June 3, 2015
Start point: Bus station in Havana
End point: Casa in Havana
9.6 km trip, 52 minutes on the bike, 11.1 km/h average speed
59.8 km/h maximum speed
Often we are asked how long we are going to be staying in a particular place, for instance, how many nights are we going to stay at our Casa in Vinales. I try to explain in Spanish our process, but for the benefit of my English audience I’ll explain here.
Wake up in the morning.
Ask Amanda if she wants to leave.
Decide if I want to leave.
If yes, then pack up and go.
If no, roll over and go back to sleep.
In the case of today, we decided to skip whatever else Vinales has to offer, and just hop on a bus back to La Habana. After two months in Cuba, I’m feeling a little burnt out. Much of the country looks the same, the food tastes the same, the people act, and treat us pretty much the same..so when given the choice between spending time in rainy, tourist-filled Vinales, or heading somewhere new, we opted for the latter.
We walked up the street to the bus station and painlessly reserved our tickets back to the city. We had a few hours to kill, and did it by hanging out on the main drag, reading, and taking photographs. Surprisingly it didn’t rain, but it was quite muggy, and overcast. We were witness to the 12’o’clock bus arriving from La Habana, and about 50 Casa owners crowded around the disembarking passengers trying to sell their services. Meanwhile, across the street about a dozen taxi drivers shouted out for theirs. It was somewhat chaotic, although brief. After the bus drivers had lunch, it was time for us to load our bikes and baggage onto the bus and we set out.
In a way, I’m quite glad that we opted to take the bus. The southern route out of Vinales, towards Pinar del Rio (city), felt very much like a straight-up and straight-down affair. Amanda almost lost her lunch from the twisting and turning the bus was doing, as it swayed too and fro on the narrow, winding roads. Looking out the window, I’m not entirely sure how we would have managed with the traffic on these hilly stretches of pavement. After PdR, we reached Soroa, which we had talked about being where we would have slept, had we ridden our bicycles. It looked rather mundane, so little was lost there. Next up was Las Terrazas, Cuba’s “eco-village”, which while beautiful, felt even more claustrophobically like a tourist trap than Vinales did.
I made friends with a mountain biker in Las Terrazas, who got on the bus and sat next to me for the hour-long drive into La Habana. I never did get his name, but he was fun to talk with. A Brit, who seemed quite outspoken, and described his adventures in such a way as to remind me of a friend of mine back home..so I’ll call him Iain. His modus operandi in Cuba was to throw his bike on a bus and take it to a town, like Vinales, or Trinidad. Then he sought out mountain-bike worthy terrain and pedalled around for a few days in loops. When he was done with one place, he went on to the next. In the meantime, he had lots of crappy experiences; the kind that I would expect any primarily English speaking tourist might, especially one with perhaps a narrower view of life than what Amanda and I enjoy. Still, Iain was a great chap to talk with and time just flew by.
Before we knew it, we entered La Habana. The bus station is right beside the zoo, and we had ridden past it the other day on our way through town while riding to Mariel. It started to rain, hard. The hard kind of rain that made me want to just sit inside the bus station until it stopped. The kind of rain that made lukewarm puddles that splashed my sandalled feet, as I mopingly tried to navigate through the busy rush-hour traffic of the big city. We got lost – twice – on the way to the Casa that Pedro had recommended to us. The Casa owners weren’t home, and thus began a 2-hour exodus across Havana Centro and Havana Vedado (neighbourhoods in La Habana), as we sought a home for the next few days.
As the clock struck 7:00pm, I had to suspend Amanda’s decision-making privileges. She was too hungry, and cranky to be of much help. We rode towards the Malecon, and eventually found a Casa to take us in. The room was beside the kitchen, which if it was anything like the Casa we had in Pilon, meant that we would be waking up early. We resolved to give it a try, knowing we had all day tomorrow to find a new place to stay if we so desired. We quickly showered and changed and then went walking around the neighbourhood looking for a place to eat.
Havana is block after block of apartment buildings. The streets were dark, but not necessarily empty; not necessarily quiet. Everything seemed closed. Finally, we found a pizzeria that would serve as our dinner-joint for the 4 days we would spend in the city. After all, when one restaurant makes great food, why risk another restaurant that might end up to be worse? We arrived back at the Casa at 10pm, and went right to bed.