21 December 2014

Our last day of riding...

Day 930 November; 325 km

Our last day of riding brought us kilometer after kilometer of open fields, copses of trees, and numerous small towns/villages.

I get a few requests each day for the engine rev. Today, as I gave one man a couple of growls, he threw his arms wide above his head and rewarded with two thumbs-up and a HUGE grin!

We stopped for lunch at a roadside stand outside of Manzatas, just before the highest bridge in Cuba. It felt unsafe pulling off the side of the road into the dirt, though we managed it, and pulling back on again, without incident. Lunch was your choice of a pulled pork sandwich or a pulled pork sandwich, both eaten standing in the sun.

The sandwich artist and Carlos
I passed in the hope that there would be food as promised at the highest bridge's tourist area. There were only the standard premade ham and cheese sandwiches, so I continued to work on my dinner appetite.

The days road were in pretty good condition; we averaged between 60 and 90 kph on all but a few stretches.

As you ride for hours, the mind wanders, though hopefully not while negotiating a curve. At one point I was thinking that I'd seen many more vintage Chevys than vintage Fords and then, within 10 seconds, here comes a Ford. Then another and another. The same thing happened a while later when I mused that most (~90%) of the bicycle riders we passed were males. Suddenly I'm seeing female after female on bicycles. Was these a change in what I noticed, or something else? I'm leaning toward the latter, though without evidence.

Since we were taking the more rural, curvy, and scenic route today, Manuel led us off the highway at about the 65 km marker and onto a road called Via Blanca. It was a more narrow and curvy road (YEA!) than most we've taken. My guess is that is was a bit over 8 km long because we rejoined the highway close to the 57 km marker. La Via also took us to the ocean's edge; and ended far too soon for my likingthough 8 km is far better than any less. This short stretch of paradise also gave me my first viewing of brown (or any) pelicans since I moved from Florida in 1998, also a very welcome sight.

We soon reached Havana and stopped for a bit at a huge warehouse-like building that is only open on Sundays. Fortunately for us, it was a Sunday, because the building houses what has to be one of the world's largest collection of small, privately owned galleries with an amazingly diverse selection of styles, subjects, and sizes of paintings.

Almost none were framed and many were very tempting. Since I have two paintings from my previous trips, both of which I successfully resisted selling during my divesting, I was able to resist the sirens' calls. Marcel bought three pieces after dinner in Trinidad and succumbed once more to a very nice oil.

Mounting up one last time, we rode along the Malacon and then, cutting inland when required, ended our ride—bikes and bodies intact—at the port where we picked up the bikes... this time to dismount for the final time.

Our last dinner in-country was in-town at the amazing Chefs Ivan Justo Restaurante (Aquacate 9,9 e/ Chancón, phone: 537 863 9697). The chef was, for many years, personal chef to El Maximo, Fidel Castro himself. After tasting his cooking, we were all surprised that Fidel let him go... it was an incredible meal! I also got a bit of unplanned entertainment as the British clown at the next table told his three dinner companions about how terrible the United States is to visit AFTER opening with, "I've never been to the U.S., but..." It was very difficult to refrain from weighing in, yet somehow I managed.

Rather than go back to the sanitized environment of our state-owned hotel, we chose to walk to and down Calle Isquitos (Isquitos Street) to the Plaza Vieja where we happily encountered a street party complete with DJ and salsa dancing. Our group milled about a bit and watched; I think tempted a bit to join in. None of us did, though, and after a half hour or so I voiced the group's opinion that we'd had enough fun for the night. After a short conversation between themselves, our guides chose to stay and put us in two taxis, gave instructions and payment to the drivers, and sent us "home".

Upon arrival at the hotel, Walter and Bea suggested that the six of us sit in the bar and have a final drink together. We all agreed and I enjoyed one last mojito as we all promised to keep in touch and share photos.

Although there were times I was quite unhappy about how it was run, the tour was a good experience... and a number of good stories. I also got to spend 10 days with some great people; enjoy a couple thousand kilometers of Cuban countryside as few before have; and, after a number of forgettable meals, enjoy some truly wonderful ones.

As I finish fleshing out my notes three weeks to the day later, I've received links to photos from both Walter and Marcel, though they're as-yet un clicked-on.

Here is a photo taken by Walter and sent to me via email...

Tour Guide Carlos and one of his vintage Harleys that he restored
Carlos is a great guy and the most sincere Harley aficionado I've ever met! He added so much to the trip that I doubt I can adequately express my thanks to him. I did try, though. When I saw that his helmet shield was severely scratched, I suggested that he ask Edelweiss to send him another... and with his permission, gave him mine (we ride almost identical Schuberth Hi-Viz helmets and my pristine shield fits his helmet, too) until they do as the customary end-of-tour tip. I also gave him my black armored jacket because I bought a new one and thought this one would go to better use here. He told me it will fit his brother-in-law perfectly, so I'm thrilled to be right!

Since I started this last Cuba-related post, there have been a number of stories in the U.S. and international press about the long-overdue thawing of relations between the U.S. and the island nation only 90 miles from Key West!

An earlier post linked to an op-ed piece published prior to the revalations. Here is one that appeared in the 15 December NY Times: Cuba's Economy at a Crossroads

I will leave you with this very strong recommendation: Go to Cuba BEFORE relations are fully "normalized"! You will find one of the unspoiled gems of the Western Hemisphere and have a chance to experience it as it will never again be once Wal-Mart, Abercrombie & Fitch, KFC, and the other American corporate behemoths assimilate it into their web of shit.

18 December 2014

A "New Chapter" in the US-Cuba Relationship

Is the ridiculous and failed U.S. embargo finally in its death throes?

Secret talks were held between the U.S. and Cuba over the past year!

Please click here to read the latest news!

Thanks to Paul for the heads-up...

17 December 2014


When I decided to keep my U.S. phone number for at least the first few months of my new life, I found that it would cost me $2.99 per minute to keep my 30-year cell phone relationship (I had a cell phone when they were permanently mounted in your vehiclelong before bag or brick phones) with AT&T. So I switched to T-Mobile who offers 20 cents per minute or free when using Wi-Fi calling; I went into the Olympia-Lacey T-Mobile store and the sales rep signed me up for a $40/month plan pre-paid plan that I later upgraded by $10 to get unlimited overseas text messaging.

Last Friday, a little more than a week after arriving in Viet Nam and a month after switching to T-Mobile I found that the plan I was on actually charged for Wi-Fi calls and non-Wi-Fi calls were $2.99! What?

I immediately called T-Mobile and talked with three different representatives before finding one who could "fix" me. She simply changed me to a post-paid plan for the same $50/month... one that gives me the free Wi-Fi calling and 20 cents/minute calls to the U.S. that I was originally promised. Problem solved, right? If it were, I wouldn't be boring you.

Sometime Friday afternoon U.S. time, T-Mobile shut off my phone and I only found out when I got "No Signal" on the phone. Fortunately, Skype hadn't shut me off for no flippin' reason, so I immediately called T-Mobile and asked, in slightly nicer words, WTF? They told me that the "Overseas Fraud Department" had shut down my line and that I would need to talk with themon Monday.

When I called them on Monday, the "Overseas Fraud Department" told me that they didn't call me with their questions because their policy did not allow them due to the 14-hour time difference between them and me. What GREAT customer service!!! After answering three of the exact same questions that I answered when I switched to the post-paid plan only hours prior to them shutting down my phone number, they turned the number back on. Really? That's it??? Wow!

Now that they've turned my phone back on, the Wi-Fi calling that worked just fine before is no longer working. Numerous Skype calls to the so-called "Technical Support" people have done nothing to get it up again. So far, the best they can come up with is that there is something wrong with the unlocked iPhone 5S I'm using that wouldn't be wrong with an iPhone 5S that I could buy from T-Mobileif I were in the U.S. This is their answer even though everything worked before they shut the line off and turned it on again AND it also doesn't work on any of the three all-but-identical 5S iPhones that I have with me. "Technical Support" claims they'll know more in a few days.

Why is it that when a company can't figure out where they screwed up, they blame it on the customer? That's great customer service!

Oh, yeah... I also had to call to get them to turn on my ability to get voicemail that somehow failed to re-activate when they restored my phone privileges.

15 December 2014

Abundance Without Attachment

Check out the great op-ed piece in Sunday's NY Times!
Abundance without Attachment

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 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.



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.

09 December 2014

Riding further into this beautiful island...

Cuba Day 3—Monday, 24 November, a rest day; ~40 km local tour

We left the hotel after another state-run buffet breakfast. Yum! Our first stop was at a Viñales National Park viewpoint, where I met American tourist CJ.  He asked (of course) about the Harleys and then we had a brief discussion about the many various ways and gateways to come here. We would have talked longer, but it was time for us to rumble on.

Our next stop was at a nearby tobacco farm where we got an explanation of the growing, harvesting, and drying of tobacco, followed by a demonstration of the proper cigar-rolling technique. 

We were, of course, also offered the opportunity to purchase a number of cigars of different diameters and lengths. Only Rudy bit.

Back in the early 60's, Fidel instructed that a nearby cliff face be decorated with una pintura prehistorica—a prehistoric painting. We passed on the opportunity to pay CUC$2 each for the up-close and personal experience, instead choosing to settle for the big picture.
Another short ride later, we walked 100 meters or so into a natural cave until we got yo the river that flows through it where we climbed on board a small (12-15 seat) boat that took us a bit further into the cave.
Fortunately our lunch restaurant, though outside, was under-cover, because about 10 minutes into our meal we had about a 10-minute respectable downpour. Even better, it ended before our lunch did, so we stayed dry and comfortable.

Back at the resort, I succumbed to an afternoon nap before another amazing paladar dinner where I had 1-1/4 langostas; grilled and very sweet.
Throughout the trip I took a few pictures, though like the rest of the group, I was hoping Rudy's photos  would turn out well because he had already promised to share and seemed to be ready for every opportunity. I'll post some of his, I'm sure, once he sends the link...

Day 4—Tuesday, 25 November

Since we have almost 220 miles to go today (back to Havana is ~halfway), most of today's ride is on the country's main highway--mostly two, sometimes three lanes each way and a pretty decent road surface, so we'll hit 100 kph a lot.
In the 30 kilometers before the highway we are looking forward to 20 km of nice descending twisties on a decent road surface! 


We then got to ride them painfully slowly because some fcuking genius put our luggage-carrying "support van" in front of us and it apparently is only able to crawl through the one-lane-each-way curves. Really? WTF?

The highway ride was, for the most part, a couple hundred-plus km of mind-numbing riding featuring kilometer after kilometer of sugar cane with random copses of trees and open fields. If you substitute sawgrass for the sugar cane, it was reminiscent of South Florida's Alligator Alley. The road is in pretty good shape with just enough potholes and other obstacles—
people standing in the road flagging a ride, debris, etc.

A few dozen kilometers down the very lightly highway we passed the aftermath of an accident in the other direction where a tour bus had apparently rolled over. I thought "rollover" because although the bus was upright, the windshield and its frame were in front of it and spread across all lanes. There was also a significant crease immediately behind the driver's door 
in the curved junction of the roof and the side. Such a crease is highly unlikely to occur without a rollover, especially when the front end sheet metal appeared mostly intact. There was also a damaged small sedan behind the van and a fire truck blocking both lanes behind it to prevent any traffic from diving through the scene. There were no people visible other than the police and fire personnel, so I guessed that they had already been taken to the hospital or a safe place.

As we prepared for our ride that morning, I noticed a 5 cm curved scratch on the top right of the gas tank, about half of which had broken through the clear coat. A scratch that had NOT been there when I signed for the bike yesterday! Ut oh!!! A short panic was followed by the realization that it was caused by a screw on the bottom of the handlebars.

During our checkout on Saturday, Manuel told us to let either him or Carlos know if we wanted the handlebars adjusted for more comfortable riding. At Sunday's first rest stop I asked that mine be lowered to also bring them back a bit because my riding position was leaning too far forward for extended-ride comfort. Carlos loosened the screws; I adjusted the bars as far as I could without touching the tank; and he tightened the screws back down. Apparently they were just a hair loose because when I put weight on them to stand on the floorboards going over a rough patch of road, they moved just enough to mark the tank and I didn't notice it until the next day. I felt bad, yet also feel that I did nothing wrong.

To further endear himself to meand a couple of the others who heard the commentwhen he saw the scratch, Manuel muttered, "That is why we don't like moving the handlebars." 

Seriously??? You brought it up! I chose to keep those inside words and wait to see if they charged it to my deductible. We had two choices for insurance to cover damage to the bike: $7000 deductible was included in the tour price; or we could pay €120 or $213 for "VIP Coverage" with €1800 or $3400 deductible. If you do the math figuring the day's conversion rate of 1.2€/$, the Austrian tour company was going to make a $69 profit on the premium conversion and up to $1240 on the deductible if I pay in dollars. I took the VIP plan and asked that they bill me in Euros. The good news is that nothing was said about the scatches when we turned in the bikes. 

Harleys are quite ostentatious in this poor country. Yes, people run out of their houses as we pass by (I was usually the last of the five participant riders, so I got to see those pulled out by the first bikes); many ask for a growl while others just smile; and it may be the only time they ever see a Harley in-person; so there are positive effects... I think my discomfort was in knowing that no matter how hard they worked, none of them would ever get to buy or even ride one.

A few of us are trying to figure out why Manuel consistently underestimates time or mileage ahead by at least 15-20%. Is it because he's Italian or a "pleaser" or clueless? We each have a different idea...

Tonight's hotel is Playa Larga—
a small bungalow resort on a Caribbean beach. It is nice, though it would be a lot better if the water pressure were, to paraphrase Marcel, stronger than I can piss.

Walter, Bea, Christina, and Marcel
Rather than leave the bike overnight on the dead end street with no traffic, most of the group parked on the sidewalk to their bungalow or on the grass... so I decided to do the same and rode my 900-pound Harley up the curb ramp and onto the grass. As I made a tight turn at 2 or 3 kph, the rear wheel slipped out and the bike went down on its right-side road bars. Pete may differ, but I don't count that as a crash.

It was, though, embarrassing. Wanting to get it upright before anyone noticed, I tried to pull it up with fully-extended arms instead of bending my elbows a bit. As I lifted, I heard and felt a pop in my left elbow followed by two more rapid pops just to the side of the first. It immediately burned hot and I may have yelped. Probably yelped...

As a veteran of many, many injuries, I'm very familiar with the drill--ice 20 on, then 20 off--though apparently less familiar with how to do things so the injury is avoided in the first place... SHEESH! And it hurts like hell!

I headed over to the gift shop to "borrow" una bolsa plastica and then to the bar, where I ordered a mojito to help with the pain. As I all but slammed the mojito, the bartender filled my bolsa with heilo (pronounced "yellow"). I took a Bucanero (beer) with me to assist in the recuperation.

My biggest concern was, "would I be able to ride?" with a compromised arm? The next day was going to be about 200 km, though the roads were supposed to be reasonable, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I immediately looked for Manuel to tell him of my f-up and give him a head's up re tomorrow's ride. He was supportive and said that if I needed them to have the bike picked up and taken back to Havana, they could. That would mean the end of the ride for me, so we decided to see what the morning brings. Those who've know me a while know that, short of stroking out or breaking a femur, I'm on that bike tomorrow!

It does look good up there, doesn't it? LOL
There is a great paladar just two blocks from the Playa Larga gates. They offered us dinner choices of red snapper, crocodile, chicken, beef, pork, rice, many fruits and vegetables, and, of course, mojitos, Cuba Libres, and cervezas.
The best part of Playa Larga is this paladar
I'm liking paladars!


Day 5—Wednesday, 26 November; ~200 km

Considering the pain my fcuked-up left arm was giving me, I slept pretty well. No swelling or discoloration yet, so I probably did significantly less damage than it sounded like at the time. It also only hurts if I try to fully extend it without first dropping it to my side or rotate my wrist, so I'm trying to keep those motions to a minimum. During today's ride I will rest it in in my lap as much as possible and at the end of the day it felt much better than it did immediately after the stoopid move.

It took only 15 minutes to arrive at Cueva Pesces, a natural sink over 70 meters (227+ feet) deep and directly connected to the ocean. There are numerous tropical fish in the pool and swimming is encouraged. I didn't go in, though Manuel and Maurice (Holland) did. They said the water was nice, but the first few feet were too cloudy to see much; once you got deeper, Manuel said, it cleared up quite nicely.

About 20 minutes further down the road we stopped in the area of the Bay of Pigs and visited the Museum of the Revolution—a small one-story building housing artifacts of the failed American CIA-sponsored invasion/attempt in topple Fidel. 

Our transportation in front of Fidel's transportation during the Bay of Pigs
 The ridiculous 50+ year vindictive American embargo was born of this failure and it continues to hurt the Cuban people every single day.  Today and every day, Fidel goes about his gardening retirement as he did his leadership of these wonderful, optimistic, warm, friendly people... completely unaffected by embargo that the mean-spirited and bitter Cuban-American exile community refuses to let die. Get over it!

The rest of the day consisted of a few stops—at the town square in Cienfuegos for refreshments; an excellent lunch at Villa Lagarto, a restaurant and hotel on the water just outside of Trinidad (Villa Lagarto, Calle 35 #4bb e/ 0 y Litoral, La Punta, Punta Gorda, Cienfuegos, tel: +53 (43) 519966); a visit by Carlos and me to a local Hospital Internacional to buy a couple compression bandages to wrap on my arm; and then the final stop of the day—Club Amigos Hotel Amcón, our Caribbean seaside all-inclusive resort that is a good 20 minutes from the city. This tour is called "Classic Cuba"... wtf is "classic" about all-inclusive resorts where the only Cubans are the help???

As the others arrive for our 7:10 dinner (another buffet), I am ordering my third mojito of the afternoon. This tour is facilitating more drinking than I normally do in any two years.
Views from my 5th floor balcony taken prior to the mojitos

All-in-all a good day, though it sure would be nice to spend more than 20 minutes in Cienfuegos... 

So far, this tour would greatly benefit from a serious reconsideration of the itinerary and sleeping locations!  

08 December 2014

Chapter 8--Retirement means many things

Three days ago, only 371 days after my first arrival in Việt Nam, my plane landed in Ho Chi Minh City carrying every physical thing I own in 8 suitcases, two backpacks, and what I'm wearing. What's funny is that a year ago I had most of these things plus enough others to fill a 2800 square foot house--and at this moment I feel that I have too many possessions. What a difference a year makes!

December 3rd, my last day in Olympia and in the U.S. for the foreseeable future, was a strange day for me. The previous day I spent almost 19 hours packing and re-packing; throwing away some of the things that wouldn't fit and giving away the others. Included in "throwing away" were many things that are not yet in the trash and may escape it if they are claimed by a few friends who will come by the house in the next day or so. After sneaking in almost four hours' sleep, I got right back into it and finished loading the rental car in time for a 10 a.m. departure. 

What was strange was that all day--at home, on the phone, in the car, at Bob the Chiropractor's office, in the rental car shuttle, during the first flight--I would suddenly start crying for no immediately obvious reason. Relief? Sadness? Fear? Happiness? I do not know. 

I do know that I am excited to start Chapter 8; sad at leaving a great city and many wonderful people; relieved to finally finish packing; and even a bit fearful of what lies ahead, though that is greatly eclipsed by the wonderful anticipation of a life in a country where I speak only a few words of the native language.

Yes, I've always been a bit off-center...

Have you decided yet when you're going to come let me show you around? Give me a month or so to decompress and get settled in first, though... and get caught up with this blog!

Thanks for staying with me...

04 December 2014

Resolution, City Tour, and We Are On The Road!

Day 2Saturday, 22 November; Havana City Tour

The morning started with some good news: Manuel had spoken at-length with the home office and solo adventures were now allowed. He claimed that this was due to a new agreement with government officials that allowed us more freedom of travel outside the group. Really? Since yesterday? Whenever it changed, Maurice and I are now smiling. 

We spent most of the day touring the city, all of which I'd seen on previous trips, so I spent most of my time talking with our state-supplied tour guide, Ray, about the ridiculous American embargo that only hurts the common people, not the elite or the leaders—though I did see Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Milky Way candy bars, so some things are sneaking in... and the American Ambassador's car is a late model Ford Flex, so does that mean that wherever the car is, is at that moment "American soil"?
Is this rolling American Soil, or just a case of RHIP?
Jose Marti looks better than I and he's been dead > 100 years
Government buildings featuring Che and General Cienfuegos taken from the podium
where Fidel used to make 7-hour speeches while Party leaders in the rows behind
him sat on marble benches (did they lose face if they brought a cushion?)
John Lennon Park where the caretaker brings out the statue's wire-rimmed glasses for tourists' photographs:
Lennon and the Caretaker
We also hit the Hotel Nacional; the outside of El Morro (the fort guarding the harbor); Havana Club Rum Tour with free tasting (1/2 oz of their 7-year old rum; good, though less smooth than the rum of the Philippines); walking tours of a couple historic squares; and lunch. Then back to the hotel 25 minutes and a CUC$15 (US$17.25) taxi ride from town, so it's inconvenient at best to go in again. 
Mid-afternoon we went to pick up our transportation for the next nine daysseven pre-owned Harleys in very nice condition after their long boat ride from Denmark. The prep crew did a great job of getting them ready for us in less than 24-hours and even found the time to fill them with fuel.

After receiving a short explanation of the controls, we donned our riding gear and took them for a couple warm-up laps around the parking lota good idea any time you first get on a new motorcycle and, in my mind, mandatory when you're talking about a bike over 800cc (these are each more than double that). Today's ride was only a couple kilometers back to the hotel; the real riding starts in the morning!
Manuel, Walter, Marcel, Bea, and Rudy after riding the bikes from pick-up to the hotel
My ride for the next nine days--a Harley-Davidson Road King
Each bike was unique in style and/or color, yet they wanted to
ensure we took the right one--or were they naming them?
At 7:15 p.m., we met in the lobby and got our first ride in a couple of the hundreds of 1950's American cars they've kept running by every imaginable means; diesel tractor engines are a common replacement. Our destination was a very good paladar: Decamerón, Linea No. 753 e/ Paseo y Calle 2, Vedado (phone 832 24 44). I had a seafood stew that featured fresh lobster and was amazing! Everyone was very happy with their dinner and a few of us even asked if we could return in nine days for our farewell dinner.

Most of us retired to our rooms immediately after returning from dinner to rest up for our first day on the Harleys. Or is it "Harlies"? Naa, I think I was right the first time...
Day 3Sunday, 23 November; ~241km
After a hotel breakfast buffet we got short briefing on the day's route and events. Then we set out on what are undisputedly the 7 largest motorcycles (motos mas grande) in Cuba. As we rode through the city outskirts and into the countryside, most people we rode past took a few seconds out of their Sunday to watch the procession roll through their small part of the planet. Some smiled, others waved, and a few boys (always boys, no matter the age) made a loose right-hand fist, held it horizontal about chest-high, and rolled their wrist up and down... in the hopes that one of us would pull in the clutch and growl the engine a couple times. I obliged every time I saw the request and was rewarded with many huge smiles. Only as I wrote this did I realize that this is their version of the vertical loose fist and arm pump with which the much, much, much younger John pleaded with truckers to let loose with their air horn...

Never a fan of the brand
, this silver Road King is slowly gaining my respect. That said, I am unable to imagine ever buying one. 

The countryside between Havana and Viñales is a lot like Việt Nam's Central Highlands where I shall soon live. Cuba is, however, much more humid! 

Cuba also has mountains of a sort. Their word for those near Viñales is magotes (pronounced ma-gó-tays; haystacks) which fits well. They remind me of the formations of Hà Long Bay much more than the Rockies or Alleghenies.
Viñales from my hotel room
Hà Long Bay
Overall, the roads are better than those in Việt Nam, though we did spend the last couple hours (I have no idea how long it really was, though it seemed like at least two hours) on one that would make an excellent scrubbing board for hand laundry. There are also, unfortunately, sufficient potholes and gravel to ensure a minimum of deep thought or daydreaming. It also helps that I am wearing the $700 back brace prescribed for my now-repaired L1 fracture (see 19 February 2014 post "Ego intact (ut-oh)!". It is from here on my close companion on every ride of >1 hour! For backup, I also brought the $50 motorcycle back brace that I bought on eBay before I got the prescribed one. When, at the first rest stop, our Cuban guide Carlos complained of a sore back, I dug the backup brace out of my bag in the support vehicle, and he quickly accepted my offer to let him use it for the remainder of the trip. At the end of the day I asked if it was still helping. He was very emphatic in his thanks, so I asked if he would accept it as un regalo (a gift) from me.

The payoff for the less-than ideal road was a great ride through the mountains of western Cuba! What great photos I could have had were I riding solo or with one other bike!!! Carlos is riding sweeper (last) and later told me that if I wanted to stop and take a photo that he would stop with me and that we would then catch up to the others, so I'm sure I will take him up on it. Additional note: I stopped solo only once because rather than letting us roll on the throttle to catch up, Manuel always stopped the group to wait for us. It would be nice if the guides had a communication system to keep in touch for things like this and more serious possibilities.

We made a rest stop in a town called Bahia Honda and, as I was drinking my large carton of mango juice, a man rode up on what turned out to be a 1953 Soviet "Boho" motorbike. He said to me (in an accent that sounded a lot like it originated in the Southeastern U.S.), "They tell me you're an American!" I replied, "Yes, I am" and he heartily welcomed me to his small town. American-Cuban John Enriquez was born to a Cuban father and Pennsylvania Dutch mother. After his Dad passed, he found out that he has more relatives in Bahia Honda than in the U.S., so he lives here about 8 months out of every year. As we talked about his motorbike and his life in Cuba, a Cuban man approached and John greeted him as a friend. After a few words, the man walked away. As he did so, John lowered his voice and said, "Carlos is a vampire."

A few minutes later, John said he had to go and after wishing me "un buen viaje", rode up the hill to where he'd told me his house was.

It was then that I surmised John's definition of vampire because Carlos immediately returned and asked me to buy him a mojito. I told him that I would be glad to do so... that evening in Viñales after we finished riding for the day. He, of course, wanted onenow. I again explained to him that I would not have a cocktail until after we finished the day's ride and that I would be happy to buy him a drinkin Viñales. We went back and forth in this same vein a few more times until he gave up and walked away... without even wishing me a buen viaje.

Though I looked for him in Viñales, I didn't see him...

From about 2 p.m. on, we rode directly into the sun. Even with my slide-down sun visor, it was often very difficult to see. The world was turned into a high-contrast black and white movie
extremely bright sunlight and darkest shadows. At one point I startled as I passed within two feet of a very dark-skinned woman in a dark dress whom I saw only when she was a couple feet away. Fortunately we were passing through a small town and riding fairly slowly. She doubtless never thought about it because the sun was at her back and she would have seen me quite clearly.

The hotels here are almost completely owned by the government and breakfast is included in the room rate. Many of them also require that you eat the hotel's buffet dinner one night. You can eat dinner that night off-site if you want to pay for two dinners. We, therefore, got to eat dinner at the Miramar (Havana) and Viñales hotels... experiences worth missing. From my brief experience eating at Cuban state-run hotels, I think the "chefs" must be trained by the Soviets; or possibly by the Brits.

The next morning, we all shared our stories of sleep interrupted by mosquitoes. According to my Up fitness bracelet, I woke up six times before finally falling into a sound sleep. What made the difference was that I turned on the air conditioner which apparently keeps them from either finding you or landing, I care not which.

My Up bracelet also told me that although I'd only walked from the room to breakfast and back to the room, to the bike, on/off the bike a few times, from the bike to the room, and between the room and dinner, it told me that I'd walked 18,421 steps
over nine miles! I quickly deduced that the extra 16,000+ "steps" were registered due to riding many kilometers over bump roads.

As I mentioned earlier, the Internet is very elusive here! Only after arriving here did I think about how dependent on it I am. Normally, I would welcome the break. Unfortunately, there are a few things I need to wrap up BEFORE I return and I need the Internet to do so. The hotel here has no access cards to sell, but that's okay because I still one from the Havana hotel and it's all one government system so I can use that card here. Except that there is no access because they need to reset the router and hotel management (employed by the government) has no access to the government's router. Another victory for The Glorious Revolution! Maybe I'll have better luck at the next hotel?

At one point prior to my arrival I actually thought I might consider retiring here, though until they have virtually omnipresent Wi-Fi (pronounced wee-fee) like Việt Nam and a good part of the rest of the developing world, it will NOT happen. Could that be the issue here? That Cuba will not be allowed to join the "developing world" until the Cuban-American political mafia pulls their panties out of their collective butt crack?