Biking Cuba – Day 1 (Holguin to Bayamo)

Our first day of biking in Cuba! I’m a nervous wreck biking in traffic, stateside or not. Today we had to navigate our way out of the city during a morning commute and then merge onto a highway.

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Jo, me, Mtn Val and Nedene

Notice how Stuart is visibly absent in this “first day of our bike trip!” photo… So, here’s a funny story.

When we left Havana Stuart must have followed the advice you hear from so many travel guides: when abroad, don’t carry your passport on you. Make a copy and carry a copy. Well, this advice is a very bad advice for Cuba. Here you will not get very far without your passport.

Stuart brought a copy with him and left the original at the casa where he was staying in Havana (to keep it “safe?”). As soon as he arrived in Holguin, his casa hosts asked him for his passport. He turned over a copy and they turned him over to immigration. LOL.

Stuart spent a day at the immigration office where he pleaded his case. They were ready to send him back to Havana, but Stuart insisted that he could get his passport overnighted from Havana to Holguin, so if only they’d give him one day… They conceded and he contacted his casa host in Havana. Since there’s no overnight courier service in Cuba (definitely no FedEx), she found a bus driver in Havana who was taking an overnight bus to Holguin. In the morning Stuart went to the bus station, found the bus from Havana and the bus driver handed over the passport to him. That’s how Cuba works! People are resourceful and honest and against all odds they get it done.

But yes, carrying your passport on you is a must. You will always be asked for it when you check in to a casa particular. All your information will be meticulously copied and then submitted within 48 hrs to the proper authorities. Yes, the sweet old lady that made you an omelet this morning will report you if you don’t hand over your passport. And, presumably, the Cuban government will keep track of your progress across the island. If that makes you uncomfortable, by all means stay home and just ‘check-in’ on Facebook instead.

You will also need to carry your passport when you’re out on the town. You will need to hand it over every time you cash a 50 CUC bill and your information will be copied along with the serial number of the bill you’re paying with. If that sounds overkill, remember how your monetary transactions are tracked back home. Cuba is still mostly analog. They just track things a little differently.

All is well that ends well… We met up with Stuart along the way to Bayamo. He had his passport and was never letting it out of his sight again.

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When we set out that first morning of our bike trip, Nedene told us that this would be the easiest of all our biking days. Mostly flat, straight shot from Holguin to Bayamo, most of it on a wide three lane highway. If we couldn’t handle this segment of the trip, there was still the option of bussing back.

That first day I remember being extremely hot. It was a hot day not only for us (people like me and Jo, who live in much cooler climates), but even locals were complaining about calor. 97 in the shade? Only we biked mostly on an exposed, shadeless highway.

The heat aside, it was an amazing first day. I quickly realized why Cuba is such a fantastic destination for cyclists. Here are some of the reasons:

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  • Empty roads! Biking is such a pleasure when it’s just you and the empty road.
  • Good quality roads. Yes, we encountered some bumpiness along the way, some dirt roads, some gravel. This isn’t Switzerland, but for the most part (with a notable exception of the road leading to La Mula) the roads are of excellent quality.
  • Other bikes on the road. Although our bikes definitely stood out, most of the time we were in good company, surrounded by other bicyclists. Cars know to look out for bicycles and don’t need bumper stickers to remind them.
  • Excellent drivers. I really do think that Cuba has some of the best and most courteous drivers in the world. How else would they have all those ancient cars still driving around if they weren’t careful and courteous? If you get into a car accident in Cuba it’s not like you can call Geico and have your 1952 Chevy rebuilt. I’m speculating here, but I think that the scarcity of cars and car parts has made Cubans into extra careful drivers.
  • Vibrant, frequently located communities. In Cuba you’re never very far from civilization. Even the stretches of the road when it looked like there wasn’t much between point A and point B, are peppered with villages and with people walking around. It made me feel safe to know that in a real emergency (a bike accident or a heat stroke) there would always be people near by whom we could ask for help.

Today’s Ride: 45.6 miles, 418 ft of elevation, moving time: 4:18:27, elapsed time: 5:51:34, average speed: 10.6 mi/h

Yes, I Strava-ed my rides!

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  • YTD Biking Miles: 218.4

One thought on “Biking Cuba – Day 1 (Holguin to Bayamo)

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