatives of her Father. The amazing thing, they live in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the little town my Mother was born in. It took some doing but we think we got that across to her. After all that and with full stomachs we paid her the 1 CUC she asked for. Maybe the regular price or maybe a deal for 2 interesting foreigners?

Back at it, we still have 50 Ks to cycle into Havana. The ride is fairly flat along the coast and through one of Cuba’s small oil areas. There are wells pumping right on the beach, a lot like Southern California. We were betting that if they found a lot of oil here we’d get beyond the barbaric embargo real quickly.
Model A Coast Little Light House
Beach Café Coastal Oil New Well

Cat Gets Strip Searched

A stop for soft drinks at a big traffic circle in big traffic and we learned that we have to cross the Bay of Havana on a Ferry. There is a tunnel but bicycles aren’t allowed. Then it was ask, ask, ask until a young girl said, “Turn here then just straight to water”.
Stacked Flats Playa Del Este Big Blue

It was farther than we thought and tough riding in the now rush hour traffic. We arrived at the Ferry at 5:30 PM. The crowd of people were pressing against the chain link fence ready to get on board and get home. The guard motioned for us to follow a woman with a baby carriage. Inside the gate another more surely Policeman asked me to open my bags. I argued a bit then obeyed and opened the one on the handlebars. He poked around then asked what else we had. I told him cloths and camping things. He waved me through. Cat followed the Baby Carriage Lady and her Police Person, a big and even more surely looking Woman demanded that she open all bags. I complained, my now friendly fellow also argued or at least told her that he was satisfied. She let him know that she wasn’t and demanded that we empty all bags.

So, we began taking bags off and stacking them on her table. I made sure that we were holding up the others in line. They were trying to push past but I stood my ground as we took bags off Cat’s bike. The woman, true to her warning, had us take every bag off and open them. We again held our ground as we returned the bags to the bike racks. Cat was a bit embarrassed but my strategy was that the boat wouldn’t leave us if we still had others behind. Good strategy, we did get aboard just ahead of them pulling out. (Okay, she only made Cat strip the bags off the bikes, not her clothing off her backside.)

On board we met Stefan from Germany who is traveling with Enda and Eion from Ireland. They just met at a Hostel and Stefan finds moving around in 3’s preferable to being a loner. They helped Cat get her bike off the Ferry and we posed for a photo.
Fishing Fleet Havana Harbor Stefan, Enda & Eion

Thank goodness for the map that Wilber sold us and for Isidro and Noelia who called a family friend and arranged a Casa for us here. We cycled along the waterfront and onto the World Famous Havana Malecon. The damage from Hurricane Wilma is obvious. Parts of the Malecon wall are gone and several places on the street have just been repaved.
Wedding Church Observatory
Cristo de la Habana Old Cars & Old Flats Fort
Havana Cat & Fort Havana
Malecon Buildings    

The sun was setting as we rolled up to the Hotel Cohiba, our meeting place with Marvin, the son of the House Owner. Here again we found ourselves in the midst of another caravan of classics. The famous old cars of Cuba were picking up Hotel Guests for a cruise around town on the way to dinner. These tourist groups really keep the Car Owners busy.

I went into the opulent Lobby and felt a little out of place. Sweaty and more than likely smelly, I asked the Concierge for a telephone. He looked me up and down then pointed to the communication center. They have phones and computers available. The woman pointed to a telephone. I dialed and Marvin answered. He asked that we wait while he walks to meet us. “Don’t worry”, he said. “We are very close”.

He walked up in about 10 minutes and we followed him into the darkness. They must have been running on a generator at the Cohiba because the neighborhood was dark as pitch. The walk was a bit of a struggle in the darkness or lights of passing cars. The real struggle however came at Marvin’s house. Actually an apartment on the 2nd floor. Fortunately Marvin grabbed the back of each bike and once he understood not to lift just push we moved then up, quickly. Boy was I tired.

We pulled our headlights out of the bag and wondered why we hadn’t thought of them when walking from the Hotel. Cat began cooking rice and canned meat from our bags while Marvin walked with me to the local Cafeteria for beers. (There is no wine nearby.)

We decided to eat while waiting for the electricity that is needed to heat the water.

Another dining experience by head lamp light. Marvin’s Mom, Chela, told us, with his help translating, of how deep the water had been and how afraid she was during the darkness of Wilma. The flat is just a half block from the Caribbean and the storm surge had flooded to about 8 feet deep here. Cat could relate to Chela’s fear.

All conversation ended when Marvin left for the evening with his girlfriend. There are others here but none speak English.

The wait for warm ended, we were too tired. So, its cold showers and into bed.

November 4, 2005
A Walk Around Havana

The lights are on but still the water is cold? Marvin was up early, dressed fit to kill and headed for a Commercial Show that we’ve seen advertised all over Cuba. He’s really excited about the possibilities for a young guy. He has told us that he’s so glad we’re here so that he can practice his English. He’s 28 years old and still a student. His idea is to find work in the Tourism Profession, hopefully at a Hotel where he’ll make a better than average living when tips are included. Our bet is that those who dole out such jobs are getting kickbacks. We didn’t ask, no reason to burst his bubble.

Some Want Change, Some Fear Change!

Marvin took time to talk a bit about his family. His Father died of a stroke 8 years ago. Chela is a Breast Cancer Survivor. She had a partial mastectomy 2 years ago. He wants to get to the US or see things here change so that he can make big money. She’s convinced that if she left or things change here she’d be at risk without the Health Insurance she has. Marvin even told us that he was considering going to Mexico to find a woman to marry. He says that lots of young Cuban guys are doing that to eventually get to the US. We asked how his girl friend felt about it and he said, “She knows it is only business, the only way to get the USA”. So, it’s just like the feelings I saw in the Soviet Union in 1989. Older people who have worked all their lives for the system want, feel that they’ve earned it for support in their Golden Years. The young and ambitious want change and they want it now, one way or the other!

Marvin left and all conversation stopped. Chela took her position in front of the Television. Daniel is Marvin’s brother who lives with their Grandmother. Assef’s a Syrian, here studying to be a Pharmacist. They don’t speak English and we think that they are embarrassed to try.

Most of our day was spent walking to The Havana Libre Hotel to see Wilber then walking back. It was a day of photos, most of those wonderful old cars. We did meet Wilber and promise to return his Lonely Planet tomorrow. We also confirmed that we could bring the bikes over in the morning and leave them with the Bellmen tomorrow morning.

Poverty Sucks! sure

Wilber called a friend at Cubano Air and got the exact cost for the Departure Tax and the per kilo cost for our overweight baggage. We, especially Cat, have been scraping by, not spending a penny more than we have to. Poverty just doesn’t fit into our lifestyle. The news Wilber got for us leaves us with about 13 CUCs a day expendable cash. As the old saying goes, Poverty Sucks!
Old Chevy Old House Free the Five
Rockland, NY Torpedo Chevy
Molting ‘49’ Ford ‘57’ Chevy Hump Back Caddie
Chevy Woody Camel  

Wilber doesn’t work tomorrow so we got his address and made an appointment to stop by to meet his wife and new baby boy. He apologized in advance for the condition of his home. He lives near Chela’s place in a first floor flat. The water was up to his chest before it finally started to subside.

Fidel, in Our Hotel

There’s a photo display in the Lobby of Fidel and his fellows back in 1959 when they took Havana by storm. This was the Hilton in those days. Castro and his boys took over the 17th floor and it became Revolution Headquarters. They also have a display of posters decrying the incarceration and mistreatment of The Cuban 5, five guys that tried to liberate Elian Gonzales from the clutches of his Uncle in Miami. You remember the story, his Mother took him for a boat ride, the boat went under, she died he survived. Her family held him during the International struggle for his custody. We didn’t remember these 5 guys but we do remember that The US Attorney General finally realized that under US Law the Father would prevail. So, the US Government rescued Elian and he was sent back to his Father, here in Cuba. We’d have to know more about the case but it seems silly to hold these 5 guys for LIFE given the outcome of the situation??? We’d seen a school bus earlier, donated by Rockland County New York with a demand on the side. “Free the 5 Cuban Political Prisoners”.
Fidel Takes Hotel Cuban Important Trial
Those 5 Unjust?  

Emily From Vancouver, BC

Emily from BCAs we read the posters Emily walked up and asked if we were cycling the World. She saw the shirts and out strange suntans then put 2 + 2 together. She too is a cyclist, not here or now but she has cycled from her hometown, Vancouver, Canada to Panama a couple of years ago. She’s here studying Spanish. Here class was cancelled but the Professor is tutoring her privately. Much better she says.

The walk back was as full of old car photos as walking up was. The crowd is limited to non-English Speakers again so we took a rest in out room under the air conditioner. We also have a TV but receive only 2 or 3 channels. They cut in and out sometimes right in the middle of a show? One has a pretty good English lesson playing. One is a sort of Cuban Soap Opera and the 3rd is Fidel. He does ramble of course we don’t get most of it but today he’s telling the story of the Cuban Heroes that fought in Angola. That overthrow of Government brought back the memories of the 80 year old twin brothers we met in Lagos, Portugal. Remember, they said that they had been Princes before the war and now they play music on the Promenade.
Opel Don Quixote Austin
Martin Luther King in Cuba Church Wilma Flooded
‘54’ Ford Nash Rambler Chrysler
Blue Mystery? ‘57’ Chevy Casa Flora

Our on board supplies are dwindling. Cat cooked Macaroni and Cheese with canned meat stirred in. We drank beers and enjoyed the feast.

Marvin came in as we ate. He took a seat, smoked one cigarette after another and asked us to find an American Woman who would marry him. We tried to convince him to stop smoking at the same time. He’s a nice young guy but might have problems adjusting to life in the USA. He has a pretty good life here. Chela too complains but they both have baubles and trinkets like watches and jewelry. The house is very nicely furnished and they both spend a lot of time on the telephone. Yes, Marvin even has a cell phone and it’s glued to his ear a lot of the time. After a long call and cigarette he resumed his plea for an American Wife, strictly business. We told him we’d inventory our list of friends.

November 5, 2005
Makin’ the Move

Breakfast, the last of our cereal. We also threw the remaining powdered milk away. It has suspect looking little black things in it. Boy, are we glad that this chapter of our lives is coming to a close.

Marvin helped us get the bikes down the stairs. We cycled out to the end of the Malecon then circled back to Wilber’s. He really is mopping and cleaning. His Mother-in-Law, Isabela, was working at it too. There’s a line at a water tank across the street. They still don’t have good drinking water here. Doris speaks a little English, too. We met Gabriel and they showed us their Wedding Pictures. The bikes were leaned against the wall near the door.
Marvin & Bici Waterfront Isabela Mops
Waiting for Water Isabela Wilber, Doris & Gabriel
Studying Air Ticket Gabriel Good Bye

If a Cubana Hocks a Luggy, Turn the Other Cheek

As we went out to leave Cat yelped. I thought she had been bitten by a bug? No, the Woman upstairs had leaned out and hocked a luggy as the kids used to say. She spit off the balcony and hit Cat on the cheek. It wasn’t intentional, in fact the woman sent her daughter down to apologize. Awe, just another unforgettable Cuban moment.

Wilber, Doris, Isabela and Gabriel

It was good seeing Wilber in his family mode. He’s really proud Father. He showed us the line on the wall left by the flood. It was about 4 feet deep. Then told us that the Government had already replaced their mattresses and a delivered a new TV. Most of their other furniture is salvageable. We stood sort of prolonging the sweet sorrow then finally hugged, cheek kissed and cycled away as they waved.

After walking and the City we had no problem getting back to The Libre. The Bellmen on duty knew nothing of our arrangement to leave the bikes here, today. I followed as the Captain went to the Front Desk and expressed his disappointment. Then I clarified that we were guests of the Hotel but wouldn’t check in until tomorrow. He conceded on the condition that we take the bikes to our room tomorrow immediately upon check in. We loved that, we’d feared that we’d have to fight them over taking bikes to the room.

A Visit to Habana Vieja

So, with the afternoon to ourselves we took a taxi to Habana Vieja, Old Havana. The area is almost as quaint and picturesque as Old Cartegena. Narrow lanes lined with old stone buildings. Plazas full of music and life. Here its all Cigars and Music. Women and guys dressed in funny cloths pose for photos with a big cigar. I chose a cute looking gal with thick glasses. Hope the picture does her justice.
Fort & Flag Street Performers Book Sales
Restaurant Church Volga
Street Cervantes Street
Couple of Puffers Hemmingway Plaza
Cervantes & Church Street Interesting Art
Jugglers Castle Cannon & Kids
National Police Street Havana ‘46’ Ford
Plymouth Camel Monument
Museum of Revolution ‘55’ Chevy Tank
Olds Revolutionary Truck Cat in Cab

Parade People

Music in Plaza

We lunched and listened to a group play typical and more modern Cuban Music. There’s a good feeling in the air here. This part of Cuba isn’t mired down in the problems of Super Socialism and an Ignorant Embargo. Lots of Tourists from all over the world. Imagine how it would be if “We The People” could easily travel to this wonderful place. We cycled past the Marina where Ernest Hemingway kept his boat on the way into town. There’s a plaque on a Hotel where he spent most of his time while writing “The Sun Also Rises”. By the way, his boat Captain, purported to be source of his story, “The Old Man and The Sea” used to sit on a bench, tell stories of Papa and pose for pictures. That is until he finally expired last year at age 104.

At Home With Chela and Familia

A Taxi back to Chela’s and another dinner in. Tonight is spaghetti with out sauce. When Cat asked about getting bread Marvin took 50 cents and walked to the bakery. He returned with a huge bag of wonderful rolls. So, we do get to share the Socialist advantage. He and friends sat out on the patio smoking. When we finished eating he turned on the music and began to dance. Cat and Chela joined in and it was a party. I got pictures of each of them too. A strange sort of family group, even Assef and his girl friend sort of fit in. I asked him when he will go back to Syria. His answer surprised me, “Probably never”. His Mother and Father have moved to London, he feels that he’ll get a good job there once he has earned his Pharmaceutical degree.
Marvin at Home Chela Chela’s House
Chela’s Furniture Marvin Chela, Girl, Assef, Marvin
Assef & Girl Friend David  

 Havana Dance

Marvin has a friend, Thomas, who lives in San Juan Capistrano. When we told him how close that is to Daughter Lori’s he got Thomas’s address and made us promise to send him and e-mail and meet him as we pass through.

Sunday, November 6, 2005
Back to Luxury, Cuban Style

Moving day and boy ore we ready. First, our last breakfast here wasn’t here. We walked down the street to the local Cafeteria. Here, they once again remind us of the good side of Socialism. Breakfast was the same old same old ham and cheese sandwiches with juice and a cup of coffee for 30 Pesos, just a little over $1.00. This is a real slice of local life. Locals flow in and out, have a bit, talk with neighbors then off to work.

Opulence in the EYE of the BEHOLDERS

For us, we’re off to opulence. Funny but opulence may be a matter of perspective. The Havana Libre was almost a dump in our eyes just 3 short weeks ago. Yesterday we walked the halls of the Libre and were amazed with the way it’s improved while we were away. OR, is it our perspective that’s changed? Well we’ve stayed in some interesting places.

Marvin and Chela called for a Taxi. We were going to walk to the corner and try to flag one down. I had hoped to ride in one of the Classics but Marvin dashed water on that one by explaining the law. Seems that the old cars are Privately owned ole the Casa Particulars. They’re collectivos, that is, they run up and down routes picking up and dropping off locals. The deal is, they're for locals only. He thinks that the driver/owner could lose their pride and joy if they were caught with Gringos on board. So, another downside to this Socialist lifestyle.

Peace Without Freedom is Tasteless,
Freedom Without Peace is Bitter,
We Need a Balanced Diet to Enjoy the Fruits of Life!

You may remember my original thought after visiting The Soviet Union. It’s on the “About Pat & Cat” pages of our site. They did have Peace there but without many of the Freedoms that we on the Western Side have always taken for granted. Then on the other side of the coin, Freedom at the price of ongoing conflicts and war really is bitter. Since that time the Russians have loosened up and now struggle with their issue in Chechnya. As for us, Iraq is an example of ongoing conflicts. What the heck is it all about? AND more importantly, where is our FREEDOM going in this WAR ON TERROR?

Geez, we’ve unleashed that darned Bicycle Philosopher again. Hey, I says it like I sees it!

As promised, we moved the bikes to our room as soon as we were checked in. The rest of our day was spent preparing for tomorrows flight. And, we worked together to re-work the poor beat up plaid plastic bags. Had to use a whole roll of tape to cover the rips and holes.

Havana BayHavana DomeCat went out searching for our last chance for Cuban Country Pizza and found it. Not as good or cheap as that of the little roadside stands but good. I was up to my elbows in grease, getting the bikes ready for travel mode. I’m getting pretty good at it but happy to report that this should be the last time they’ll need this kind of rough treatment. Yup, no more flying after tomorrow. Just the long, Mexican ride, home.

Oh, lest we forget, we watched CNN in English until we’d memorized almost every scene and every word. Cat did her usual flicking and we did enjoy a good movie, too.

Still too poor to eat out, Cat went down to get a bottle of wine from our favorite little store next door. Gad zooks, they close on Sunday? Who ever heard of such a thing, in a Communist Country? So, we’re doomed to a couple of beers before dinner. I for one just don’t care for beer with food? Sorry beer drinking friends but it’s just not the same as a glass of wine.

Cat also pulled supper together by going to the Cafeteria downstairs, ordering then carrying the food back on her arm. Those College days as a waitress finally paid off. The kitchen crew were duly impressed.

Money, Money, Moooonnnneeeey

We think we’re okay on money. What we have should get us past payment of the excess baggage and Departure Tax. There should be a little left over but Cat still has huge anxiety about being stuck in Cuba. Hey, what would they do? What would we do? Wilber says that there are ways to get US Dollars but it takes money to make money here, just like at home. The path includes Western Union fees, the CUC discount and a sizable fee to the facilitator, the Cuban taking the risk.

November 7, 2005
Havana to Cancun

We needed to be up early to be ready when the Transfer Company comes to pick us up. Funny, but we were earlier than early, anxiety is running high. The huge Breakfast Buffet, included and paid for back in Cancun, was a delicious send off. It too seems much bigger today than it did 3 weeks ago.

The Van was a little late which spiked anxiety a bit. Then there was a problem getting the seats to lay back and accept the bikes. We tried to help but the driver was sort of a bull. Maybe that was better, he can’t blame us for the chain oil on the seats.

Bag the Bags and Bikes, For FREE!

All that worry and as we hurried into the Airport we learned that there was a time change. Instead of being 2 hours from flight time we had a 3 hour wait. Well, it did put us at the front of the check-in line. We’d packed the bags but left the zipper open in the event they would need to inspect the contents. The counter man assured us that it was okay to zip them up. I began taping them tightly to avoid bag blowout. He came over and said, “Why you do these”? Then explained that Cubano Air requires that all bags be wrapped before checking in. What a boon for us, they do it FREE. It’s a strange process, very different from the saran thing we’re used to. They have plastic bags they slip over then use a hot air gun to shrink and seal bags and bikes into.

When the counter finally opened the same guy took charge of us. He ticketed us and tagged the bags and bikes. Then he passed them across his scale and said, “You must pay 4 CUC for each Kilo over but I only charge for 10 kilos”. Hey, that’s 20 less than we thought it would be but I couldn’t help asking why 4 CUC since we’d only paid 2 CUC on the way over? He went across the room then returned and said, “Si, you correcto”. Then reduced our cost to 20 CUC. What a good man he is.

Next we paid the expected Departure Tax of 25 CUC each and found that we had money to burn. Well, not enough to do much with but we will be able to pay Taxi fare in Cancun. I even shopped Cigars for a moment or two. I though it might be fun to send Cat’s Dad, Brother and Nephew some. They like to puff together once in a while. The only ones in our price range were sort of generic. The Big Brand Names like Cohiba are incredibly expensive. A box of the best sells for 522 CUC! Sorry guys, no cigars. Hey, they’re bad for your health, anyway! Cat converted our CUC to Euros.

Aboard The Flying Yak

Then through the strange Immigration process. We have to each enter a booth, separately. They do the same intense inspection of our Passports, looking at the picture then back at our faces. When they finish they stamp the Visa and buzz the door at the back of the booth. It’s like Alice going through the looking glass. We both passed the visual inspection and pooped through into the waiting area. They called our flight, we lined up and struck up a conversation with a Dani, a young guy from Spain who’s been living in Colorado for the past 5 years. When we reached the door they pulled us out of line? More anxiety while they took Cat’s boarding pass back to Immigration, they had forgotten to stamp it.

Cubana AirYak - 420At last, we boarded, got our carry-ons stowed and were seated. After a 30 minute wait the Flight Attendant announced that there was a 30 minute delay. So, we sat some more. Now the anxiety was returning, this time fueled by fear of flying especially in a 40 year old Russian airplane. The crew finally went through the pre flight instructions about seat belts and life vests then sat down and we all waited. Another announcement, the delay has been extended and we were invited to accept a sandwich and soft drink while we waited.

Dani From Spain via Colorado

Standing in line for our “Delay Sandwich” we again talked with Dani. He’s an Engineer and has worked with a US firm these past 5 years. Now, he’s taking time off to explore. He just spent a month in Cuba and is planning on another in Mexico before setting off for Central and South America. He talked about how most of us in the US work a lot more than Europeans yet generally have no plans of travel. In Europe he say that most work only to get enough to travel. We can only agree, most of our fellow countrymen have been conditioned with fear of foreign shores.

DaniAt last, we were called back aboard before we got to the counter. We stood our ground, they did away with choices, jammed a sandwich and can of coke into our hands and we dashed back to our seats. Barely time to buckle up and we lifted off. Thanks goodness, the flight was smooth as glass.




Although we were both ready to get out of Cuba, we could have used a few more days. The pressure of being broke and short of time put a small damper on the experience. Life there is definitely different. Shades of the Soviet Union I visited in 1989. A 2 money system, the beginnings of Capitalism? However, a friend in Mexico said that he thinks Cuba is positioned to become a strong country like China. The people do take great pride in their work even though a Brain Surgeon and Cane Cutter make about the same small wages. The Universities are World Class and affordable. Students come from everywhere except the USA, of course.

Speaking of World Class, the Beaches of Belize are definitely that. And, visits to Tikal and Tulum, the Mayan Empires finest are well worth it, too. If you’ve been there we hope we did them justice. If you haven’t maybe it has inspired you?

Keeping Score?

600 Ks Cycled in Belize and the Yucatan.
943 Kilometers Cycled in Cuba
Total 1543 Kilometers or 956 Miles

Total Kilometers Cycled to Date, 32,228.
Total Miles, 21,657