Back to Havana! - We'll Follow the Sun - CycleBlaze

January 27, 2019

Back to Havana!

After a somewhat restless night (listening to the rain and thinking about getting on the bus), we awoke early, put our bags on the bikes and said goodbye to our little Casa in Vinales.  It had been a wonderful little place to stay – so quiet and peaceful.  We will miss this little place and the valley and plan to return someday to do the over the mountain route for sure.

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It was foggy but not raining as we rode the short distance to the bus station where I stayed with the bikes and Jim went off to get us a ham and cheese croissant to eat on the three hour way down to Havana.  While I was waiting, I got us checked in (you need your passport to do this) and moved the bikes over to where the bus would come.  While doing so, I met a couple from Texas who were also taking the bus this morning.  Anna and Bill have been travelling around Cuba on their own, so I asked them how they had managed this, since most Americans we have met were in tour groups.  They said they had chosen (from the list of ways Americans can come here) the “supporting the local Cubans” kind of tour.  All they needed to do was stay in Casas (much better than hotels anyways!), eat at local restaurants (again, better!) and visit local museums and purchase local artisans work -pretty much what we are doing on this trip.  So, for our American friends, here’s how you can come to Cuba!  You need to keep a record of where you stay and what you do, so while you are blogging about your adventure here you will be fulfilling that requirement!  

Eventually the bus pulled up and as we brought the bikes forward we were informed that the front tires had to come off, as well as the seats and the handlebars turned.  Ah!  Well, if we had known ahead of time, we would have done that!  As it was, Jim scrambled to get them ready to go along with another couple of cyclists also travelling on the bus today.  There seemed to be no big hurry though, so Jim got them done and the fellows from the bus station helped to load them (for a nice tip, of course) and our bags into the belly of the bus.  We hopped on and settled in, looking forward to some hopefully sunnier and warmer weather down in Havana.

As the bus moved down the hill, we could see breaks in the clouds and hoped that bode well for us.  The bus ride itself was not much to talk about – it was a bus ride.  The countryside flew past and as I glanced out the window, I remembered the wonderful days we had spent getting out this way.  We sure timed in right, though, as this was not a day I would like to be out cycling.  The wind was pretty strong and at one point the bus drove straight through a pretty big downpour.  

We pulled into Havana around 11, which gave us plenty of time to put the bikes together and ride into town.  The bus terminal is not too far out and we had chosen a route that would take us along the malecon and into the old part of Havana where we had booked our Casa.  After Jim got the bikes all ready to go, we were off into a nice and sunny afternoon, which felt pretty good after a few rainy days up in Vinales.

As we approached the malecon, we could see the waves crashing up and over the break.  You will recall that when we came into town the last time, we did not see any big waves, but that was because we were in a more protected area.  The north part is open to the ocean and the waves were spectacular!  Of course, having a lot of time to kill, we stopped to watch, making sure not to get drenched by the big ones crashing around us.  It was great to sit in the sun and watch all of this again, and I was so happy we had this opportunity.  

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After our little rest we rode our bikes along the malecon, but soon I lost sight of Jim in my mirror so stopped to see what was up.  I assumed he had stopped to take more pictures, but when he pulled up next to me he told me he had wiped out on the slippery wet surface.  I had just ridden through there and so was surprised to hear him say that.  He fell on his hip pretty heavily, but luckily managed to miss getting really hurt by hitting his elbow or breaking something (as I had done a few years back on some ice).  He told me to be very very careful going forward and so when I approached another dark area that looked wet, I stopped to walk through and almost lost my footing just stopping!  Oh my! It is really, really slick down there!!  We gingerly walked along, stopping to talk to a couple of Canadians who noticed our flags, before deciding that riding in the traffic would be much safer for us.  We moved onto the very wide roadway and this went pretty well until we came to a break in the buildings.  The wind had really picked up and was gusting hard from our right, so whenever we came out between buildings I would struggle to keep my bike from blowing over into the traffic.  Fun times!

Stopping to check the phone for locations (street signs are pretty much nonexistent in this part of town), we finally came to the street we needed to turn up to find our Casa.  Surprisingly (for us) we managed to get to the correct address without too many errors.  It looked like a pretty run down area at first, and I was horrified to see that the “first floor” apartment I had booked meant it was on the first of many floors but not on the ground, meaning Jim would have to carry the bikes up a very narrow flight of stairs – something I had hoped to avoid.  We waited, having made contact with our host and setting our arrival for between 1 and 3.  It was shortly past 1 and we were getting a little impatient.  Well, to be honest, Jim was fine and I was feeling more than a little grumpy.  He had gone up the stairs when we arrived and asked a woman at the top if this was the place where there was a casa particular.  She had said yes, it was and pointed to the apartment, but Jim hadn’t thought to knock on the door, thinking the host would be meeting us outside.  However, after about 15 minutes, I asked him to go in again and knock, and sure enough, there Greta, just working on cleaning the apartment after the last people left!  She was a very nice young lady who was helping her dad run the casa and she allowed us to bring the bags and bikes up to put in the bedroom while she finished.  Just getting that little bit done did a lot to make us both feel much better.  We changed to our sandals and went to find some lunch while Greta finished.  Looking for lunch, we discovered that our little place is just two blocks over from the really beautiful Paseo de Marti, where there were all sorts of artists displaying their work on this lovely Sunday afternoon.  We stopped by one to appreciate the intricate work of one artist and made a little purchase before heading back to our room.

Art on the Paseo!
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Loved this guy's drawings so much I bought one!
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Greta was ready for us and what a wonderful host she is!  Her English is quite good, which really helped, and after taking our passport information, she showed us a map of the area and gave us a little booklet she had put together with information about the different neighbourhoods in this area of town and suggestions of places to see and where to eat.  Most wonderfully, she gave us a cell phone with her number and her father’s number recorded as contacts.  She told us to take it with us when we went out so that if we had any trouble or got lost, she or her father would be able to help us out – wow!  So thoughtful!!!  

After Greta left us, we had a very quick rest before heading out to meet up with Jim and Laura.  Laura has a friend here in Havana that she had known for maybe 20 years.  When they first met, she and Marvelis were both single mothers.  Marvelis was a dancer and I think was also working in a café, which I believe is how they met (sorry, Laura if I got that wrong!).  At any rate, when they first met, neither spoke the other’s language, but they managed to forge a friendship that has lasted all of these years.  Laura has been back to Cuba many times since then and several with Jim now.  So tonight, on their last night here in Cuba, they were having diner with Marvelis and her husband Dennis and invited us along.  We were so thankful to be included in this wonderful evening!  We met up at the capital building (which was designed along the lines of the American one) and headed off to a restaurant that was a favourite of both Laura and Marvelis.  It was a wonderful evening spent chatting with Laura and Jim and getting to know Marvelis and Dennis.  Both of them have been working very hard to learn English as they know that tourism is huge here in Cuba now and English will only help them moving forward.  Dennis and I sat next to each other during dinner and compared the difficulties of learning a new language.  He encouraged us to use Spanish as much as possible while we are here in Cuba as there is nothing better than speaking to people who’s first language it is.  I agree, but it is intimidating to try and I have such a better understanding now of my students who came from other countries and their own struggles to learn English!  We had a wonderful conversation about Cuba and how things are going now and the evening just flew by.  Before we knew it we were headed back out the door, them to their respective places and us to ours.

My awesome shrimp in garlic
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Jim's breaded shrimp - so good!
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Both being pretty tired by now, we were happy to settle into our little apartment to watch a bit of Cuban tv and relax.  It is a very old building we are in, with an area just outside our apartment that is open to the air and in the broom closet in our place it seems there is an opening as well.  We could tell because when it started to rain, we could hear drops pounding down onto a metal conduit for the ac in one of the bedrooms.  It was pretty loud, drowning out any of the music coming from the restaurant down the street.  The wind picked up as well and shortly after that the television lost its feed and we were looking at nothing but snow so we turned it off and decided to play cards.  And then, shortly after that the power went off in the whole building!  Greta had told us that it was not unusual to loose power and they had left a light for just such purposes, so we laughed, turned on the light and continued to play cards until we were both ready to head off to bed.  As we went to bed we could hear the sound of wind hurtling down the narrow street outside our room.  It was pretty hectic for quite a long time but we felt safe in our little apartment, assuming that this place had more than likely withstood several hurricanes so a little wind storm wouldn’t be anything at all.  Content in this knowledge we both drifted off to a pleasant sleep.

Today's ride: 15 km (9 miles)
Total: 1,343 km (834 miles)

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