Huge fluffy mountains tinged purple and rimmed with wisps of cotton candy hovered above the green outlines of a few rounded emerald giants reaching from the crashing surf of a glittering turquoise sea all the way up to the clouds.
Making our first peddlestrokes at 6:17am was no easy feat but with the help of a hoard of huevos that we had ordered at the local ice cream parlour ( 10 omelettes on buns for about 1 Canadian $ ) the night before and the ominous anticipation of a 20 km climb everything seemed to click into place. We were rewarded with a stunning vista from the Baracoa malecon (sea side drive) and a fresh energetic cool that clung to your clothes and pushed on your peddles. 15 kilometers passed as we left Baracoa, a town nestled between mountain and sea. With exactly 2 ways to get there, one of which was not exactly as smooth as Belgian butter and the other which slithered up and down and all around the mountains, like a great grey snake slowly stalking over a little green hill, I think that it deserves to qualify as a tad remote.
It was flat with lush palm covered hills rising ever upward and a few small fincas growing an assortment of things in neat little rows. A handful of Cubans congregated in bus shelters chit chatting on the way to work. Further on a couple little houses stood nestled in the foothills surrounded by trees. Before long we passed through a smallish town nervous anticipation hanging in the air around our bikes. My speedo said that we’d gone twelve kilometers-the hill was scheduled to start at km 15. A big red sign warned us to check the state of our vehicles. Sure enough in a few more increasingly rolling kilometers we turned a corner and saw stretched up ahead of us like a big ashfalt coloured steep hill… a steep hill.
“Aqui Comienza Viaducto La Farola”
announced another red sign with a few more warnings. And just like that we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more (do you think that you get the message yet?) Luckily the rest of the hill was not nearly as steep and we were able to buy ten of some of the most delicious mandarins ever. From an old farmer guy in worn overalls who lived partway up. With each peddlestroke the scenery got even scenic. If that’s something that you can even say. A huge canyon dropped off into emerald and dusty green nothingness as we twisted and turned up and up and up. The view nearly took my breath away (well technically it was already gone or at least I was rather out of it but you know what I mean.)
All of a sudden we were spat out into northern Ontario. Scraggly pines marched up the mountainside in scraggly lines and as we coasted down a short and refreshing downhill my parents could practically see a dark blue lake in the distance. After awhile of longer gentle grades intermingled with short steeper bouts of breath stealing climbing even the stunning mountain view started to feel vaguely monotonous. Unfortunately we were just barely halfway there. After polishing off a few more sandwiches from our hidden hoard of huevos we continued on our way. Only to be overtaken by… can you guess what? Well I suppose I should say guess who because, since when are bike travellers things? Okay if you could just excuse me for a minute while I restart. … … …. ..
Can you guess who caught up to us? Wait a second, I just told you when I was trying to figure out whether a bike traveller is a who or a what. Darn. Well in any case, a super friendly Swiss guy named Roland peddled up to us and took turns chatting with everyone.
After an awesome 3 or 4 kilometer downhill followed by a good three kilometers of general steady upwardness we finally entered the little town of Altos de Castillo which was at the very top of the La Farola (the streetlight) road. As soon as my parents rolled into the large tour bus (and bike) parking space we were simultaneously surrounded by about five different Cubans who were all trying to sell pretty much the same things. Rolland bought some cucurucho which is a sweet made with shredded cocoa, Cuban honey, fruit and occasionally nuts. It is formed into a Jasper flipflop size pyramid and wrapped in a banana leaf. We went straight for the chocolate. Three bars of Baracoa chocolate later, the vendors were still trying to shove bananas and strings of mandarins into our exhausted hands. Finally my mom asked if the cucurucho had mani in it. One lady’s face lit up and she quickly assured us that of course it did, and we could buy 6 for a bargain. (Why the heck we would buy six when it would be hard to finish two, I’m not sure.) When we explained that my mom is allergic to peanuts (mani) two other people shoved the treat towards us insisting that cucorucho did not have nuts. But by then we for sure were not going to buy any and shook them off. After a little while some more bike travellers dragged themselves in and it was practically a fiesta. A slightly low key fiesta considering that the people at the party were mildly half dead but it was still fun to meet some other crazy people.
After an hour or maybe 45 minutes of rest three of us climbed the steep steps up to a big cement mirador (mama doesn’t do miradores) to take a few last pictures before heading on
. Let the downhills begin! The road swooped in glorious curves, carving a snaking stream down the side of the mountain. We flew down and down whooshing and practically hollering like hooligans at the picturesque vista laid out to our left. le
At one point we actually caught up to a tractor tut tutting its way around the curves at about 14 kilometers per hour. Daddy and Jasper snuck past it when it stopped to let a truckbus pass but me and mommy found ourselves a tad bit stuck. The tractor coughed up claustrophobic clouds of smog and it wasn’t nearly as fun to go at 14-17 km per hour instead of 30 or faster. Finally we managed to pass it and never saw it again. Twenty minutes of furious downs and quick steep climbs later we left Sudbury and found ourselves gliding past cactus covered hills. Here the dry heat of the Cuban semidesert radiated in waves but the dessert was so lush in dusty biodiversity that nobody seemed to notice.
And then we hit the sea.
A great glittering expanse of blue speckled with a thousand fluffy bubbles of surf. It left me speachless with awe. If you can call hooting for exhilaration speachless with awe, which technically speaking you can’t. As we glidded along, the gentle outbreath of a tailwind nudging us forward I couldn’t help hooting and commenting breathlessly on what I still call “one of THE best rides EVER”! We passed through a town famous for being the landing beach of the famous Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo. Unfortunately there was no street pizza to satisfy rumbling tummies so we pushed on in search of lunchables.
A little while later we were once again set free on the open road. We pedaled past a primary school. A gaggle of girls trooped along on the other side of the road their neat red skirts and tidy white shirts contrasting with my stained, sun bleached thread bare attire as the placent surface of a lake on a sunny day would contrast with the writhing shadowed turmoil of a stormy sea. One girl was walking along non-chalantly pouring the entire contents of her water bottle onto the ground. It doesn’t matter where you are, niños will always be niños. One time we were in Spain and we watched quietly as a kid dumped his school sandwich into the trash and skipped into the grocery store.
But that is off topic. In any case me and Mama had plenty to chitchat about until we passed the mangoes. A small roadside stand was set up at the end of somebody’s driveway displaying the most succulent, the most mouth wateringly fresh mangoes. We couldn’t resist. We found a shady spot to rest, watch the waves and munch. Some people ate them peel and all, while some people ate them normally. But hey! Whatever tickles your fancy. After lunch (which included huevos, beans and rice and fresh mango juice) we traded a Canadian five dollar bill for about 3.50 cuc with a Cuban who’d been paid in a crumpled blue biĺl that would never be accepted at a Cuban cadeca.
We didn’t have far to go after that and so spent a good moment watching the crashing surf. That night we stayed with an ambitious man who was trying to start a bike club in his small town. After a delicious hearty dinner and a long chat in the backyard with more mangoes we climbed into bed, leg weary and soul happy.