Saturday, 25 December 2010

Cycling for one day in Cuba

I couldn't leave Cuba without a cycling experience and it wasn't without it's moments of drama. I rented a bike through my B&B, costing about £7 for the day. I didn't expect it to be great and it wasn't. Brake function was around 20% of normal, there was a bulge in the front tyre which gradually got worse and the saddle moved around a bit. On the plus side all the gears worked  OK and it was almost big enough for me. 

I decided to set off  from the pretty valley town of Viñales where I wast staying heading for the coast. Peurta Esperanza  which seemed a to be 'hoped for' destination. On reaching it after little more than an hour I was quite pleased with the progress, mostly down hill with a breeze helping me along. 

We passed through the valley between the mogotes. Mogotes are rocky hills characterised by their rounded, tower-like structure. The  heights of these towers are generally less than 25 m  and  diameters range from 10 to 200 m. Mogotes are remnants of eroded limestone sedimentary layers and the valley from which they emerge was a once high plateau that collapsed when weakened by the flow of underground rivers.

Peurta Esperanza is a quiet fishing village and the harbour was off limits without a pass so I pushed on a further 40km to Cayo Jutías a spit of land and a superb beach at the end of a long causeway. This road was tough going, partly asphalt and partly dirt. Often the best strips of smooth road had been sequestered by farmers in order to dry the harvest of rice. I shared the road with the odd pig, goats and white Cattle Egrets startled by my passing. These bird share a symbiotic relationship with the cattle and oxen in the fields. People were very friendly if surprised to see me on this fairly deserted road. 

Arriving at what looked like a frontier crossing I was invited to pay an entrance of $5 to the beach. Realising that I had now covered 70km, it was past lunch time and I wasn't certain I could  manage to return before dark I was somewhat worried. The soldier, yes  a soldier attending the barrier was polite and persuasive in telling me I could visit the beach and it's restaurant and the driver of the tour bus would be pleased,  for a consideration, to carry me back to Viñales. Unfortunately it wasn't to be. The driver was a bit of a jobsworth and unwilling to include me among his clients. 

After a rapid rehydration of water and cola I set off for the 65km return journey. Unfortunately after about 40km I began to cramp badly and was needing to stop and walk every few kilometres. At one point a dog overtook me and I was in a lot of pain. 

Eventually the road levelled out and I could manage to ride but it soon became  dark. Luckily I had a head torch which at least offered a signal to oncoming traffic but wasn't enough light by which to avoid the potholes. Eventually I arrived back at my Casa to the both acclaim and dismay of it's owners that I had travelled so far and arrived back after dark. 

Overall it was a great journey impressing upon me the ease and possibility of cycling in Cuba. The next day I did see some tourist cyclists and I think it would be quite a fun journey to circumnavigate the island, perhaps skirting round Havana. Next time maybe. 

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