Sure there were challenges. Sure this was something different. Sure it was amazing. This is Cuba. From the people, to the place, to the history, to all of it. Few places have rivaled the feeling of discovering Cuba by way of bicycle. It’s just a different sort of thing when someone opens a new set of doors to you and says come in and see what we've been hiding all this time. That’s what it felt like. A place of mystery and intrigue and total discovery. The countryside of Cuba is a land of spectacular people and beauty and is a place that challenges the mind to examine its history and forces a comparison to other places. It’s nearly impossible to separate the past from the present and it’s hard not to think of Revolution when it is written on the walls everywhere you go. It’s hard not to think about words like communism and socialism and try not to think about what they mean. But after a few days you realize this place is just like any other in that it has his own customs, traditions, people, and moves its own way regardless of its history. Music is everywhere. And so are smiles and some of the most curious, vibrant, supportive, and welcoming people we have found anywhere. Their music plays long into the night from every direction, sometimes all night as we discovered, and starts again at dawn. The pulse of the country can be heard and felt on every square inch of this place.
We rode into places completely devoid of tourists and strangers and drew curious crowds questioning our presence, our bikes, pretty much everything.
Rural Cuba is not wealthy in financial terms, and one might easily think that a lack of money and resources would put a damper on the spirit of a place, but that is far from the truth. What they lack in material things is surely replaced by something more meaningful. These people are alive and on the move and want to mix it up with you and hear your story and share theirs. We rode into places completely devoid of tourists and strangers and drew curious crowds questioning our presence, our bikes, pretty much everything. There was a constant sort of feeling that there was always a set of eyes on us. It was obvious we were on the forefront of tourism in some parts. Tourist-shock can be a real thing. You could see it on the locals’ faces. Hear it in their voices We were something new. Hard to say exactly what that was, or what we represented, but their curiosity and support was contagious.
Put the people and the history aside and you still have the geography of the land to contend with. It can be easy to forget that you are still on a Caribbean Island in a place like this. It doesn't necessarily feel "Caribbean" in the generic sense of the word compared to the more touristy places with that designation, but when you are there in January and the sun is overhead, palm trees are swaying, it's hot as hell, and an afternoon sea-breeze whispers gently across your face.......you know it is definitely and distinctly Caribbean. The terrain is varied and goes up as much as it goes down and totally debunks the myth that this place is flat. You can see mountains often in both directions and you can cross them if you wish or dare. The land is diverse and so are the roads. Clay, gravel, tarmac, dirt, sand, rutted carriage roads, single track bush-wack trails....it's all there. All in the same day sometimes. For a long time to come it seems safe to say few people will take the same path across this country. In its current state it's wide-open and awesome. There is nothing not to love about it.
It would be hard not to classify this as an experience of a lifetime. We have long professed that touring by bike is the best way to see and experience anything. It slows life down and reduces it to something simpler. It was perfect for Cuba. Our time there was short but the impression of what we experienced will be long lasting. And to us this was real Cuba. This was not linen pants and mojitos. This was not a guided tour through the postcard images of towns we have all seen before. This was searching for water and food, and riding long dusty days in the backcountry in hopes of finding another town that might have supplies and a hand to keep us going so we might find another farmer, another family, another image that would stick with us for the rest of our lives. And we found many of those. It was an adventure in every sense of the word. In today’s ever-shrinking world to find a place still so untapped and still so beautiful is rare. Our advice is to gear up and get after it. It's Cuba.
Special thanks to Joe Cruz and Logan and Virginia Watts for welcoming us along on their Trans-Cuba journey and sharing their experience with us.