09/03/13 - The Province - Touring Cuba from two wheels
The day started off well, as I was able to reassemble my bicycle - taken
apart and put in a flat box for the flight - in under an hour in front of
the Hotel Barcelo on the western side of the city.
But I had little idea of the anxious moments that awaited me as I and 24
other cyclists mounted up on the way to conquering the streets of Havana
with a ride of just under
two hours to Cacahual, a big hill on the southern edge of the city about 30
kilometres away. The hill is best known for its memorial to several Cuban
patriots of the 19th century.
It was a chance to see the dusty streets of Havana, and its iconic old cars
belching clouds of exhaust, on the first day of a seven-day vacation
organized by Vélo-Québéc Voyages, the travel wing of the big cycling
organization that offers trips in many parts of the world.
The plan was to head off by bus the next day to Pinar del Rio, the western
province where the best cigar tobacco is grown, for several days of cycling
on quiet country roads. We also would have a day off relaxing at Cayo
Levisa, which has one of the island's many fabulous beaches.
But the beginning of our first day was not a glorious one for me. A
figurative stick in the spokes forced me to stop a few blocks from the
hotel. My handlebars were turned too low and they needed a fix. Daniel
Desroches, also riding at the back of the pack, noticed me stopping and he
doubled back to help. I readjusted the handlebars easily, but when we
looked up, our fellow cyclists had vanished. We rode a few more blocks
looking for our group, but there was no sign of anybody.
For some people - including myself - there is nothing quite so unsettling
as being lost in a foreign city with no map and only a smattering of the
language. But the highly experienced Desroches - who has been on many
cycling and camping trips in Europe with his wife, Diane - showed no sign
of panic. "Let's have an ice cream cone," he said as we spotted a street
vendor. And he calmly reached into his saddlebag for a map of the city.
A few minutes later, we pulled into a gas station, where Desroches scored a
big success. Not only did he get directions to Cacahual, a driver suggested
we follow him for 15 kilometres to a point near the José Marti Airport,
where we would make a right turn and follow signs to the hill.
Havana seems to be full of residents ready to make a kind gesture to
visitors, and there was no shortage of people in our group with tons of
cycling experience and resourcefulness. Put them together and problems
On the streets of Havana on that Sunday, residents were out in droves
enjoying their day off. They walked casually on sidewalks and gravitated to
the parks for picnics and baseball. Desroches and I pedalled furiously to
keep up with our guide in the car. Fortunately, he had to stop at
intersections and we were able to catch up. He waved goodbye near the
airport and we headed up to Cacahual.
When we arrived, there was no sign of our group. Despite getting lost, we
had managed to hit our destination before the others.
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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