At Cuban Style have already some very interesting cycling tours, but we want more. We want to create new and unique routs just for ours customers. With that thought in mind we are determined to explore new places to visit around Viñales, and that’s what I want to share with you today, the experience I had during the first exploration.
The first question was, Where to go? I took a map I have and saw a very interesting path to follow starting from Viñales west direction that goes eventually to the north rounding Viñales to finally coming back to Viñales again from the east entrance, basically a loop that start and finish in the same place for 70 km. For me was perfect, thinking in people that stay in Viñales and enjoy cycling.
With an air pump, a tower, a torch, a few tools, the map and some cash in my backpack at 6:30 am on July 8 of 2015, I begun to pedal. The first 32 km were fast, over pavement street with acceptable conditions and just a few hills, was dark until 7:30 am, – that is when the sun rise – with landscape very similar to what can be see in Viñales. Around 8 O’Clock I reached a little town called Pons. This first part was known territory for me but after that I didn’t know what to expect.
The first surprise was when the street becomes in an earth road, and it was going to continue in that way for the next 30 km. I started to see very beautiful places in both sides of the road I was moving on, what make me stop from time to time to take photos. Besides been wet season here, the trial was fine, some hill up and hill down but nothing really difficult. I did get worried when after a few kilometers I was seeing in the sides of the way “Aroma and Marabú trees”. Those plants are very invasive and had become in a serious problems for Cuban farmers, the biggest problem for me were the thorns Aroma and Marabú has, thorns from 1 to 5 cm large very hard that could easily punch my tires. The road allows me to go in a good speed, between 15 to 20 km/h, I was been as careful as I could be, with the trees and the death branches with big thorns in the ground. I sow just one person,a farmer several minutes after leaving Pons none else was there, in some point I had the feeling that far away place was unsettled which make me wonder what should I do if something goes wrong. And after 14 km with that insecurity my biggest fear becomes truth, my front tire was flat.
The sky becomes bigger, the fresh temperature I had felt until that moment turns really hot, the orange color of the slate soil under my feet increase my frustration, the thing is that this kind of ground is to dry for grow crops, which means even less people live in places like that. I rise up my head and all I see were pines trees, Marabú and Aroma, the conclusion of my situation just show up to me “I’m fuck up”. Taking the map I saw three possible choices, walking back for 14 km to find someone to fix my tire in Pons and return to Viñales failing the exploration, continue straight for 16 km to “La costanera” located at 15 km from Viñales using the main street and do hitchhiking there, or heading north for 9 km to a place call “Sitio Morales” fix the tire and continue pedaling to Viñales for 30 km. This last choice seemed better even when that was going to give me 9 km extra of my original plan but I wouldn’t need to walk that far carrying the bike. And then I remembered what Cubans did during the special period (1991-1998) to patch up tire tires and that becomes in my fourth option.
The special period was a very difficult crisis the country had in the 90’s, but as a good thing it develop a lot people creativity. To seal the holes of the inner tube tying with a thread and problem solve. So my next problem was where to get some peace of thin string, from my tower of course. With the tools I was carrying in my backpack I extract the tube from tire put some air and for my surprise it had 2 liter holes. Took me more than an hour to get a thread long enough to fix the punch, and another hour to repair it, but I get it. When the job was done I felt like the king of the jungle solving a big problem without resources, nothing could stop me now, except realizing that my back tire was flat too. I though god is really piss off with me, and I’m not religious. I tried to fix that to but I wasn’t available to take any other good thread from the tower. I used all the good strings in fixing the front tire, all the strings I was getting now was rotten, or maybe I was just too tired and inpatient to make it right. It was almost 3 pm I couldn’t waste time any longer, so came back to option 3 and find Sitio Morales as faster I could.
After 1 km walking, the route I was following was cut off for a river, was I lost? Or the map wrong? it was not suppose to be a river there. I did not spend time thinking what to do, it was to late, I had to keep moving, still a big distance to cover , not very clear the path to follow and none to ask with just 5 hours of sun left. My chances to have a hot shower and a nice bed was just coming down. What a hell I thought, let me just cross the river. I took off my shoes put them around my neck, one hand for the bike and the other for a stick to explore the river before give any step. Luckily the river wasn’t deep and the force of the water was less than expected, “operation cross the river success”. With the river behind I just needed to find a path to Sitio Morales and be there faster as possible to be available to return with sun light. Half and hour later I met Tatica and Pello.
Real farmer life
Going for a trail north direction with the only company of a few pigs that were moving around and the far away singing of some cricket rounded by trees and shrubbery that provide me shade I continued with my mission to find Sitio Morales, when I heard the sound of hope. There was some people having a conversation, that could have some goods thread to fix my back tire or at least show me the path I should take. A farmer couple Tatica and Pello were living in that place named Bejuquera. I walked to their house and about 6 dogs came to give an unfriendly welcome barking me very close to my legs, all I could do was wait for the farmers to send the dogs away, you can’t just disrespect someone animals in their properties that’s rude. They grumble the dogs and invite me in. After the proper greetings I ask them for a piece of thread and the direction to follow. Surprise surprise !!! they had punch for tires and solve my problem. They give me a chair and Pello start to find the tools to repair the bike. Seen the way those persons live give a big impression, as a Cuban person I know the way farmers live, I visit farmers every day in Viñales in my tours, but this was different. In the about 200 square meters of the property all I could see was liter barns with no more than 4 m x 4 m. It was 5 of them, wood in the walls and thatch in the roof without more floor than the same earth of the ground. No electricity, no water system, they had a Tv that work with some batteries and an old petrol engine to charge the batteries. A refrigerator that works with kerosene currently out of service because for the past 3 month they haven’t get the ration of kerosene that the government provide for this cases, the thing is that the truck that move the fuel from Viñales to Bejuquera was broken and the local administration couldn’t send any other transportation, I felt the eager in their voices when they tell me the story. Pello’s wife Tatica ask me if I had lunched – it is 3:30 pm you must be very hungry – she said. Oh no I’m fine, I had a big breakfast this morning – that was my answer, the truth is I just had a glass of milk in the morning before leaving my house, you can imagine how my stomach was actually filling. Without any other question she get inside the kitchen and came back with banana chips and fried pork, OH man!!! this guys know how to cook. That made me feel embarrassed but my stomach couldn’t refuse the offer. The rain start before Pello finish to fix my tire, crazy thunder storm for more than an hour, a good time we spend chatting about our life. By 5 O’Clock in the afternoon the rain had stopped and the tires were fixed so Pello shows me the path to came back to Viñales.
Even after the rain the road wasn’t too muddy, for the particularity of the slate soil. The must beautiful landscape was that last part of the trip, unfortunately my mobile batteries was on 10%, and the light after the storm, not very good, I manage to take a few acceptable photos that could be seen at the end of this post. I when for about 15 km on this earth road and another 15 in the main street that leads to Viñales, by the time reached home was already 7 pm and my cyclo-computing marked 70 km in total.
For all the problems I had in the trip I get to the conclusion that is not a good idea to offer it as a service, it seems too risky to take customers on that trip but for me it was definitely worth it. Without any more words to say I leave you the photos I took below.