[YEAR 7!] Quit our jobs, sold our home, gone riding...

805gregg

Adventurer
Check out ADVriders ride reports forum, look up Tuckers to TDF, this couple didn't sell their house, and rode from LA to TDF in 6 weeks, passed all the slow vacation riders
 
Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/91.html on April 22, 2013



We booked the Stahlratte for our Darien Gap crossing around Christmas-time last year after hearing how quickly spots get filled up. However at that time, we also found out that the ship continued on after South America to travel around the Caribbean Sea up to Cuba. So we thought "How cool would it be to ride our motorcycles around CastroLand?". The answer, of course, is "VERY COOL!". So here we are back on the Stahlratte, sailing less than a day away from Jamaica, ready to deposit our bikes on the shores of Cuba.


One of the first things that greeted us in Cuba

We are headed towards Santiago de Cuba, a port town on the southeast corner of the island. We arrived just after sunrise and Ludwig awakened all the passengers so that we could see land approaching.


Cuban cruise ship :) Shanties lining the shore.


Bikes are unwrapped and anxiously waiting to be off-loaded

We spent most of the morning waiting for the immigration process to unfold, already a familiar procedure with the Cartagena and Jamaica landings. A couple of new wrinkles - a couple of very cute drug-sniffing dogs were brought on board and they went through the entire ship looking for banned substances: cocaine, marijuana, explosives and the highly illegal GPS receivers! Yes, we were told we had to leave our Garmins on board. I think the reasoning is that because the GPS satellites are a US military tool, it could be used to subvert national security? Oh well, Google Maps already did that...

GPS technology was not the only controlled technology, we were told that access to the Internet was also tightly enforced. I guess the Internet did come out of a US DARPA project.


Finally, our bikes get to come out and play

Six motorcycles were let loose onto the pier and we were given instructions on how to make our bikes legal for Cuban roads. First stop: Aduana, to get our import papers sorted out. As we rode from the marina to the city, every single person turned to look at this parade of foreign motorcycles trundling through their town. We felt like celebrities!

We arrived at Aduana late in the afternoon, and although we still had about an hour before the offices closed, we were told to come back in the morning, since they wouldn't have time to process our bikes before closing. Hmrmpf...:(


Everywhere the bikes went, people instantly appeared

While parking our motorcycles in town to look for a currency exchange, our motorcycles gathered quite a crowd. As soon as they discovered that Neda spoke Spanish, they peppered her with questions: "What brand is it?", "Where was it made?", "How many cylinders?", "How fast does it go?", "How much does it cost?".

Little did we know that this would be the script for most of our conversations with Cubans over the next little while. Even I could memorize the answers in Spanish and answer all their questions perfectly. In the next few days, we were told that bikes like ours never make it onto the island and to see one was like seeing a "lion roaming the streets" or seeing a "spacecraft parked in the town square". Wow!


Streets of Santiago


Dominoes is the national sport of Cuba and is taken very seriously. Raised voices are often heard at a game, for both participants and audience


Streetside game of chess, which although popular, does not elicit as much shouting though...


Hanging out in the Tivoli neighbourhood of Santiago


Swing Batta Batta Swing! Impromptu game at the Escalinata

The Escalinata (steps) at Calle Padre Pico are a well-known feature in Santiago. The street ends abruptly in a set of stairs and then continues in the same direction at the top.


Streets of Santiago at night


A group of bikers come over and check out our rides. One of them asks Neda to rev her engine for them, they are very impressed that she's riding a bike 3 times larger than the usual motorcycle on the island.

We have done a lot of research about Cuba prior to getting here, because 1) limited access to Internet while on the island, so we won't be able to get information on the fly and 2) very little else to do when you're sailing on a boat for 5 days. We learned a lot about the history of the Revolution and the tough economic times Cubans faced because of their isolation from the Western world. Private enterprise was strictly forbidden until very recently when home owners were allowed to rent out their rooms to tourists offering a cheaper alternative to hotels. These are called Casa Particulares, and we made extensive use of them while on the island. You get to see how Cubans live up close, and if you opt for the meal plan, you also get to sample some delicious home-cooked Cuban dishes!


The next morning at Aduana again. Crowd gathers around our bikes and Neda, the fluent Spanish-speaker fields the usual questions

I'm so proud of Neda, she's picked up Spanish very quickly, and of all the travelers we've met on the road, she has really benefited the most by being able to interact with the locals to get a good understanding of what life is like in these countries. And as a resource to help with directions, border crossings, etc, she is the MVP in any traveling group.


Finally, we clear customs and to prove it, we get a nifty sticker to put on our bikes

It takes most of the morning to get our bikes imported. I'm very surprised at all the manual input, and I think it's kind of cool that all the forms are on very old, brittle paper, stained coffee-coloured by decades of communist decay. The dot-matrix printers have long since run out of cartridges, so carbon paper is used instead of ink ribbons! So interesting!
 
Our next step: Transito. We need to get our bikes licensed to ride Cuban roads. It's in another part of town, so we all ride over and even though we get there at lunchtime, we are told that there isn't enough time to process all our bikes and to come back the first thing next morning. Seriously? Much later, in another part of the country, we are told that the Oriental Region of Cuba (where Santiago is located) is well-known for their lackadaisical attitude.

Neda remarks that all of this is very reminiscent of the socialist system that she grew up in back in Croatia. Even though this is inconvenient for us, it does give us more time to explore Santiago a bit more, and I still think all of this antiquated bureaucracy is kind of cool!


"teehee that tickles" - Washing the salt off from our sail across the Caribbean


Again, a crowd gathers and we field the normal questions.


Viva Fidel! Along with state-sponsored propaganda, there are home-grown efforts as well


There's a lot of hanging out in doorways in the neighbourhoods around Cuba


They teach the values of socialism at a very early age


I was drawn to this Cuban bookstore and how the propaganda here radiated such a different vibe from its Western counterparts

One thing I was really looking forward to experiencing in Cuba was the state-organized propaganda, from hand-painted signs, hand-painted pictures of Fidel and Che, stickers promoting the upcoming Primero de Mayo (May 1st) celebrations, hand-painted dates of important events in the Revolution. It seemed to me that paint and human labour was a lot cheaper than manufacturing signs...


Enjoying a Cuban cigar in the park. Although we don't smoke cigars, we really have to try one to see what all the fuss is about...


These were waiting for us at the Transito office the next morning. Neda is ecstatic!

Throughout our trip on the island, many people would ask if the bikes were ours or if they were rented. We later found out that these red license plates mean the vehicle has been imported. All of the newer cars on the road have red license plates, and almost all of them have been imported by rental car companies, which is why everyone thought our bikes were rented. The first letter also denotes where the vehicle was registered, so people knew we started off in Santiago.


We met Norje, a really nice guy who worked in the inspections lot at Transito

I wasn't expecting a Cuban license plate, so when we got one, Neda and I were both admiring them with pride. We're officially Cuban vehicles and we're ready to roam around the country!
 

skidpan

New member
It's got to be a bit of a nerve racking, but amazingly exciting thing to cut the rope to your anchor, pack your motorcycles and explore this beautiful world we have. I'm honestly a bit envious. I am at a point in my life that I need to break away and their isn't much keeping me from a similar expedition. Be safe, thank you for your photos, and keeping us up to date
 

Aubrey

Observer
Hi lightcycle

Cuba looks stunning. Very poor but the isolations seems to protect the culture ..... what is the food like?

Cheers from Africa

Aubrey
 
It's got to be a bit of a nerve racking, but amazingly exciting thing to cut the rope to your anchor, pack your motorcycles and explore this beautiful world we have.
Yes, the decision to do this took several years - lots of hemming and hawing, delaying the trip: "...next year, we'll do it next year...". But once we told our family we were going to leave, there was no turning back. Best way to ensure you'll go through with it is to tell everyone you know and to set a firm departure date! Since telling everyone, we actually moved the date up a couple of times. We ended up leaving 3 months earlier than what we had told everyone!

Best decision ever. The freedom is indescribable. We led very high-consumption lives before the trip. The complexity of maintaining our lifestyle ramped up relentlessly with every job promotion, every raise, every passing year. We had no idea how simple and In-The-Moment our lives could be until we abandoned everything.

Cuba looks stunning. Very poor but the isolations seems to protect the culture ..... what is the food like?
Mostly rice and beans. They call it Moros y Cristianos, Spanish for Moors (black like the beans) and Christians (white like the rice). Everytime I saw it on the menu, it painted such a vivid picture, and then the reality sitting on your plate was incongruently simple! :)

The country suffered greatly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 90s, there were massive food shortages across the island. However in the last 10-15 years, Cuba's built up its trade relations with the rest of the world (all except for the US) so it's a lot better. Obviously, tourists eat a lot better because of the disparity between the buying power of a CUC (Cuban tourist dollar) and the local MN (Moneda Nacional).

We went to a locals-only restaurant and ate a huge chicken/rice/potatoes dinner with drinks included. Since we didn't have any MN, the owner charged us in CUC. It turned out to be less than $2USD for the both of us! It was the absolutely minimum she could charge us in tourist dollars... and she looked so guilty doing so!

The country is very poor. We felt very badly for its people and their oppression by their own government.
 
Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/92.html on April 24, 2013



After a week and a half off the bikes, it was good to taste the open air again! The temperature here is about 31C every single day, with very little variation. We're headed to the north-east section of the island, circumnavigating the shore on the main highway. The roads are in pretty good shape, better than we thought they would be and we pass vast stretches of scenic farmland along the way.


Almost no commercial advertising, but tons of state propaganda. This is a memorial to Colonel Garzon who fought in 3 Cuban wars in the late 1800s.

Heads continue to turn as we ride through the smaller towns. When we stop to ask for directions, a small crowd quickly gathers to examine our motorcycles, and when entering one town, a traffic cop stops us, shakes my hand and starts a conversation about our bikes and our trip. Very nice guy. And very curious...


We found out later that picture-taking is prohibited here... oops...

We don't get very far from Santiago on our first day, we're too busy lollygagging. Over the communicators, we yell at each other, "Cuba baby!" So excited to be riding here. Our first stop is the city of Guantanamo. Yep, right next to Guantanamo Bay and the infamous US Naval Base. Cuba is such a mess of contradictions, this is just the first: a US naval base in the same country that it has no diplomatic relations with (to put it mildly)


Walking the tourist core in Guantanamo


Castro has put a huge emphasis on education and today, Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world


Packing flour probably from Canada

Although the US has a trade embargo with Cuba, there are lots of other countries that still trade with the island: wheat from Canada, butter from New Zealand, rice from Vietnam, gasoline from Venezuela. However, life was pretty hard in Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s and the loss of 80% of its imports, however the Cuba that we're riding through today is in a state of transformation. Some for the good and some for the bad.


Selling sunflowers on the street


Cuban flag flies across the street from our Casa Particular

Just in the last few years, Castro's brother, Raul, seems to have relaxed the rules regarding business ownership. Tourism is now the largest form of revenue for the island and the government has allowed select citizens to open their private homes and restaurants to tourists. Not everyone owns a casa or restaurant, so to get in on the action, a network of Jineteros (hustlers) now roam the streets looking to lure tourists into the businesses they represent for commission. And the rates are astounding: For a $20 stay in a casa, a Jinetero will get $5 - for every night the tourist stays. For a $10 meal, again a $5 commission gets paid to the hustler. This is big business considering the average wage for a Cuban is $25 a month from the government!

For us the Jineteros have been the most annoying aspect of Cuban society. Most approach us and initiate what looks to be a friendly conversation, "Where are you from?". How can you not turn down a conversation with a local when they appear to be interested? But it quickly turns to, "I know a good restaurant/place to stay, follow me" and all sorts of trickery to get you to the place they represent. Grrrr...


Neda and Che hanging out on the road to Baracoa

Guantanamo is not the worst place for Jineteros, and we quite liked the quiet streets as a change from the large city of Santiago. The next day we rode further east towards the town of Baracoa, passing through the beautiful coastline and stopping a few times to admire the beaches and the Atlantic Ocean.


We found an old abandoned beach-side resort at Yateritas

Outside of the major towns and tourist centres, things seem to be in a state of disrepair. Some of the hotel chains that were built in the 70s still reflect the Soviet influences, and when the money from USSR ran out, so did the upkeep and maintenance. New investments in tourist properties have been made from countries like Canada, but the government still maintains tight control, allowing foreign development but taking control of the property after the first 5 years of operation.


Huge waves splashing against the rocks on the north shore


Scenic break to admire the Atlantic Ocean


Neda stops to ask Fidel and Che for directions

My favorite part of Cuba is seeing all the slogans of La Revolucion and the pictures of Fidel and Che - and everything hand-painted as well! Che seems to be more loved than Fidel, as often the fight for idealism is much more romantic than the actual implementation of it. I didn't know much about Che Guevara besides the fact that he was some big capitalist pig who licensed his image to tons of T-shirt and poster manufacturers...


The road from the coast runs up and down some amazing mountains and we pass lush rainforests on the way to Baracoa


Twisties! We stop for a snack

Along the way, there are lots of roadside vendors selling fruits and my favorite snack in Cuba: Cucurucho. It's a mixture of coconut, honey and a bit of dried tropical fruits all wrapped up in a cone of palm leaves. Our trip in Cuba so far has been positive, but things were not going to stay that way for long.
 
Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/93.html on April 26, 2013



The Jinetero problem came to a head in Baracoa. We were really looking forward to spending a couple of days in the tropical sea-side town, doing some hiking in the area and walking through the city streets. The casa owner in Santiago called ahead and booked us a room with someone she knew in Baracoa, presumably for a commission, we just had to meet them at the main gas station in town.

However, swarms of Jineteros on bicycles crowded around us when we arrived, and when we asked about the casa and showed them the business card, one of them led us to a house in a neighbourhood near the Malecon. We kept asking if this was the right place, as the address didn't match, and the young hustler reassured us it was. The guilty look on the casa owner's face confirmed that we were misled (literally), but rather than search the town again for the right place, we decided to stay because we were just too tired to argue.


Hotel El Castillo is set high atop a hill and offers great views of Baracoa


You can see the casa where we're staying (Casa El Kidnapo) from here. See the orange building in the centre? It's the small white building next to it.

The neighbourhood we're staying in seems quite poor, but the people living there were very friendly and again, very curious about the motorcycles. It was a nice location, one street away from the Malecon, and strolling up and down it offered a nice change from the very touristy centro. Also, very little Jineteros on the boardwalk. We watched as a group of kids played a game of pelota (baseball) with a wooden stick for a bat and a plastic bottle cap for a ball.


Kids hanging out on the Malecon


Watching the waves of the Atlantic Ocean splash on the rocks from the Malecon


Changui originated a hundred years ago in the sugar cane fields, combining Spanish guitar and African rhythms

In the evenings, Changui music, native to Baracoa could be heard streaming from the bars. Entrance was free, but the mojitos were expensive and every three songs a hat was passed around to collect money for the musicians. The locals, not content to just listen, took to the floor and impressed all the turistos with their complex salsa footwork.


These kids were taking part in an art competition at the local arts centre


Mohawks are a popular hairstyle for young Cubans


We watched the local Baracoa baseball team practicing

Rumour has it that Fidel was a pretty good baseball player and national sports was encouraged by the government at all levels that Cuba quickly rose to world prominence at each Olympics after La Revolucion. I don't know anything about baseball, but even I've heard of Jose Canseco.


They let Neda try out for the team. This is her specialty pitch, the CocoNuckleBall


Young komrade at the beach

We decided to do some hiking on the hills south of the city, we were told that there were fabulous views of the city and shoreline at the summit. Normally, you would cross a narrow, rickety bridge across the Rio Miel to gain access, but it had been washed out, so we had to be ferried across for $1 each.


Our ferryman had the bluest eyes ever! Wish I got a picture of it.

From here, we were starting to get hit with unexpected fees, as we were charged $5 each for entrance to the park. The government official told us that it would grant entry to everything. $10 is a bit steep for a hike (not including the $4 for the round-trip ferry), but since we had already come all this way, we decided to pay. We opted not to hire a guide since the trails were well-marked, but one followed us anyway, hoping to guilt us into paying him at the end of the hike. This was getting very annoying as all we wanted to do was spend some time alone and unmolested.


Hike up the trail to get a better view

Upon reaching the summit, we discovered that the mirador (viewpoint) was on private property and that we were required to dish out an additional $5 each to enter. This was unacceptable, since the official at the entrance told us everything was included. Our little day-hike was going to cost us $24! We refused to pay, and started angrily down the hill. The woman that was on the property chased after us and told us that we didn't have to pay, so we relented. The viewpoint was beautiful, but I couldn't shrug off the growing feeling that everywhere we went on the island, we were going to be nickeled and dimed, and that most of the locals just viewed us and all the other tourists as walking wallets.


View from the mirador, Baracoa in the distance and the broken bridge down below. You can see the boat we took.

As we left, the owner, who we had not met before demanded payment for access to the viewpoint. An argument ensued as we told him that the woman (his wife, we found out) had said that we didn't have to pay. Thankfully, the guide that followed us vouched for that, and we left without further incident. There were other things we wanted to see in the park, a beach and an archeological museum inside some caves, but after questioning the guide, we found out that these cost money as well - $3 each for beach access and $3 each for the museum, for a total cost of $36 for the day.

I understand that there are tourists that come to Cuba that don't think twice about dropping $36 for an unguided hike. It's not a lot of money when you have jobs to go back to for the remaining 11.5 months out of the year when you're not on vacation. This is not the case for us, as we are traveling on a budget and to be misled like we had been, added terrible insult to injury. I understand the huge disparity between how much tourists have and make compared to the locals, but I get a sense that most Cubans don't see any gradations between budget travelers and rich vacationers.

We left the park without seeing anything else, feeling more assailed by everyone who approached us demanding money from us.


Close-up of the ferry

This was not the end of it. We had originally been told that the person "guarding" our bikes at our casa wanted $2 per night. When we checked out to leave Baracoa, he demanded an additional $2, because we had left the motorcycles there during the day as well. Another argument ensued over what "$2 a night" meant. To most people, it is assumed that this covers a 24-hour period. But apparently here, you have to draw up a legal document for every transaction stating down to the littlest detail what exactly is covered and what all the hidden costs will be.

For a country that has repressed capitalism and free enterprise for the last 50 years, the rules opening up services to tourists seem to represent a tightly-wound spring finally exploding. Baracoa taught us some frustrating lessons as to how we would be treated in Cuba. It's obvious we have to approach our travels on the island very differently than what we're used to.


Curious kids in the neighbourhood, everyone wanted in on the picture!

I don't like ending things on a negative note, so I wanted to mention how nicely we were treated as we stayed in the barrio as people got to know us as we strolled through the neighbourhood streets every night. Familiar faces would smile and wave to us and say hi - we would talk about where we came from and about our trip, as well as get to know a little bit about their lives. One evening, we hung out on the neighbour's porch listening to his kid practice the violin. His dad seemed very proud of him and glad that the mini-audience spurred his son to give a concerto-level performance. Our standing ovation led to a shy grin on his face. :)

This feels like the real Cuba, one that we wanted to experience. I think all we have to do is step off the well-trodden tourist path.
 

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unkamonkey

Explorer
Several pages back, you mentioned how having somebody with you that speaks the local lingo helps.
My neighbor speaks spanish, french, english, german and plati, another german dialect.
I've never traveled overseas with her and her husband but several times in the Moab and Canyon Land area her knowledge has come in handy, both for us and some of the foriegn visitors.

It even helps sometimes here in my nieghborhood to talk to some of the people.
 
Several pages back, you mentioned how having somebody with you that speaks the local lingo helps.
What I love about learning a second (or third/fourth/etc) language is how you can more easily find a bridge between other people.

We were in Mexico City in the park looking for somewhere to have lunch when we walked by these two Japanese ladies who were eating something that looked really good. When I approached them, it was obvious they didn't speak English, but lo and behold, with my two weeks of Spanish classes in Baja, I was able to find out where they got their food from!

My biggest disappointment is how low my aptitude is for learning a new language. I really wish I could pick up Spanish a lot quicker and with greater ease.
 

Aubrey

Observer
Hi lightcycle

Loved the comment about the tourist being treated as ATM's. Sad to say but exact same in Africa the more rural it gets. You carry more valuable stuff on your trip than they are likely to get in a lifetime so you are perceived as rich and by default, owe them.

I think that good manners causes lotsa problems. When they engage in these tactics, the biggest mistake is engage and respond/chat to them. I never engage them. I give a blank start and start rambling off in my native tongue, Afrikaans. They will try for some time to establish a coversation till they realize it's futile.

At border crossing, touts are everywhere. Average when you pull up is 10+ and even if you ignore them, they will follow you and demand money. Should you fail to pay, their friends in customs will take you apart. First off, I step out and ask in their tongue who is absolutely fluent in English. Split them ..... tell those that claim to be fluent in English to get rid of their handicapped compadres. Once that is out of the way ..... I ask each individual in turn if they understand English 100%. When all have confirmed their grasp of the language, I tell them to P#ss off as well.

So far I have had 100% results as I don't yield. What can I say c... I am African :D

I don't pay bribes and I don't use touts.

They are like cancer on an otherwise great experience.

Happy travels.

Aubrey
 
the biggest mistake is engage and respond/chat to them. I never engage them. I give a blank start and start rambling off in my native tongue
It's not in our nature to be rude (Canadians, you know?) but what we've started doing is profiling. If it's men, we don't engage, younger women and much older women we make a judgment call. Middle-age women almost never hustle... We got caught out once by a young couple that seemed really nice and then *whammo* they hit us up for money... blindsided...
 
Update from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/94.html on April 28th, 2013



We left Baracoa feeling a bit disillusioned. Everywhere we went, we felt like we were being hustled. We are also feeling a bit isolated, as Internet access is expensive ($0.10 per minute) and is relegated to a few terminals in special telecom buildings, so no Skype. Add to this, we're suffering from multiple equipment failures: our waterproof point-and-shoot camera turned out to be not so waterproof, and we can't find a suitable replacement on the island, so no riding shots. Also, the keyboards on both of our laptops don't function anymore. No typing, no blogging...


Nickel is one of Cuba's most profitable and environmentally damaging exports

Our first half of our route for the day took us through a very rough gravel road towards Moa. Having to focus on the broken road was a nice distraction from everything else happening and we enjoyed the simple pleasure of riding in beautiful sunny weather. As we approached Moa, the soil turned a beautiful shade of red, as if we were traveling along the surface of Mars. Unfortunately, all of this was marred (pun intended) by the sight of nickel factories, belching thick acrid smoke into the air, and the ground water turned oily-coloured from the all the polluted runoff.


What could have been such a beautiful landscape is spoiled by pollution

On our march westwards, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant just outside of a tiny village. There seemed to be quite a lot of people there, loud Spanish music playing and we quickly learned that this was a prelude to the Primero de Mayo (International Worker's Day) celebrations that the whole country is ramping up for. Although it seemed to be a private party for the villagers, we were graciously invited in. At first, the crowd viewed us as a bit of an oddity and they kept their distance, eyeing us from afar - I don't think a lot of tourists make it out here. But by the time we polished off a delicious lunch of fried chicken and rice, the folks around us got a bit more comfortable having us around and starting offering us beer and engaging us in conversation.


Party-time!

This is where we ran into a bit of trouble with the law. I asked permission to take some pictures, and there was something about the camera that loosened people up almost immediately. Suddenly everybody wanted to be in front of and behind the camera. With every picture taken, the crowd seemed to get louder and rowdier (not dangerous mob rowdy, just party rowdy). One of the two policemen who were there keeping a watch pulled me aside and said something in Spanish, which to my ears sounded like, "You're under arrest".

But that was just me inferring what most policemen say to me, because Neda the Espanolophone told me he said, "You don't have to leave, but we have to ask you to stop taking pictures, the people are getting a bit too excited". It was a bit of a damper, but we got a taste of how disciplined the society is and what the boundaries were to cutting loose in a party - which was not very loose at all.


These kids wanted a picture on our bikes, so we obliged. So cute!!!

We actually left the party feeling like we got to know the real Cuba, meeting real people and not hustlers and partying (briefly) with them. They wanted nothing but to talk and be merry with us, and to be in our pictures, it felt pretty good. However, we knew this feeling wouldn't last as we neared our destination - the city of Holguin.


A local Holguin brewery that produced Cuba's most popular beer, Cristal, put on a fashion show at the hotel.

We made a decision leaving Baracoa to bypass all the Jineteros and their casas, and stay in a hotel instead. Through our research, we found the Islazul chain of hotels, which were funded mostly in part by Soviet money in the 70s (and styled that way as well). They were moderately priced accommodations, about $30/night, merely $6 more than a casa+parking and none of the negotiating hassle. It was a no-brainer considering there was a free swimming pool and breakfast was included!


Definitely not a Chevy big block engine under the hood

We saw plenty of vintage American cars from the 50s rumbling through the streets of Cuba, a remnant of the last time the US had any economic contact with the island. Although their bodies may be well-preserved, their guts have long since rotted and with a dearth of parts from Detroit, most of these cars have had heart transplants instead, running on diesel engines lifted from Eastern Bloc cars like Ladas.


Cuban national colours at dinner

Holguin is known as the city of parks, the fourth-largest city, and not really a stop for most tourists, which is what we liked. We took a stroll through one of the parks with a children's playground and all the mechanical rides, like the merry-go-round and ferris wheel were all non-operational - victim of budget cuts since Soviet funding dried up in the 90s. Kids still clambered along the swings and the slides, and I laughed a bit at the decorations - space ships, rockets and... missiles. Cuban Missiles. Not sure if they were built before or after October 1963...


Most of the old American automobiles were earning their expensive keep as taxis for tourists


We heard music coming from an abandoned building, and when we peered inside, we saw these dancers and musicians rehearsing for a show later on in the week. They gave us a personal invitation to their concert!


465 steps up La Loma de la Cruz

Just outside the city in the north is a large hill where you can experience a panoramic view of Holguin. There's a road that winds up the La Loma de la Cruz in the back, but they also built a large stairway for pedestrians. The first week of every May, there's a huge religious ceremony which involved devotees climbing up the 465 steps to the top.


Neda surveys the city below


A shrine at the summit of the hill


Back in town, more old autos and sunflowers

The beaches of Guardalavaca, which are about 45 minutes away from Holguin, are where most of the tourists end up going. We made a day-trip out of it, visiting some ancient burial grounds just outside the town (not very interesting) and then heading to the beach for some fun in the sun. Expensive resorts line the shore, and as we parked the bikes, we met a custodian who told us that most of the newer resorts were constructed by Canadian companies. After building a property, a foreign investor had 5 years to turn a profit, after that time the property would be handed over to the Cuban government. Interesting!


Family-time at the beach


This was a big advertisement for parasailing. This guy would do amazing tricks up and down the shore and then park his board near tourists and tell them that he could teach them how to do it if they rented the equipment from him!


On the way back from the beach, Neda picks up some fruits from a road-side vendor


A demonstration of Santerian relgious ceremony

One evening, we headed to the town square to see the concert that the musicians and dancers had invited us to. They were actually 1 of 3 acts, the first was a demonstration of Santeria, which is a Cuban religion, mixing African, Haitian voodoo, Catholic and Native American influences. Devotees dress all in white, not all swallow fire though... Throughout Cuba, we have seen many people dressed all in white, like the Santerians, but we found out that some do so just for the fashion, not because they are religious.


Our friends from the warehouse, all decked out in their traditional costumes!


Flamenco dancers, the last act of the night
 

grogie

Like to Camp
Wow, the boat ride was amazing and something like a dream to do (without the sea sickness of course). What it must be like to be the Captain of that ship? It was most interesting to watch them load and unload your bikes!

Your stories of Cuba are also most interesting. I feel sad for the people. It looks like such a beautiful country.

With all of your travels, I'd never have the nerve to do them, so I am looking forward to hearing more! Thank you again for taking the time to share and be safe.
 
Wow, the boat ride was amazing and something like a dream to do (without the sea sickness of course). What it must be like to be the Captain of that ship? It was most interesting to watch them load and unload your bikes!
Interesting is one word... when they're not your bikes! When they are, I can think of others: "cringeworthy", "shocking", "flabbergasting"... :smileeek:

Thank you again for taking the time to share and be safe.
Thanks for the well wishes!
 
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