Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cycling Cuba 2018 -- Part 9

Thursday February 15, 2018 – Viñales to Cayo Vista

We started cycling early and reach Cayo Lavisa in time for a great lunch. They served enough to feed our entire group at least four times over. We had lobster (delicious), two kinds of fish, rice and beans, and innumerable salads. Unfortunately, Lisa and Jennifer were sick all day and were unable to enjoy the day’s activities.

En route to the lunch stop, I passed a small fruit stand and stopped to take a photo. The young woman proprietress came out and gave me a guava, which I promptly ate. Delicious. We chatted for a while, giving me another chance to practice my Spanish. When I asked if all the fruits were locally grown, she took me on a brief tour of her “farm” which looked more like an overgrown patch of brush. She showed me where several of the various fruits were growing, including some pineapples.

After lunch we took the ferry to the island where we spent the afternoon on the beach. The 2pm ferry left promptly at 2:32 pm. The beach was fantastic, with very fine white sand, and the water was particularly inviting. The return ferry at 5pm was very crowded. We boarded the bus again for a long shuttle ride back to the hotel in Soroa where we had stayed the previous Sunday.

Friday February 16, 2018 – Soroa to Cabaña, then shuttle to Havana

Today is the last day of cycling. We start out with the opportunity to cycle up the back side of “the wall,” the challenging ride earlier in the week. All but two of us decided to pass up this opportunity and instead ride the shuttle to the top and start our ride from there. I vacillated but ended up taking the shuttle. Mike and David did the climb, and David said that it was actually easier than the front side.

We have a new word to describe the balance of today’s ride – “downulating.” This made up word describes the rolling hills that we traverse on our long descent. It was lots of fun, and I stopped to photograph a group of fishermen pulling a net full of fish from a rather ugly looking pond – not sure that I would want to eat those fish.

We ended the cycling in the small town of Cabaña and had a picnic lunch in the town square. We enjoyed it, except for the presence of an obnoxious beggar that would not take no for an answer.

After lunch, we boarded the bus for the shuttle back to Havana. We stopped in “Fusterlandia” for sightseeing and a group photo. The following description is from our day sheet:

Cuban artist José Fuster’s art is “naïve,” meaning he uses childlike crude shapes and bright colors in his untrained composition. His work has been compared to that of Picasso, a comparison that followed him in successful gallery tours across Europe. After one such tour, Fuster was struck with a desire to recreate something like Gaudi’s public works in Barcelona and Brâncuși’s across Romania in his own homeland. He wanted to put his artistic reality into his real-world surroundings, and he began in his own neighborhood.
In 1975, after moving into a modest wood house in the rundown neighborhood of Jaimanitas outside Havana, Fuster set about decorating his studio in colorful mosaic. Once he was done there, he asked his neighbors if he could decorate their homes and business as well. A few accepted his offer and the tile creations grew. Over the course of a decade, doctors’ offices, bus stops, fountains, benches, gateways, and more were enveloped by Fuster’s whimsical imagination. Today, his artwork coats the neighborhood in a rainbow of strange, enchanting fantasy.

Jaimanitas was an economically depressed area before Fuster arrived, and now it has turned into an artist’s paradise. Tourists are bussed into the neighborhood to admire Fuster’s still-growing kingdom, which has spawned a new generation of artists inspired by the surroundings they came up in.

The Week 2 crew

We reboard the bus which takes us to the Presidente hotel. The air-conditioning in my room is extremely loud, and they will not move me to a different room. The only option is to turn it off and open the window. Fortunately, we are only about two blocks from the harbor, and there is a pleasant cool breeze in the late afternoon and evening.

Most of us return to the restaurant of a week ago (Restaurante Paladar Decameron -- where I had the disappointing shrimp). Tonight, I had octopus with pasta, and it was superb. Although we are in what appears to be a good neighborhood, the restaurant door remains locked and guests have to knock to be admitted. The day ended with a pleasant walk back to the hotel.

Cycling Cuba 2018 -- Finale

Saturday February 17, 2018 – Havana

Although the cycling is over, we had a day full of planned activities. We started with a visit to the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Museum. Nuñez Jimenez was a revolutionary who fought under Che Guevarra, and an academic who was a prolific writer, an explorer, and a collector of a wide range of artifacts. The museum was fascinating.

Following the museum visit, we went to lunch as a group. We had good bread for a change. Our appetizers included octopus, ceviche, croquettes, eggplant and fried plantains filled with cheese. We had a choice of several grilled entrees – I had the excellent pork chops. Others had sea bass which they said was also delicious.

We were on our own for the afternoon, and then regrouped around five for a reprise of the vintage car ride through Havana (for the benefit of the cyclists who joined us the second week). We took a different route this time, so we saw different parts of the city.  The car that I was in was a yellow 1958 Pontiac that had been featured (so the owner told us) in the Hemingway movie, “Papa.” He played early Beatles music on the car stereo as we cruised the city. 

We then walked through a portion of Havana Vieja to a small restaurant where we had our farewell dinner. Unexpectedly, our waiter was wearing winter gloves and sporting a rather obscene t-shirt.
Our Farewell Dinner

Back to the hotel for a final drink on the veranda where we listened to a small but energetic group of musicians playing as some of the patrons danced. Even our waitress got into the act, dancing to the tables while balancing drinks, and then joining the band with some form of percussion instrument (a gourd?) that I did not recognize.

Sunday February 19, 2018 – Heading Home

I spent the morning with a leisurely breakfast, packing, and a final email check before riding to the airport in a taxi with Nancy and Aylan. Check-in was orderly and quick; security much less so. I exchanged my remaining CUCs for Euros and waited for the plane. I noticed that a flight to New York, scheduled to leave about the same time as our flight to Charlotte, was cancelled. I hope that it did not affect any of our group who were heading to or through New York. Two uneventful flights brought me to San Francisco just aft 11 pm, so it was early Monday when I walked in the front door.

In 10 days of cycling, I pedaled 300 miles, seeing all the variety that central and western Cuba has to offer. The trip was full of surprises, shared with a fantastic group of guides and fellow cyclists, and one to be remembered fondly for a long time.


Awaiting me upon my arrival at home was a copy of Liza Gershman’s new book “Cuban Flavor – Exploring the Island’s Unique Places, People, and Cuisine.” I am looking forward to perusing this book given to me by my daughter-in-law, and friend of the author, Carol Morganstern Cunningham.

Cycling Cuba 2018 -- Part 8

Wednesday February 14, 2018 – Viñales

Today is billed as a rest day, but that only means that we will not be cycling. We shuttle through Viñales to the spot where we will begin our hike in the national park. Along the way, we stop to drop off laundry with a contact of Alex.

Another Magote -- "Coco Solo"
We begin the hike along a dirt road and pass all manner of vehicles including wooden sleds pulled by oxen, horses with tourists aboard, motor scooters and taxis.

Our first stop was another tobacco farm, much smaller than the one we saw yesterday. The farmer has a maximum of five employees, but usually manages with only two. We had similar demonstrations to those of yesterday, but on a smaller scale. This farmer, like others in private enterprise, is obligated to provide 95% of his production to the government. He can keep 5% for “personal use,” meaning that he can sell his hand-rolled cigars to tourists like us.
Coffee before the demonstration

There is some confusion in what we are being told – does the farmer have to give 95% or 98% to the government? It doesn’t really make a difference – 95+5, and 98+5, both equal 100% according to the math of the region. The farmer will get his 5%. I bought ten of this farmer’s cigars, primarily to help him, rather than to acquire cigars that I will not smoke. I am sure that I will find friends that will be happy to have one. Our host was also selling coffee beans from his farm.

When in Rome ....

After leaving the farm, we hike through some terrain that was a little more rugged and arrived at an organic farm where we had lunch. We began with piña coladas, with the bottle of rum passed down the table to be added as desired. Then we had an excellent soup, followed by the best pork and chicken so far this trip. There were also deep-fried chunks of tuna which were not to my taste.

After lunch, Alex guided us around the farm. We learned that banana trees produce only one bunch per year. After harvest, they are cut off about a foot from the ground. The following year they will grow to full size producing one more bunch.

On the way back to the hotel we picked up our laundry. My bill was only $5.40 for a few days worth of clothes. Should not have to do any more this trip.

We return to the hotel. They have money today, so I exchange more than I expect to need for the balance of the trip. The surplus can be used as part of the tip for the guides, or can be exchanged at the airport.

The big surprise of the day is that the WiFi is sufficiently strong that I can make an internet phone call to Kathleen. Happy Valentine’s Day! Up until now, the WiFi has been adequate for email and internet browsing, but not good enough to support VOIP phone calls.

 We meet at six to drink some wine that Lisa has had stored on the bus for a few days. Dinner is on our own this evening. A few people wander back into Viñales (for pizza, as it turns out), but I and several others eat at the hotel. The buffet-style dinner is included in the price of our room.