Standing on the highest point of the hotel in Caimonera overlooking Guantanamo Bay and the US military base, I was a little self-conscious because I was pretty sure I could be seen by an American drone or an American sentry in the base watchtower. As I took in the large, beautiful bay spread out before me as the sun set, I reflected on the aspects of the ride that appealed to me the most at that moment. I was grateful to be with Peter and the fabulous group of riders who had assembled for the inaugural Guantanamo Mango ride through the coastal lowlands and mountains of eastern Cuba in the old province of Oriente. This region had always fascinated me. It is where Columbus first landed in Cuba...
The following story was written by Canadian journalist John Swart. His story is about the “Sportif” edition on this ride across Cuba. There is now a “Ciclo Temba” version of the ride and the stages are shorter, giving more time to absorb the Cities, towns and villages. You may ride as little or as much as you please and the max. per day is 100k, sometimes less. Generally we do have a prevailing trade wind at our backs, and this tour is a pleasure to ride.
I am a fully signed up MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra/preference Rapha) but worse still, I am the London cyclist’s best friend, a Licensed London Taxi driver. As I get older, I enjoy my cycling more and more. Our winters, leave me with a lethargy that is hard to shake off. With this in mind, I saw an advert in a cycling magazine. “Come and cycle Cuba with Canbicuba.com”. Ah! Yes I immediately thought, I’ll be ‘aving some of that! Sun, music, and cycling! I visited their web-site and saw pictures of lot’s of happy smiling cyclists. There were various rides to choose from, but I finally settled for a ride called “Fat Mary 2012”...
Bikes For Cuba is a small personally run humanitarian aid project geared to provide good donated road racing and mountain bicycles for school cycling teams in Cuba. While cycling in Cuba I frequently come in contact with local cycling teams in need of decent bicycles and equipment. In December 2009 the school team in Banes originally had only one poor quality bicycle for all 14 kids to share. I immediately donated my own racing bicycle and equipment to help the kids on the team...
It is common to tip for service while traveling. From bell boy to barman, they make a living by serving you well. The tour staff; driver, mechanic and ride director are all part of the tourist trade and you will be well taken care of by this team. It is not mandatory that any tourist tip any worker but people are always asking for guide lines and this is what I do myself while travelling. If my room is clean and tidy with towels etc. In place, Then I will leave $1 on the bed in the morning, this is travel etiquette shall we say. As for the ride staff a gratuity of around $3 to $5 /day is common. We prefer you tip directly and individually to each employee.
There is ride bottled water supplied on the bus. We have to hunt for these bottles so please just use for ride time. Do not drink from roadside juice stands but rather buy the bottled stuff.
To travel to Cuba you require medical insurance. You can buy this from the various banks and credit unions. If you are young ie 20’s 30’s the price is very modest $20-30 for two weeks. However as you pass retirement age the cost rises significantly and one can be looking for as much as $200 or more in late 60’s earl;y 70s. for two weeks coverage. Cuba recently introduced compulsory medical insurance for those who arrive in Cuba without coverage, this is not regularly checked but be warned they could ask. The It is quite cheap but coverage is limited ($10,000). This is sold within the airport and close to our office in Havana.
This is not easy to answer. If on a tour with the club my standard reply is $50 a day and that you have a credit card as back-up. You can use the credit card at a CADECA (bank) to get cash. You will be charged in USD at the exchange rate of the day. This will not be a great rate so keep to a minimum. Before leaving your home country inform your credit card company that you will be in Cuba, this will let them know the transaction is legitimate. It is very important to make sure your card is not from an American bank. A lot of Canadian Credit Union Credit Cards are connected to American banking systems and will not work here in Cuba
The exchange rates at the CADECA and at the bank are set daily by the Cuban government, there is very little difference between the exchange rates found at either the CADECA or the bank in Cuba. Therefore, there is no real point in spending the day shopping around for the best rate. I tend to use the CADECA more, as for me it is fast and fairly pain free and more conveniently located. However, make sure you get a receipt for each transaction, take your time before leaving the teller and check that the teller has given you the correct amount back, as they count the money really fast in front of you and I have been short changed in the past!
The CADECA in Cuba can also give you a cash advance on your credit card (credit cards accepted in Cuba). They usually charge a one-off transaction fee, you will then need to speak to your credit card company to see what interest charges they will apply on top of the transaction fee. One way to avoid accumulating interest charges is to put money onto your credit card, this way you can use it as a debit card.
Either bring Canadian money, Euros or Sterling. Make sure you have NEW bills. From past years experience, cuban banks won’t take it if it’s ripped, torn, defaced , written on, or has any type of ink stamp on it. The bills can be folded but that’s about it !!!!
Medical Insurance.(see note below)
Sun block. (you can buy in Cuba but it generaly cheaper at home)
Imodium and Florastor Probiotics are good for upset tummies.
Camera. Do not forget the charger
Energy bars, gels and electrolyte powder for your ride water, are all a great idea. These are not available in Cuba and if we happen upon a closed or out of food cafe (it happens), you will be glad to have these along.
Money & Passport. Make sure passport will not expire while here in Cuba. Bring a photo copy of passport just in case you loose said document
A small backpack and walking shoes.
Most of you have a flashlight on your cell phones but if not bring a small light
Cycling Shorts (3) Do not wear the same shorts two days in a row, the body salt in the liner will bring on saddle sores. Wash in sink every night.
Helmet. (Not mandatory but we like to participants to use one)
Pump, bike mounted.
2 water bottles. (New & clean)
Powder Sport Drink: “eload Electrolyte Loader”.
or make your own: 3 tbls sugar, 2 pinches salt + flavouring per sport bottle.
At least three pairs of cycling shorts. You need to have a clean pair every morning. Two or three pairs of “Coolmax.” Socks. Swim gear and beach towel. Sun hat for the beach Walking boots. If you plan on doing any walking. A light jacket might be handy for a chilly mountain night