Merry Christmas from Cuba!

Merry Christmas from Cuba!
We have been having a great time in Cuba.

   
    
   
We’ve been biking, snorkelling, learning lots of Spanish and even having a wonderful visit with some of our dearest friends from Ottawa who met us for a week in Varadero.

One of our favourite things about biking in Cuba is that “share the road” isn’t something you see written on signs, but it’s what everyone does. Bikes, bici-taxis, horse carts, people walking, classic cars, tourist jeeps, busses, trucks, there’s room for everyone. And if anyone wants to pass they always give you at least a lane. Honks are usually just a friendly hello. Sometimes the road is even shared with drying rice. 

The riding is great- beautiful scenery and lots of friendly people riding along or waving at the kids as we ride past. 

   

  

 The tandem is really popular here. We have had lots of people ask if we’ll give or sell them the bikes (or our inner tubes or extra strong tires). Once we explain that we’re riding in Cuba until February and then continuing our journey from San Diego up to Canada, they understand that we need the bikes ourselves. We’ve met a number of other bike travellers and almost everyone has the same fabulous guide book as us – Bicycling Cuba, printed in 2001. It’s out of print, but like us, everyone seems to have found a second hand copy.

It’s really helpful to have a printed book as it’s tricky to go online. To send emails from your phone, you first have to buy a card at a Telecommunications building. You might have to wait up to an hour if there’s a line up. Once you have your card, you just need to find a park with wifi, which we’ve been able to find in the bigger cities. Usually there are lots of people sitting around on their phones or Skypeing with family whenever there’s wifi. In smaller places, you could use your card at either a hotel with a computer or at the telecommunications building itself. 
We are staying in Casas Particulares which are rooms in private homes and are a cross between bed and breakfasts and Airbnb. We just show up at a town and look for the Casa Particulares signs on people’s homes and ask if they have a room available. If they don’t have anything available, they usually will call a neighbour who does. 

We usually have both dinner and breakfast at our casa, lovingly prepared by our hosts. The meals are spectacular- rice, beans, viande (starchy veggies like yucca), salads, fruit platters, avocado…we are glad to have biking appetites to appreciate everything. Not only is the food delicious and healthy, it’s always beautiful – a real step up from the one pot wonders we were preparing while camping through Europe! 

It’s been really special getting to know so many different host families. It’s one of our very favourite things about Cuba. 

    
    
    
    
   
Usually we have lunch on the road. We eat sandwiches, peso pizza, ice cream, yucca fritters, fruit juice and anything else that’s vegetarian from road side stands. Jasper is excited because very few deserts are made with milk here as it is expensive so he can enjoy almost everything.
We’re still getting used to the heat and sunshine so we leave at 7:00 whenever we have a longer ride and try to be off the road by 1:30 or 2:00. Anna Sierra is still itching for her first century, but our longest ride in Cuba has been about 80km.
As I write this, it’s December 23 and we are in a small town called Remedios to celebrate Christmas. The town has a tradition of rowdy late night Christmas Eve parades with different neighbourhoods competing for the most elaborate float. The party has already started, with lots of streets around the main square closed to traffic, huge speakers set up every few blocks and lots of food, drinks and treasures for sale. The actual parade starts tomorrow night at 10:00pm and apparently lasts all night! We figured if we were away from family and snow for Christmas, we should try something totally different!

We have also had a chance to experience Cuba’s famous and affordable medical system. Jasper had a strange looking thing on the back of his heel that looked like an insect might be trapped under his skin, leaving a trail as it crawled around under the skin. We asked several doctors casually – our Spanish teacher in Cienfuegos and another neighbour of our casa hosts. They both thought it was an allergic reaction to an insect bite from the beach. Derek and I didn’t think it looked like an allergic reaction, so when we got to Santa Clara, we walked over to one of the health clinics to consult another doctor. We only had to wait five minutes to see a doctor who knew right away it was a mild form of shingles. He took lots of time to explain everything to us in slow Spanish and waited patiently while we translated for Jasper. He gave us a prescription that we were able to fill at a pharmacy only a ten minute walk away. The total cost for the medication – vitamins, something for fever and topical cream – was 10 Cuban pesos (about 50 Canadian cents). It was such a relief to find out what was actually wrong with his foot and I felt so grateful that he received such great care right in the neighbourhood where we were staying.

We’ve heard that Cuba sends doctors all over the world, wherever they are needed most. One casa host whose grandson was about to practice medicine in Venezuela as part of a government program told us that he had recently read that Cuba sent the last of 10,000 doctors to Brazil! 
We send our warmest wishes to everyone at home. We hope you get lots of snow and have fun skiing and tobogganing!
Xo

Kathleen 

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20 thoughts on “Merry Christmas from Cuba!

  1. So it sounds like socialism isn’t so bad after all? Nice update. We were there only for a w eek, but figured we wanted to go back for a bit longer, so we are looking forward to the details once you are back home. No doubt, you have seen it was 16 degrees on Christmas Eve in Ottawa and we went out for bike rides in shorts.

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    1. Hans, you’d love riding longer when you return to Cuba. We loved the mountain views and quiet roads in the west, from Havana to Vinales. But now we’ve ridden from Varadero to Trinidad (via Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Playa Larga and some other fabulous towns and we have seen lots of other bike travellers – including a family from Quebec and another family from Mississauga! And we love this region too. Tomorrow we’re taking a bus to Holguin to start a Far East tour…so we’ll be able to fill you in on everything when we return. Please give our best to Ottawa and the snow! KW

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  2. Merry Christmas from Ottawa,
    if you think you can make us jealous about the warm weather: on the day before Christmas it was 17 degrees, and on my ride to Champlain Lookout I must have seen around 200 cyclists, most (like me) in shorts. On boxing day, it was still above zero and sunny, so time for another bike ride. Since Sunday: well, that’s a different story — I’ll just say that skiing will start soon.

    Great to read all your fantastic stories, and great to know that there must be at least three times as many stories that you haven’t gotten around to blogging yet. Hope you continue to have the best of times in the new year!!!

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    1. Thanks Berry! Glad to hear you’ve got snow now. Derek is inspired every day by the clever fixes on bikes here. We see so many great bikes, bici taxis (often made to measure) and bread being delivered by bike. It’s awesome!

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  3. Merry Christmas,
    We had 9 degrees here on Christmas day. Uncle Bob and I went to Mass and then had a wonderful dinner with Aunt Sharron. I wish you a blessed New Year! Love, Aunt Lois

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  4. Glad to read your blog and hear that you are having a fabulous time! Shane and I missed you guys at Halloween and looking forward to seeing you when you get back. We’ll keep following your stories! Jada

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    1. Hi Jada and Shane! We were thinking of you two on Halloween, too! We were in Bogota then and saw a few little kids looking kind of hot in fuzzy costumes trick or treating at convenience stores. We can’t wait to catch up with you guys and continue the porch tradition. Xoxo K and the crew

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  5. Hi Kathleen and Derek. This is Joanna and Chris ;-). We met in La Boca and had dinner together 😉 (the extended tandem bike family) . It was amazing to meet you! Well, we made it back to Santa Clara and now we are home trying to get back to reality (not pleasant :-(. Chris is already planning new bike adventures ;-). We are impatiently waiting to hear from you and your updates. All the best. Stay safe!

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    1. Joanna & Chris,
      What a wonderful evening we shared at La Boca while the kids played with their can collection. We think of you often and wish you all the best back in Canada, planning the next big adventure. Take care! Kathleen, Derek, Anna and Jasper

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  6. Thank you for your wonderful post on cycling Cuba!
    I’m heading to Cuba myself this Christmas. By bike of course!

    Hope you don’t mind a question, but where / how did you find accommodation in Remedios? I hope to be there for Las Parrandas, the busiest time of the year!

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    1. Hi Mark!
      Thanks for your note. We found that by arriving in Remedios just before (Dec 23), we were able to find accommodation. To make room for all the visitors, folks all across town are allowed to host, even if they aren’t officially licensed as a Casa Particular – just for this celebration. We asked at an official Casa and were brought to their neighbour’s. Have a great time! Kathleen

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      1. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Receiving cycling advice from cyclists is so valuable.
        If you need any info on Africa let me know. Spent a year there cycling with a mechanical koala. Or check out my webpage BIKEAFRICA. In the postcards section you’ll find videos.

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