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!  

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