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