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Friday, 08 July 2016

Cycling in a Land that Time Forgot: Cuba - Page 4

Written by Dale Fehringer and Patty McCrary
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Farm Country and Santa Clara

From Trinidad, we cycled through the Valle de los Ingenios (valley of the sugar mills).  This nearly deserted valley is bordered by the eastern slopes of the Sierra del Escambray (from where Che Guevara launched the anti-government revolution in 1958), and it was once one of Cuba’s most productive agricultural areas.  Today, most of the sugar mills are gone, and all that remains is a forty-foot tower, once used to oversee slaves working in the sugar cane fields.  Our cycling ended at Sancti Spiritus, one of Cuba’s seven original colonial towns, where we rejoined our bus and rode to Mayajigua for an overnight stay.  This is rural Cuba, made up of small farms, humble homes, and gracious people, who waved at and greeted us.  As in the cities, we felt no hostility toward Americans, and virtually everyone was friendly and seemed happy to see us.  



Martin, Che, and Fidel

Leaving Mayajigua, we cycled on flat, smooth roads through farmlands – corn, coconuts, bananas, and vegetables.  Here life seems quiet and plain:  small wooden houses with attached outhouses, rocking chairs on front porches, dirt paths that lead to front doors, and windows and doors left open to let breezes through.  We saw horse wagons in front of many homes and stables in the back, and it was common to see locals heading to town on horses-drawn wagons or bicycles.  Villages appeared every few miles with small wooden houses, narrow dirt streets, a few stores, and a church.    


Dark clouds gathered and moved slowly across the sky.  Locals moved under porches or store fronts.  Rain started falling, light at first, then heavy, and it poured for an hour or so.    On we rode, getting soaked.  Finally the rain let up and the road steamed in the hot sun.  We reached our destination and rejoined our bus which took us on a long causeway road to the islands of Cayo Santa Maria, where we enjoyed the sun on a beautiful and nearly-deserted beach.  Relaxed, we re-boarded the bus for a two-hour ride and our overnight stay at Santa Clara, the capital city of the Villa Clara province.  


Like most countries, Cuba has its heroes – especially Jose Marti, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro – and Lismar spoke in hushed, respectful tones when he discussed them.  Santa Clara is where a crucial battle took place during the Cuban revolution, and it is also the final resting place of Che Gueverra, the Marxist revolutionary who allied with Fidel Castro.  The monument to Che in Santa Clara is sacred.  Photos are not allowed and visitors remove their hats and silently, almost reverently, circle the mausoleum, reading about Che and his time as a guerrilla.  


Salsa, Good Food, and Time with Neighbors

That night, back in Havana, our tour leader told us a story which in a way sums up the conditions we found in Cuba. Last year a tour member from Switzerland told him she wished she could trade her situation for the stress-free lifestyle in Cuba. OK, he told her, let's see how that would work. First, you would give up your credit and debit cards.  Next, take away your car and replace it with a 1951 Chevy without power steering or air conditioning that breaks down frequently and has no replacement parts. You would work at a clerical or farm job 50-60 hours a week, earning around $30 per month.  Your home would consist of around 500 square feet, with unpainted concrete walls, little furniture, and no air conditioning.  Time off and vacations? … forget about it … you can’t afford to travel, and if you don't work, you don't get paid.  Now … how is your stress level?


But, despite hard lives and few luxuries, we found the Cuban people to be friendly and content.  Their basic needs are taken care of and they love salsa music, good food, and time with friends and neighbors. We were not approached by beggars, and we did not see any homelessness. And, despite every reason to hold a grudge against America, we were accepted and treated like welcome guests.  Many Cubans we spoke to said they are looking forward to improved relations with the U.S. and they expect better times to come.


Checking Out

On our last night in Havana, we hailed a taxi to take us downtown for one more meal and a little more music.  The car turned out to be a 1953 turquoise-and-white Chevy, and the driver was a middle-age family man who wanted to practice his English.  So we talked to him as we cruised downtown, telling him about our time in Cuba and listening to stories about his family.  He dropped us off at our restaurant and asked if we wanted him to take us back home.  Sure, we replied, but we won’t finish dinner until around 10:00.  That’s fine, he said, I’ll be right here at 10:00.  And sure enough, there he was … waiting for us with his beautiful car and huge smile.  On the drive to our hotel, as we cruised along the Malecon, waves splashed into our lane and he turned up the radio.  He loves American music – especially from the 60’s and 70’s -- and tonight he was playing the Eagles.  Hotel California came on and we sang along with him:


Last thing I remember, 

I was running for the door

I had to find the passage back

To the place I was before

"Relax," said the night man,

"We are programmed to receive.

You can check-out any time you like,

But you can never leave”  



© Dale Fehringer and Patty McCrary

Photos © Patty McCrary


(Page 4 of 4)

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