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Dec 15, 2014

Caribbean Island days 6, 7, and 8

Day 6Thursday, 27 November; a rest day and American Thanksgiving Day

Had an early breakfast and a dip in the Caribbean before heading back to the room to get ready for the day
—I'll go into town in search of Wi-Fi so that I can clear up a few loose ends at home that may be unraveling. The rest of the group is taking a tour of the local sights and, if local Wi-Fi is again non-existent, I may join them at one of the two plazas in Trinidad and for lunch.

It was an interesting search for Wi-Fi!  I was told that the ONLY Wi-Fi in Trinidad is at the Iberostar Hotel on the square, so that's where I headed. The nice woman at the front desk told me that, yes, they do have "Wee-Fee"... and that "it is for guests only and included in the room price." I told her (it's going to get deep, so you may want to put on your hip-waders) that I needed her help because I had a budding emergency situation at home that required me getting on-line; that I was on a motorcycle tour; and that we tried to book this hotel months ago but it had been unavailable. That the last bit turned out to be true was a lucky guess. I made it up on the spot. I also told her that I would be happy to pay for the access code.

No dice. She no doubt hears plenty of sob stories with attempts to get into her routers and very nicely directed me to the phone company offices down the street where I could get on-line.

Fortunately, the doorman liked watching over my Harley (there's a pair of words I never thought I'd say together) and was sympathetic to my cause; he told me that the long queue outside the phone company was for something other than Internet. So instead of asking "la ultima?" to find out who is the last person in the line, something Yanet taught me during my first visit to the island, I asked "Internet?" and the people in the queue held the door open for me.

The woman in the Internet department told me that although the don't have Wee-Fee, they do have computers to use to go on-line. I bought a couple access cards, waited a few minutes for a terminal to become available, and logged in. Once I got to my web site and email hosting site (GoDaddy), I was unable to log in even though I am SURE that I knew my password. Then I couldn't reset it because I was unable to receive the reset email on my iPad because there was no wireless. Catch-22.

The motorcycle jacket I brought on the trip is suddenly suffering broken zipper pulls and frayed seams, so I tried to order a new one on Revzilla.com. I got all the way to the checkout and then couldn't use it because it doesn't work from much of the world's IP addresses. Neither does PayPal.

Shit!

LOL

After 40 minutes of trying every work-around I could think of, I gave up and headed back to the hotel.

On my way in, the doorman suggested that I ask the woman at the Front Desk is I can speak with the Manager. No dice: "The Manager is not in today."

As I continued my effort to win her pity with a few more pleadings, something I said (or maybe my persistence) found a chink in the armor. She suggested that I go to a certain office close-by and tell them my story. "Maybe they can help you there," she said. So off I go to plead my case for Wi-Fi access to someone in an office with neither Wi-Fi nor a public computer terminal.

As expected, when I finished my tale, the man to whom I'd been sent said, in very good English, "I don't know why you are coming to me."

"I came to you because the woman at the Front Desk of the Iberostar Hotel suggested that you might be able to help me."

"Well, I might know someone who can get the access code... but you must never tell anyone where you got it."

"I promise!" (Note that I am telling you how and not where.)

"I am serious. No one can ever know where you got it."

"I promise!"

He then sent a text (SMS) message and told me that it would take 10 to 15 minutes to get a reply, so I waited while he talked with a couple of people who had just come in.

About 10 minutes later, his phone made a sound. He looked at it and then handed it to me. It said, "C5AD4F15BE". I wrote that sequence down on an untraceable piece of paper I'd picked up off the street, thanked him, and shook his hand with a CUC$10 note folded in my palm.

"Oh, no! I cannot accept that" (without actually offering to give it back).

"Please. You've helped me a great deal."

"No, it is okay. I am glad to help."

"Please. I insist!"

"Thank you."

Two polite refusals followed by two pleadings and an acceptance on the third... is this where the term, "The third time's a charm" comes from?

As I reentered the hotel (for the third time), the doorman asked, "Did you get it?" I smiled and said, "I will know in a couple minutes."

Then, a few minutes later... in my head, "YES!!! I'm in!"

I sat in the lobby, on-line, with my back to the Front Desk, for almost three hours. In addition to ordering a few things for delivery early next week before I leave, I was able to check voicemail and make a few calls using Wi-Fi calling. The perseverance it took to get that access code was well worth it!

On my way out, I thanked the Front Desk clerk for her help and discretely gave her CUC$5. I also gave five to the doorman for his help and for watching my bike.

It was all money well-spent, and probably less than if I'd bought government cards for the Internet time used. Plus, it was a good people-to-people experience...

Riding away from the hotel, I was unsuccessful in finding the restaurant suggested by the doorman, so I rode through the narrow one-way streets of Trinidad until I found a place that looked promising:

Taberna Hostel / Ochún-Yemayá Restaurant, Piro Guinart #151 B y C e/ Frank Paìs y Jose Marti, Trinidad, Cuba, 53 041 99-3877

For CUC$8, I got a wonderful lobster cooked in spicy tomato sauce (like a Diablo, but they called it something else), salad, bread, and rice.

By the time I finished lunch, it was after 3 p.m., so I rode back to the hotel. I didn't exactly get lost, but my GPS tried to take me on a 7.9 kilometer dirt/gravel road, so I old-schooled it back on what we'll call the very scenic route.

That night, we went back into town for dinner, this time on the other square, Plaza Mayor (pronounced mý-or), at the foot of the steps... and it was great food accompanied by music so good that when the musicians solicited donation, four of us bought their CD! This, from a group that usually donated CUC$1 or 2 to musicians.

Day 7
Friday, 28 November

Today's journey takes us across the width of the island, from the Caribbean through a small mountain range to the Atlantic and out onto an island. As we rode, there was plenty of time for thought...


A number times we were "strafed" by squadrons of parrots flying in a delta formation. Once a larger bird started to fly in front of me before apparently realizing he/she wouldn't make it. Banking hard left put him into a u-turn so close that I could all but feel the turbulence. I later saw another bird do the same to Christina as she rode a few dozen meters ahead of me.  He appeared to be less than the width of one lane from her as he bankedit was very cool to watch! Had it been a bird of prey, it would've had talons outstretched to pluck her off her bike and carry her away.

Throughout the day we saw many buzzards flying solo and in small groups in search of carrion. Compared to the parrots' fighter squadrons, the buzzards are large information-gathering gliders.

As we traversed the country, we crossed the Escambray Mountains. The road is both chock-full of tight curves AND sports a surface that made the Harley buck like a rodeo bronco. On the map below, follow the red line from just to the left (west) of Trinidad at bottom-center up to Manicaragua at top-center...


The curves were fun and challenginguntil we were AGAIN stopped dead by the fcuking support bus that was crawling up the road IN FRONT of us. The same support bus that was supposedly told more than twice to stay behind us! What a cluster!!!

We did get to stop at two viewpoints (miradors) that were very impressive...



Just a few kilometers to the ocean-side of Santa Clara is a 45 km-long causeway that greets you with a gate/toll booth. It costs CUC$2 per bike to travel each way AND, if you are a Cubano who does not work somewhere on the causeway or in one of the massive resorts, that same gate and toll both ensures that you will not get past. We did not learn this until later that evening (at dinner, I believe) and everyone in the group seemed disappointed. Two others and I spoke up, asking how does this fit into the Edelweiss view of what a "Classic Cuba" trip should include??? I never heard a direct answer to that or other similar questions. Manuel claimed to have pre-ridden the entire route in three days as preparation for laying out the trip. Maybe he should've taken a couple weeks and remembered that it's NOT the destination that is important, it's the journey!

The Cayo Santa María "No Cubans Allowed to Play" Resort is massive and all-inclusive just like a flippin' cruise ship. Since it's all-inclusive, everything except tobacco products, souvenirs, and a few heavily-upscale meals, is included: food, drinks, soda, ice cream, entertainment... all without paying an extra centavo.

We are mostly seeing tourist Cuba, NOT the real Cuba!

Who the hell is adventurous enough to ride a motorcycle through foreign lands and wants to spend a good part of that "adventure" in a sanitized, "Stepford wives" environment? I'll bet the trip could be 20% less expensive while giving clients a more enjoyable experience... and Edelweiss's profits would rise with more people able to afford the trip.

The evening's free "Cabaret" show was tacky and low-rent, though I will admit to enjoying the second numberit featured seven lingerie-clad dancers who got me to put on my glasses. The cabaret show was preceded by a few Karaoke numbers, one of whom was the requisite Japanese who sing like someone's squeezing his testicles. What's worse is, now I can't get the damn song out of my head.

If you're wondering about the meals here, this sentence gives them more column inches that they merit.


Day 8Saturday, 29 December; ~105km

We left Cayo Santa María at 1 p.m., which gave us the entire morning on our own at the "No Cubans Allowed Unless You Work Here" resort instead of in real Cuba. After a leisurely breakfast I spent an hour on-line trying to edit and upload a couple blog posts and finally gave up. I wrote until 11, then packed my bags and met everyone in the lobby.

Halfway down the causeway, fearless leader stopped for about 10 minutes to take photos. Of what, I do not know because I saw nothing worth taking the camera out of my pocket. Our next stop was a roadside outdoor museum to a battle that involved railroad cars and at least one bulldozer. There were no signs that told us when it occurred or its significance and fearless leader was silent on the topic. As with every stop, we drew a bit of an inquisitive crowd, so we took the time to answer a few questions and step aside while people had their friends take photos of them with one or more of the HDs.

Our final stop of the short riding day was the Che Guevara mausoleum--a very impressive sight as you ride up to it.
Rudy, "Don" Carlos, Manuel, Christina (bent over behind the red bike), Walter, and Bea in front of the Che Guevara Mausoleum

We went inside both the mausoleum, where Che and many "martyrs of the revolution" lie behind a stone wall, and the museum featuring many photographs from childhood until just prior to his death as well as numerous items that Che touched, used, and/or held during his life. There was no mention of his falling out with Fidel, his ignoble death after being betrayed, or Fidel's decision to beatify him to further the fever of the revolution.

Tonight's lodgings are in a bungalow placed a quite, natural setting about 3 km outside of Santa Clara.
The hotel is called Los Caneyes
We're told it will be significantly less quiet between 9:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. when the nightclub awakens its Saturday night discotheque, so they've arranged for us to be in rooms as far from the disco as possible.

For the journey to tonight's dinner in Santa Clara, Manuel chose an iron-wheeled horse-drawn cart like many of the dozens we've seen throughout the countryside and even in the cities. Everyone was excited about the downgrade in transportation except my back. After 1/2-kilometer I was forced by a muscle spasm to stand on the rear step and at about 1 kilometer, when the horse slowed going up a hill, I jumped down. I wear the back brace while riding and that Manuel sees everyday for a reason. I think he should've asked me if I thought the cart would aggravate my back and given me the chance to pay for my own cab, which I would've gladly done. Instead, I told them to go on and have a good dinner and I walked back to the hotel.

It will NOT hurt me to miss a meal {BIG smile} 

When I wandered down to the discotheque a little after 11, it was VERY quiet and there were only a few customers inside. A greater number of potential customers were wandering around the nearby pool area or sitting on benches outside the club. I had a drink at the pool bar and then called it a night. If the club ever woke up, we were far enough away that I never knew it.


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