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.

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