Playa Larga to Playa Larga (via Cardenas)
Playa's Around the Estes

May 28, 2015

What happened…

Andrew writes:

I’m not sure how it happened. We were ill-prepared, and we ended up ill-tempered in the afternoon sun. Yet somehow our nice, short ride from Cardenas to Matanzas ended up turning into an all-day affair, complete with headwinds, tailwinds, hills, hot sun and a surly hostess. Usually a recipe for disaster, but in our case, we made it work; and it was fun.

We left Cardenas, heading towards Varadero around 9am. It was supposed to be about 40km to Matanzas from where we started. The day promised to be pretty boring, what with it being on the Via Blanca (autopista) for the most part. The Via Blanca is a 4-lane highway. In Cuba, a highway of this size…doesn’t make much sense. There just aren’t enough cars. Yet in this region, there seem to be a lot more cars than we have experienced in the last 8 weeks. Everyone gives us lots of room, but there is a certain tension created by large vehicles moving past you at high velocity. Varadero sits on a peninsula all on its own, so we managed to ride right by without stopping in for tea.

The wind at this point was firmly behind us, and we made great time to Matanzas. I think we covered the last 25km in just over an hour. Amanda said something along the lines of us having one of our fastest days of the trip. We got to Matanzas, which is actually a really big city, in time for lunch. The eastern part of the town seems a lot newer, with high-rise apartment buildings, and modern looking businesses. We sat at Vino’s Pizzas, for lunch, eating our $3CUC ($3USD) pizza, with the waves beside us, spraying a fine mist as they crashed against the rocky shore. The plan after lunch was to find a Casa, and I definitely wanted to get the kite into the water, since the wind was blowing something fierce.

We rode through the rest of Matanzas, and while we spotted a few Casa Particulars, nothing really “felt” right. So by the end of town, we were climbing up a 5km hill to a height of 250m, and all of a sudden, our next place to sleep was looking to be about 30-40km in the distance. Cycle tourists the world over, I believe, have “rules” by which they live by. We have adopted the Province of Holguin, Cuba’s slogan as one of our rules – Adelante Siempre! (Always Forward!). We really don’t like riding backwards. We really don’t like riding backwards after climbing a big hill, knowing we’ll just have to climb it again in the future. I’m standing in the shade at the top of the climb and a man rides up to me:

(rough translation)
Man on bike: Why do you leave your wife back there on the hill??!!?!
Andrew: Eh?
Man on bike: You need to get a rope so that you can pull her up the hill.
Amanda (arriving breathless): What’s he saying?
Andrew: Something about me using a rope to pull you up hills.
Amanda: Can you tell him that if you tried that, I’d end up tying the rope around your neck and pulling you?
Andrew: ……
Man on bike rides away.
Andrew rides away quickly.

We spent the next 3-hours riding through rolling terrain. I say rolling, but really it felt mostly uphill. I never seem to notice the downhills – especially when a fierce crosswind is trying to blow me into oncoming traffic. There were two pretty cool parts though. The first was after the climb from Matanzas, when on the left side, looking south I guess, the Valle de Yumuri appears. So there I am, standing on top of the “mountains” looking across this gorgeous valley, to the “mountains” on the other side. They’re not mountains though, just foothills. On a bike though, they feel like mountains. The other cool thing was something we both had been looking forward to since first reading about it, Puente de Bacunayagua. This is Cuba’s longest, and tallest bridge, and it’s pretty rad. We took a couple of photos, but they just don’t do it justice.

Did I mention that we started the day with only 4L of water between us? It’s late in the afternoon now, and what with one thing or another, Amanda and I aren’t speaking to one another…in an effort to conserve water naturally; or perhaps to preserve our marriage. Digging around in our bags and whatnot and we unearth another 1.5L of water. Doves fly forth from our bags as peace is restored.

Alright, fast-forward to the end of the day when we reach Playa Jibacoa. Our reading has led us to believe that our only options to sleep here are in one or two Campismos. We actually pass by 2 Casa Particulars as we enter town, but they’re pretty far away from the water, so we ride downhill towards the beach and the Campismos. There are 5 or 6 total, and we can hear loud music coming from each one so they must be occupied by Cubans. Reaching Campismo El Abra, I’m told by the front desk that they don’t take foreigners, and that the only other option is Campismo Los Cocos. They telephone on my behalf and there is no room at the other Campismo. The next closest town is Guanaco, about 30km away. Remember our rule about riding backwards? It was a very quiet 1.5km ride back up the hill to the Casa Particular.

The hostess at the Casa Particular was thick; thick-headed. I’m a pretty laid back guy, and get along with people from all over the world really easily, yet within minutes, this chick hated me. The feeling slowly became mutual. First was the eye-rolling as I tried to negotiate a price reduction. Then, my indecisiveness about whether to eat dinner with her, or at the neighbouring restaurant appeared to cause her further anxiety. We ended up eating at the Casa, and she ended up, I think hurling is the best word, yes, hurling everything needed for a dinner on the table and expected us to figure it out. This included the tablecloth, utensils, plates and bowls of food etc. The bean soup was rather nice, and fortunately Amanda and I both carry spoons, since none were provided. I think pound for pound, it was the worst tasting food we’ve had in Cuba, definitely at a Casa. Oh, and the room was clean enough, and featured some very interestingly placed mirrors. To top it all off, there was even a Canadian guy who lived close by, Tim, who popped by to tell us all about his open-marriage, and his new Cuban girlfriend, and a host of other inane facts.

I’m writing this after the fact: I’m truly surprised that we lived to tell this tale.

Today’s Photographs

Playa Larga to Playa Larga (via Cardenas)
Playa's Around the Estes