Travel Magazine

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

By Carolinearnoldtravel @CarolineSArnold

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Street in the town of Trinidad, Cuba

My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle recently returned from an exciting two week cycling trip in Cuba and has graciously contributed this report.
Quick!  Go to Cuba now, before it changes too much! And if you want a real adventure, go cycling in Cuba with Cycleactive.com, a British group. 

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Gretchen with the limestone karsts of the Vinales Valley

I thought Cuba would be flat. I was dead wrong. How could I forget that Fidel and his compadres hid out for years in the mountains? Our English guide kindly called our routes “undulating.” I went careening downhill as fast as I dared, to get as much momentum as I could for the uphill climb. It was exhilarating! The roads weren’t flat, but they were free of motorized traffic. We cycled past many horse carts, men on horseback, and a few bicyclists. 

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Horse carts were common

Cycling is a great way to see the country. You’re at ground level, hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, feeling the wind and the sun….. For eleven days we cycled through villages and towns, stopping for mid-morning Cuban coffee and lunches in lovely old haciendas. We browsed in village markets where the crafts were made by the very women minding the stalls. 

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Waterfall and swimming hole

We went into the Escambray Mountains, a national park, and hiked down a canyon to an exquisite swimming hole, fed by a lush waterfall. We cycled down the mountains on back roads, through farming valleys, to Santa Clara and the vast memorial (and burial place) of Che Guavara. (His saintly status is guaranteed, for he died young, serving the Revolutión.) We spent a day at a beautiful Caribbean beach and a night at a horse-breeding ranch. We visited a tobacco plantation and clambered through vast cave networks that would never pass US safety regulations.

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Street scene

Along the way we stayed at government-run tourist hotels outside of the towns, beautifully landscaped with inviting swimming pools. Some were brand-new, all were comfortable. Best of all, in Viñales, we stayed for three nights in casas particulars, private homes operating as B & Bs. We sat in rocking chairs on the front porch and watched neighbors nip in and out of each other’s homes, and bicycle vendors with braids of garlic draped over their handlebars. Our hostess, Lioska (who scowled when she admitted her name was Russian,) complained about the taxes she had to pay for her private enterprise, but was expanding her business from two to three bedrooms.

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Dinner at Lioska's House

A few memorable moments: Dinner in a palador, or private restaurant, with a local band, who had us singing, playing percussion, and snaking through the dining rooms in a conga line.  Even the kitchen staff joined the fun…cycling past a farmhouse where women laughed and shouted “Abuela!” (Grandmother) to me….drinking a cold Cuban Tukola after a hot ride….music everywhere: friends making music on a beach, with others dancing….two old men singing in a plaza in Trinidad…chatting with a market woman who wanted to trade my cycling shoes for a papier maché 1950s car that her father made. (I bought one instead.)….visiting one family’s small botanic garden and home, and learning from our Cuban guide, Jaime, all about their three Santaria altars with Catholic/Santaria saints…. people-watching in the Viñales town plaza: small children racing around, teenagers flirting, everyone enjoying music from a nearby club…. shouting “Hola!” to folks in the horse carts….making friends with the eight English, three Irish, and five Americans in our most congenial group.

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

"Everything depends on our own efforts." Fidel's words painted on walls and houses all over Cuba.

I got a splendid look at Cuban landscapes from pine forests to tropical beaches, glimpsed rural and town life on the ground, and felt the unquenchable Cuban spirit in people’s smiles and greetings.  

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Beach

Our daily cycling ranged from 25-40 miles. An easy cycling speed is about 10 miles per hour, so this left plenty of time for leisurely meals and other activities. And there was always the support bus if you wanted to climb aboard. (Full disclosure: I cycled about 90% of time, opting out of a few steep climbs.)

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Produce stall

Traveling to Cuba: We flew from Los Angeles to Cancun, Mexico. Flights from Cancun to Havana via Cubana Airlines were purchased from a UK travel agent. You get your $25 tourist visa for Cuba at the Cancun airport. Cubans are happy to see us, and don’t stamp US passports. 
Good book: The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba by Julia Cooke, published in 2014, is a close look at young Cubans today, by a journalist who spent the last five years living or visiting Cuba for long periods. I read it before I went, and after I returned.
More info: http://www.cuba-junky.com has tons of good information about many things Cuban.
Next week: Five days in Havana.

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