Biking Cuba – Day 8 (Holguin to Gibara)

Here’s what’s great about cars: they’re fast! A whole lot faster than bicycles. Ironically, that’s the reason why bicycles are a far better way to travel. You actually slow down and experience places in a way that cars (and buses) don’t allow. But if you’re only set on getting from point A to point B…

Our trip from Santiago de Cuba to Holguin was a little over two hours total in a van. We made it to Holguin by noon. This is the route we’d otherwise be taking two days to bike through.

In Holguin we unloaded our bicycles, put on our helmets, and we were off, biking to Gibara.

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The road between Holguin and Gibara is very scenic. It winds, it follows rolling hills. The hills part makes this route a bit more challenging than easy-peasy, but the beauty of the area makes them well worth it.

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To me, this area was the prettiest of the entire island. I highly recommend it for any Cuba bike tour itinerary.

Unfortunately, this is also where I had the least pleasant experience of the whole trip. I’ve been debating whether or not to write about it, because it was one unpleasant incident compared to countless very pleasant ones and I feel like it might paint an incorrect picture of what it’s like to interact with Cubans. But it also brings up an important topic that I think would dishonest to gloss over. And that topic is drunkenness.

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In the West (whether it’s the US or Canada or Western Europe and increasingly Eastern Europe as well) it’s the drugs that you have to worry about. In any large city there are areas, around train stations and in city alleys, where druggies congregate. And druggies are not pleasant people. They’re usually desperate and their inhibitions are shot and if they’re desperate enough they can be dangerous. I hate to reduce human beings, who obviously fell in life and deserve compassion as any other group of people does, to the likes of vermin. But they scare me. Ever been to Seattle? Pioneer Square area or the Ave above 45th Street? Not places you’d let your children out to play. I apologize for offending anyone, but it’s a personal bias and I own it. I hate druggies!

That’s one reason why I always felt so safe in Cuba. Drugs are nearly impossible to get. Don’t even try. If you do hard drugs, chances are you are too dependent on your dealer to even go anywhere anyway, but even marijuana is almost non-existent in Cuba. I’ve never, not even once, smelled that unmistakeable ganja smell that so permeates every Seattle park these days. On a summer night try walking three Seattle city blocks without smelling it. You can’t! Not so in Cuba.

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Now, let’s be clear. I don’t even consider marijuana to be a drug. Personally, I can live without it, but there are plenty of people in Seattle who part take and they’re better for it. It mellows people out and it’s safe and I’m very happy that it’s legal in our state. However, in Cuba things are still very different when it comes to drugs. Marijuana is still classified as a hard drug and penalties for having and using it are extreme. I haven’t heard of any foreigners getting caught with it and what happens then, but I’d advise anyone who considers a trip to Cuba to seriously do it without attempting to get high.

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This zero tolerance for drugs, any drugs, in Cuba, is good though. I thought so. Not even in a big city do you ever stumble over some glossy eyed junkie sprawled out on a sidewalk.

But it seems that groups of humans everywhere have this need to be self-destructive, and Cuba is no exception. Cuba’s poison is alcohol.

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It’s not unusual to see people drinking at all hours of the day. Each town seems to have its drunks. When it comes to alcohol, Cuba is like New Orleans or Las Vegas. Open containers are not an issue. You can walk down the street drinking a beer and nobody cares. You can drink in parks and on beaches.

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The official drinking age in Cuba is 18, but that doesn’t seem to be something that’s strictly  enforced. I’ve also spotted plenty of children in bars (and on top of them).

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See this kid behind the bar? This would never ever happen in the US! (Europe is different, I know, because I’ve seen kids behind bars in Europe too.)

So the attitudes towards alcohol in Cuba differ a whole lot from the attitudes towards drugs. People can drink anytime and anywhere and no one is hassled by the cops for doing so. In the US it’s the opposite. People buy heroin on the street and shoot up in the alleys and yet you can’t have a glass of wine with your picnic in a city park.

But going back to this not very pleasant experience on my way to Gibara….

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We pulled over in one of the towns and I found an outdoor bar, so that I could use their bathroom. A drunk got up and told me he’d hold my bag for me. I said “no thanks, I’ll hold my own bag” and then he tried to take it away from me! I pushed him away and went into the bathroom. When I came out he was waiting for me and he asked me for money. I said no and he blocked my way. I said no again and pushed passed him.

That’s it. That’s my story. It’s the worst thing that happened to me in Cuba. The guy was so drunk he was hardly even standing up and if I gave him a shove he’d have fallen over. I didn’t feel very threatened, but I was annoyed.

I’m not even sure what the moral of this story is. I guess it’s that yes, Cuba has its own social ills, but they pale in comparison to the social ills of the West.

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Today’s Ride: 20.8 miles, 636 ft of elevation, moving time: 2:26:09, elapsed time: 2:58:28, average speed: 8.6 mi/h

YTD Biking Miles: 465.5

 

 

 

 

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