Biking Cuba – Day 5 (Marea del Portillo to La Mula)

The roughest road in Cuba.

If I were keeping a blog last summer I’d have written about the backpacking trip I went on when I almost perished in the Goat Rocks wilderness, near Mt. Rainier. If that sounds a bit too dramatic, try hiking across a glacier, in an ice storm, without the proper shoes or even decent rain protection!

So I learned (I hope) not to take any chances when it comes to the elements. Nature is far more powerful than we are and I’m not about to take her on. But to get from the all-inclusive resort at Marea del Portillo to the campground at La Mula, we’d be crossing almost 40 miles of pretty much wilderness.

There is a road going to La Mula. Or rather a memory of a road, because the actual road was pretty much wiped out during hurricane Sandy and its restoration hasn’t been high on the list of Cuban infrastructure projects.

So we were heading into lots of unknowns. The maps of the area showed this:

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In other words: nothing. La Mula doesn’t even show up on google maps. It’s a campground used by locals that Nedene knew about because she’s been doing research on this road for many months, reading blogs of people who had done this route before. La Mula was our one and only chance for shelter between Marea del Portillo and Chivirico, which are 96.5 km apart.

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(An hour and 15 min, Google?! I guess they haven’t heard that this road isn’t really there..)

Stuart was checking the weather app on his phone the morning of our scheduled ride to La Mula (don’t ask me how he managed to do that) and the weather was looking iffy. It showed 80% chance of rain with lightening!

Mtn Val checked her Moon guide book, which talked about this stretch of the road as being desert-like, without any natural shelters.

Nedene said we had nothing to worry about. Rains come and go. No big deal.

Stuart and Mtn Val voted for staying at the resort another day. Nedede voted against it. Jo, in her usual neutral manner, abstained. And since I was having a PTSD flashback to last summer’s backpacking trip, I had to side with Stuart and Mtn Val on this one.

Nedene called us ‘big babies’ (not out loud, but to herself, I’m sure) and we tried to reserve a stay for an extra night. But guess what? There wasn’t any room! Our rooms were already booked. We contacted the other resort at Marea del Portillo, but it was also all booked up.

Well, it seemed that the circumstances made the decision for us. We’d be going ahead, lightening storm or not!

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photo courtesy of Stuart Blumstein

Here, I should just come out and say it:

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Moon guide was correct in its description of the area – it really is quite desert-like – and as for the weather app… We concluded that it must have rained in the mountains, but the coastal areas seem not to get rain very often and instead of the rain, we really needed to worry about the blazing sun.

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Rain in the mountains!

When setting out that day we decided that we’d be stopping every hour and regrouping. If there was a real emergency on a road anywhere else in Cuba, one would just need to wait for a car to come by. But on this road we weren’t anticipating any cars (for the longest time, close to 7 hrs, I counted 4 cars), so we just had each other to rely on.

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La Mula: stay to the right.

From the very start we had some difficulties. Stuart got a flat, of which we found out through a local. How exactly the news carried so fast, I’m still not sure about. But at some point someone pulled Jo over to tell her that our friend was having trouble. Stuart was a little behind us (probably stopping on the road to buy tomatoes, as usual) when he got a flat tire. I’m pretty sure it was Nedene who confirmed that ‘the trouble’ was a flat and since Stuart is probably the most capable one of us to change a flat, we left him to it and just waited for him at the fork in the road.

Mtn Val and I decided that since we’re the slowest of the bunch, we should go on and then stop on the hour to wait for the rest. The two of us went ahead.

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photo courtesy of Stuart Blumstein

The road itself is pretty bad. Maybe not as bad as I imagined it would be, but taking a car on it would be close to suicidal. We did see a few cars, but only a few. I would not be taking my car on it. Ever.

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We did some serious elevation that day too!

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But even though the road was very rough, the views were stunning!

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Mtn Val and I stopped on the hour, as promised. Sitting under a scanty tree cover we admired the wildlife and the views.

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Yes, the vultures developed an unhealthy interest in us, which made me a bit uneasy. But even though vultures seem like such ugly birds at first I think I started to like them a little. They’re really fascinating creatures. Did you know that until recently it was assumed that they had bald heads so that they can stick them into carcasses without getting their feathers dirty? Well, the current theory is that they’re bald to stay cool. And on that exposed ride, with the sun beating down on us, I could see why they’d want to stay cool!

Mtn Val and I sat and waited and wondered what we should do if no one showed up. What was the plan? Sit for as long as it seemed reasonable (30 min? An hour?) and then turn around? We weren’t sure what the plan was, but as soon as we started to consider our options (should both of us go back or just one? Is it smart to separate?), I heard Stuart:

“How come we don’t see more crab on the menu?”

We were reunited!

There were many many crabs on this coastal road. Not just leading up to La Mula, but the crabs continued all the way to Santiago de Cuba. Once we started to get closer to the city, it was mostly crab road kill that we saw.

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photo courtesy of Stuart Blumstein

Really sad, actually. Why would a crab cross the road?

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I think it’s important to point out that the road is nowhere as desolate as I expected it to be. Yes, there are long stretches of nothing, but how long? It’s not as if the entire 36 and a half miles between Marea del Portillo and La Mula were uninhabited. This isn’t Texas.

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Sometimes it would seem that there is nothing around, but then a herd of (domesticated) pigs would come trotting by.

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And then, all of a sudden, we’d hear music blasting. A sure sign of civilization!

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So no, we weren’t nearly as isolated as we feared.

It took us close to 8 hours (7 hrs 45 min) to get through the 36 some miles though. Mostly because we made a point of stopping every hour and because it really was a rough ride in places. The guidebooks and other blogs that Nedene found about this stretch of the road give an estimate of between 6 to 11 hours. So we weren’t the slowest!

Not a whole lot of shelter at times, but we found these tunnels where we found shade.

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Getting into La Mula felt like arriving in some metropolis! There were people there, and bottled water, and I even had a Polish Malta (it’s a soft drink).

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We made it!

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Today’s Ride: 36.4 miles. 4,395 ft of elevation, moving time: 5:08:56, elapsed time: 7:44:01, average speed: 7.1 mi/h

YTD Biking Miles: 373.5

 

7 thoughts on “Biking Cuba – Day 5 (Marea del Portillo to La Mula)

    1. 🙂 Ideally, I’d go back and do another tour as soon as I finish writing about this one! I actually do want to do two more bike tours of Cuba. One going from Havana to Vinales and beyond to the national park that’s at the western tip of the island. And the other one in the middle of the island (Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara). Just a heads up! 😉 In case you’re interested!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sign me up for the squeal! I am not a Weather forecaster but I am familiar with tropical and mountain weather. Since we were in Cuba in the dry season, I was pretty sure we weren’t going to have a hurricane. I was also quite certain the telephone weather app was not getting any reliable local weather radar. The closest radar is probably Key West (not close) or Gitmo and they’re not sharing. The mountains were shrouded with dark misty clouds which cheeped
    down the slopes as the day went on. We got a light mist almost a fog as we rolled in to La Mula.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s why you’re such a great travel companion! 🙂 You’re well-informed and you don’t give in to irrational fears. I, on the other hand, can be full of irrational fears! Especially when it comes to the weather…

      Like

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