Extract, as I wrote in my journal, for 24th April.
Santa Clara to Remedios
Today I cycled from Santa Clara to here in Remedios.
Up early for some pics of the main plaza before heading off on the bike. It’s an easy 47km meaning I make it to Remedios before noon (11am) and before the stinking heat – well the heat that makes me sweat and stink!
Dirty Old Trucks
The main road gently undulated all the way, making for a pleasant ride – in between the black-smoke emitting, oxygen sapping, lung-filling decrepit old trucks that occasionally pass which are followed shortly after by the warm blast of dry air which just when you’re trying not to gasp for air and avoid suffocation, tries its damnedest to push you in the other direction and make you pedal harder.
But apart from those trucks, it really is good cycling in Cuba – well, based on my first 2 days.
In actual fact, the skank old trucks are in a minority on these roads. Much more common, is to be passed by an old buick transporting the whole family into town, or more common still to pass a horse-drawn cart or mulatto on an old rusting bike.
‘El Mulatto Serios’
Having said that, there was one old chap on a bike who gave me a run for my money (or peso that is)… on the road into Santa Clara. I was storming past him on a long downhill, having gained significant momentum (due to muchas cosas on the bike rack, before you suggest anything else) one moment, and the next, he was back beside me.
Well I wasn’t having any of that…. shift a gear, move those legs a little faster….great we’re level. I looked over to give a smile and ‘hola’, but he was looking dead straight ahead, dead serious, not even a shifting glance across. ah – ruin all my fun!
Well, the last 1km into town was fast, with ‘el mulatto serios’ beside me all the way.
Enough of that and back to the horse-drawn carts and rusting old bikes….
Horse-Drawn Carts and Rusting Old Bikes
It’s strange in a way how normal the sight of a horse-drawn cart, rusting bikes and the like seem round here…. It’s a little like going back in time. The fields are even ploughed by oxen still – although there are some tractors around. Very old, small, and yes you’ve guessed it… rusting tractors, that would only be found in a museum or scrap heap back in the UK. Actually, I’m not sure you could even find them there.
It’s hard to tell how close to the poverty line people here really are – poor undoubtedly, but on the face of it, there’s enough to go around and few people are truly suffering. Indeed there are many people here in the towns who seem reasonably well off, and there’s a lot to envy about the slower pace of life here. Although, as with anywhere at any time, the grass is always greener on the other side and I doubt many Cubans would think the same way.
Interestingly, I’m reading a book written by a Cuban currently – ‘The Dirty Havana Trilogy’, by Pedro Juan Gutierrez. It’s set in Havana (no surprises there) in the 90’s, right around the time of ‘el periodo especial’, a 5-year period of rationing and seeming hardship – it paints Havana life in a dimming light that is hard to imagine having wandered around the tourist sites with the obligatory tour bus and camera toting whites (which needless to say, I fit the category, well, less the tour bus and less white, more ‘pink’ after a few days of sun and not enou,gh factor 25!).
A Refreshing Beer
So I’m sat outside El Louvre, on the plaza in Remedios, sipping at an ice cool cerveza, watching la vida Cubana in front of me.
A pretty square, with hardly any tourists, none in fact except for a french family who sat next to me temporarily (wielding the LP guide – which reminds me, I should bin if it weren’t for the maps).
And it seems I’ve been befriended by a little old dog, who since I rocked up in the plaza has sat down only a yard or two from me every time I stop. Which would be quite sweet if it wasn’t a flee-ridden mongrel stray just hanging around waiting to cop it.