Warning: Bandidos

Santa Clara Plaza

Back on my first day in Cuba, I was conversing with a sympathetic Havana taxi-driver. In my rusty Spanish I explained that I was going to spend the next few days cycling round Central Cuba; from Cienfuegos to Santa Clara and then to Remedios… and so on. His response was not at all what I expected. I didn’t catch every word he said, far from it. But I understood exactly what he was saying. Unaccustomed to the Cuban dialect there were two words which clearly rang out – ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Bandits’.

What? Bandits?! I had not read anything about bandits. Cuba was supposed to be one of the safest countries to travel through, even for a single, white female. This taxi driver was having a laugh at my expense. I questioned him again. He was adamant that in Central Cuba, especially on the main road out of Cienfuegos, I would encounter bandits and they would leave me with nothing but the clothes on my back.

‘What have I got myself into?,’ I thought.

So there I was in Cienfuegos, up early for some breakfast with my panniers all ready packed. The Havana taxi-driver’s warning had already faded and I was raring to take to the Cuban roads…

…But bandits? Surely not. I couldn’t quite shift that thought from my mind.

Well if I did meet bandits, I figured I’d give them my stuff. So what if they took my bike and camera? I could still sunbathe on a beach and drink mojitos – that wouldn’t make for such a bad holiday. I just hoped they’d let me keep my clothes I had on. The thought of reporting a hold-up and theft starkers made me cringe. And if not the clothes, at least the suncream – one little white body would soon be glowing pink in the Cuban sun.

Oh sod it, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’. And off I cycled.

Uneventful Cycling

Now contrary to the Havana taxi drivers concerns, I made it safely to Santa Clara without losing all my belongings to bandits.

In fact, nothing of notable interest or consequence occurred on my first days ride.

Except – it was hot.

The road from Santa Clara passed through Palmire, Cruces and Ranchero – small towns – each separated by what can only be described as farming country. The people out here really don’t have much. It made me wonder how much good ‘La Societe Communista’ has done.

Safe In Santa Clara

Che Guevara Monument

I spent the afternoon on a short tour around a tobacco factory, seeing first hand how the cigar industry operates and then headed to the Che Guevara monument (memorial and museum).

After a tiring day, I returned to the casa for a siesta. It was good to get out of the sun.

That evening, I dined at the casa. Once again, a veritable feast. Even after cycling 70km, I could only consume half of what was served. It was delicious and I devoured platefuls – until the Monty Python sketch of Mr Creosote flashed into my mind. At this point, I thought it best to politely thank the casa owner for the lovely meal and investigate what was happening in town.

I strolled to the plaza again where there were signs that there would be music later on. I took a seat on one of the empty benches, sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the cool, fresh evening air. My peace was soon disturbed. It seemed that I had chosen the most popular bench to sit on. Several others remained empty, but my bench now homed seven bottoms of varying sizes. It didn’t matter though. We all chatted and laughed. You don’t have to speak the same language to understand one another. Being together, seeing and experiencing the same things has far more meaning.

Glancing around, I seemed to be the only white person here. Santa Clara isn’t high on the list of Cuba tourist destinations I guess. That’s fine by me though – it’s a lovely town – and what is one person’s loss, is another’s gain.

The music began; we all went for a closer look and soon the bench was empty again.