Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cycling Cuba 2018 -- Part 3

Monday February 5, 2018 – Sancti Spiritus to Trinidad

The day starts with a modest breakfast before we hit the road. It was very hot for cycling as we traversed a series of rolling hills. We had one fairly long, but not too steep, climb, and a couple of good downhills. Most of us stopped at a roadside café for coffee and/or fruit juice.
Crab at the coffee stop

We ended at the Manaca Iznaga estate and used the bus as our changing room as we donned more comfortable shorts, shirts and shoes. Several of us climbed the 144 foot tower for an excellent view of the Valle de los Ingenios. From there, we shuttled to Trinidad.

We had a brief walking tour of Trinidad (a city that Kathleen and I had visited in 2003) before having an excellent lunch at a rooftop restaurant. After some delicious appetizers, I had braised lamb for a main course. The dessert was flan and ice cream. It is worth noting that there appear to be far more private restaurants in Cuba now than there were in 2003. In fact, there is far more private enterprise leading to an “inverted economic pyramid.” Most professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. continue to work for the extremely low government salary while entrepreneurs such as restaurant owners, taxi drivers, etc. earn far more. Consequently, fewer and fewer people are entering the university system, and many professionals are turning to other endeavors such as operating a restaurant.

Our tour is classified as a People to People (P2P) visit and to meet US Government requirements, we must engage in a number of P2P activities. These provide a great opportunity to meet and engage with the people of Cuba. This afternoon we had two such opportunities. The first was a visit to the workshop of a woodcarver portraitist and the second to a collective shop established by a group of women embroiderers who have successfully turned their craft into a business.
We share the road with all

Tonight we are staying in a number of different casas particulares, private homes which rent out rooms. David and I are together in one of these. Our hosts offered to prepare dinner, which we agreed to, rather than search out a restaurant. We had a good home-cooked dinner of grilled fish, green salad, black beans and rice, yucca, bread, and ice cream. And, of course, a cerveza (beer).  Because we will be here two nights, we also asked our host to do laundry for us.

We wanted to use WiFi and walked about a block to the office of Etecsa, the nationwide provider of internet services. We were able to buy more access cards (some hotels run out of them), but the connectivity was poor. Directly across the street from our casa particular, however, was a WiFi hot spot with a small cluster of users. We joined them and had good connections.

Tuesday February 6, 2018 – Trinidad Loop

Our hosts prepared a good breakfast with a plain omelet, ham and cheese on the side, guava, fruta bomba (papaya), toast and guava juice. We asked what we owed, and the husband said, $10 each for the dinner and $1.50 each for the beer. What about the laundry? Whatever you wish, he said. So, we left a total of $30 – quite a bargain. (1 CUC is roughly equivalent to $1 US).

Today is a “rest day” with a short bike ride to Playa Ancon, a nearby beach. Traffic was a little hairy on the way out of town, but quickly dissipated, and we had a flat 10-mile ride to the beach. The bus was waiting for us there, and we used it as a changing room so that we could have a quick dip before our picnic lunch. We took a slightly different route home on the bicycles, so the loop was complete – about 20 miles total for the day.

Having been in Cuba a few days now, several thoughts are coalescing. The vintage cars (1950s and even earlier), are everywhere, not just the major cities. Most are working as licensed taxis. On the long stretches of our rides we would see the same cars repeatedly as they worked their shuttle routes. In addition to the old American cars, there are lots of Russian Ladas, old and new. There are also several new taxis including BMWs and Peugeots. And, of course, any vehicle whether pulled by horse or tractor or propelled by a cyclist could serve as a taxi. It seems that you can walk as fast as the bici taxis move, especially with cobblestones, congestion and small hills.

In the afternoon, I returned to central Trinidad and returned to the embroidery collective where I bought a crocheted bag for Kathleen and a linen guayaberra for myself. Then I stopped for a beer on the terrace just off the Plaza Mayor (central square). After a few minutes, an informal ensemble started playing salsa music. It was very enjoyable.

Tonight’s dinner was a very different experience. We went to the roof of our restaurant (Paladar, or private restaurant) and had a group salsa lesson. My main problem was remembering which left foot to put forward first! I think several of us were skeptical about this endeavor at first, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Lisa was my partner. After an hour or so of the salsa lesson, we went inside for dinner. There were lots of choices and I had rabbit which was rather tough. The lobster looked better.
Carolyn and Lee -- let the salsa begin

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