Riding the roads of Cuba once more.


161120 23 Tour Havana ar

Classic Havana 

161118 1 Arriving Cuban Airport and meeting Luis161120 16 Havana Hostel Sara Luis Garage Harleys

Before returning to Australia we headed back to Cuba for our second expedition on Harley Davidson's. Our last trip had been organised through the company Edelweiss, but as they only cover the western side of the island and we wanted to head east to Santiago and beyond, alternative arrangements had to be made with local guides. Thanks to the persistence of fellow Australians Jan and Lee Langford, who we met in Cuba on our last trip, the plan finally came together. 

Rendezvousing at the Cancun Airport on November 18th we flew into  Havana to be greeted by our guide, a true Cuban Harlista, Luis Enrique Gonzalez Saez with his car, a trusty 1957 Buick that easily consumed all our luggage and us. Luis’s collection of Harley’s in his garage is a historic collection that he maintains passionately, all rare and all pre 1959 models. 

By the time we left the garage both Lee’s were much wiser now knowing the difference between a Pan and Kunckehead Harley. 

161126 20 Holguin to Guantanamo Cuba Fuelling always created a crowd

The plan was to spend 17 days motorcycling from Havana in the West to Santiago De Cuba in the East. A distance with detours and day trips that would see us cover some 2500km on our 2008 Heritage Softail (temporarily imported into Cuba.) Our opinion of the Harley as a touring bike hasn’t changed since our first experience in 2014. Andrew equates it to riding a tractor and Lee would say the suspension is far from soft given the number of times the bumps saw her, camera in hand, trying to launch over the top of Andrews helmet! That said there simply is no other bike to tour Cuba on. The people love them, young and old. A fuel stop becomes a spectacle as people gather to admire the bikes, have their photos taken along side them or to share the story  of their own classic Harley. Everyone in Cuba seems to be a Harlista, (Harley Enthusiast.)

161126 34 Holguin la Rocha Holguinera Accomodation161204 12 Back in Havana In search of Wifi

Accomodation last trip was in Hotels all owned and operated by the state and with about  as much character. This time we decided to go local and use the Cuban Bed and Breakfast accomodation or Casa Particulares. In private homes each room has its own bathroom and includes a hearty breakfast generally served on the roof top Patio. The bedroom interiors were always a surprise from the simply practical, 70’s romantic, to a room that looked like it came out of an Austin Powers movie. The greatest improvement from our previous trip was that gymnastics was no longer required to get running hot water from the tap, although the instant heat shower heads with switches within the shower recess did leave one feeling a little nervous. All of the Casa Particulares that we visited were impeccably clean, and staying in the homes gave us a far more personal experience, mixing with the families and trying to converse with our limited Spanish vocabulary. Many a laugh was had that was for sure.

161125 47 Ride Day Bayamo to Santo Domingo  Ox Cuba

When we returned from our last visit many people asked would Cuba change rapidly. We thought not, but we were surprised how much had changed in just under two years since our last visit. Wifi is now available in the main Plaza of each town, easy to spot by the crowds of people hanging around the Plaza. For Sale (Se Vende) signs on properties have begun to spring up. Until two years ago people could only swap a property but now apparently the rules are changing and people can now sell their homes. In Havana, new taxis and new models of cars were in far greater numbers amongst the old classic cars. Outside of Havana the odd new tractor could be seen shining in comparison to its old counterpart or the ox and plough in the neighbouring paddock. But many things remained unchanged like the number of Horse and Carts for transport, gardening with machetes, ration shops, buildings stuck in time decaying from the 1950’s and the condition of the roads. 

161128 23 Holguin to Guantanamo Cuba Fidel Homage

The most historic moment of our trip was the passing of Fidel Castro. Andrew and Jan were enjoying Cuban music in the early hours of 26th November when the announcement was made over the loud speaker. For the next nine days, Cuba went into mourning and no music, or alcohol was to be enjoyed. Cuba without music is simply not Cuba and it made it a rather sombre place to travel. Still the spectacle of listening to the never ending broadcast of the convoy of his ashes as they moved from Havana to Santiago De Cuba, the painting of pathways and buildings along the route of the procession, the closing of fuel stations and commandeering of trucks all gave us first hand experience of what being in a Socialist country is really all about. 

161130 43  Arriving Baracoa Cuba Bay

The township of Baracoa

161130 49  Arriving Baracoa Cuba Helping with our water supply

We were all very inspired by the people of Baracoa, the town wiped out by Hurricane Mathew in October who had made a momentous recovery encouraging tourists to return just eight weeks later. The landscape bore the scars of the high winds, but hundreds of homes were now equipped with new roofs, gardens were being planted and a temporary ferry service was operating across the river where the bridge had been wiped out. We were told our hostel had running water but later discovered it needed to be carted in daily and bucketed into the house water tank.  The ride along this stretch of coastline and the scenic mountain  pass made visiting this town worth the effort of a long ride in and out. 

161129 8 Guantanamo Cuba Museum Lazaro Lee L Jan and Space capsule

In Guantanamo we made the surprising discovery that Cuba sent a man into space "Tamayo Méndez traveled into space aboard Soyuz 38 with Soviet cosmonaut Yury Romanenko on Sept. 18, 1980” The capsule from the mission sits on display in a small museum along with other memorabilia donated by Tamayo to the people of Guantanamo.

161129 16 Guantanamo Cuba  76 Year old with us for our ride day

 It was also in Guantanamo that we met members of the “British West Indian Welfare Centre”. The aim of the centre is to encourage a commitment to maintaining cultural traditions. Apparently had Cuba not been in mourning we would have enjoyed a feast of traditional food and dancing. Though disappointed, we did enjoy  finding out about the operation of Guantanamo and the Cubans that up until two years ago still worked there, crossing the border between Cuba and the USA each day despite the US Embargo.

Guantanamo was also home to a 76 year old ex stunt bike rider and musician “El Charro” Jimenez who joined us on a ride out to The Stone Zoo. Here a  farmer between 1977 and 2014 chiseled out over 400 animal pieces from the stone where they stood. An impressive art gallery of stone animals that involved a hot walk around the hillside but there was certainly no slowing El Charro down.

161129 28 Guantanamo Cuba  Ride Day Zoologico De Piedra Stone Zoo

The Stone Zoo - one of over 400 pieces

161202 95 Santiago de Cuba  The place where Fidels memorial was to held161205 3 Farewelling our are Cuban family

Finishing in Santiago De Cuba the aim had been to visit the Bacardi Factory and sample Matuselum Rum in its home town but with the impending funeral service for Fidel everything was closed or cordoned off. For the last nine days of our trip everything was very subject to change. 

So came to an end another great trip in Cuba. Although after nearly three weeks Jan, Lee, Andrew and I were all in agreement that the Cuban time frame in which things happen, does eventually wear you down. It was great to have the company of Jan and Lee riding with us and adding to the experience. We had met through Luis some great people, particularly the driver of our support vehicle Lazaro from Camaguey and Luis's wonderful mum Sara. We feel comfortable that with the contacts we have established and friends made the next time we return will most likely be by water. 

No more Cubana Air, we look forward to sailing in, one day one year, one time.....





The Tour In Brief

161121 5 Day 1 Havana to Trinidad The group

November

18th - Arriving Havana from Cancun - typically late with Cubana

161123 40  Camaguey Ration Store

19th & 20th - Getting acquainted with the bikes and touring Havana including the Lost Soldiers Memorial

21st - Havana to Trinidad - buckets can be very handy for Cuban toilets

22nd - Trinidad - music, food, tourists. Checked out a Bee farm where the primary role was to breed Queen Bees

23rd - Trinidad to Camaguey - Lunch in the beautiful town of Sancti Spiritus. Arriving late into Camaguey we enjoyed a quick tour by taxi bikes around the old centre Camaguey in the dwindling light. Stopped in and checked out a local ration store, makes you appreciate your local supermarket range. 

24th & 25th - Bayamo - remembered most because it was here the music stopped, Cuba went into mourning. Ride day out of Bayamo took us to National Park Santo Domingo were we rode the steepest roads to date experienced 42degrees! Home to mountain on which Fidel coordinated his forces during the revolution. 

161127 37 Holguin Ride Day Repair team at work161202 74 Santiago de Cuba  Sign Andrew and Lee

26th & 27th - Holguin Stopped in to meet a beer drinking Donkey and enjoyed the view from the lookout of Holguin. Our ride day out of Holguin involved visiting a cultural museum on the site where Christopher Columbus had landed before a break down of one of the bikes saw an end to the days activities.

28th & 29th - Guantanamo- a museum with a space capsule, checked out Guantanamo bay from a lookout and met some great people who were able to share the stories of their relatives that had been part of the workforce of Guantanamo Bay. Visited the Stone Zoo with 76 year old El Charro.

30th - Baracoa - beautiful scenic ride through mountain ranges and along coastal rides to a an area devastated by a hurricane only eight weeks earlier. The church holds the cross that was originally brought to Baracoa in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. 

December 

1st - Guantanamo - after enjoying the sights around Baracoa we ran out of daylight and so opted to pull up for the evening in Guantanamo rather then riding on in the dark.  

161204 9 Back in Havana Moorish Influence

 2nd & 3rd - Santiago De Cuba - we exited one day early as Fidel was being buried on the 3rd December in Santiago and we did not like our chances of getting out. As it was we got a flight but then got stuck in Havana airport for 4 1/2 hours waiting for the luggage for the entire plane to turn up.Yes its Cuba and it happens in Cuban time. 

4th - Havana

5th - Exiting Cuba but Cubana Air just wanted to give us one more memory so our flight ended up being three hours late. We missed our connection to LA but the up side was we got one more great night in the company of Jan and Lee in Cancun  reflecting on what had been a great trip touring Cuba on Harley’s in Luis time. 

161201 42 Ride from Baracoa along Coastline Coffee Stop

Roadside Cafe Baracoa

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© SV Katherine 2017      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Faro Portugal with Askari of Australia