When there's good public transportation, pleasant walking conditions and "bicicleta" friendly streets, cars are unnecessary and bothersome. My wife and I looked forward to a car-free, carefree Cuban experience. Though our short vacation seemed to preclude cycling, two wheeling remained very appealing.
After the Soviet Union collapsed leaving Cuba without an oil source, Castro proclaimed the "era of the bicycle!" Fidel obsessively insisted bicycles would solve most of Cuba's energy, pollution and health problems.
ownership rose tenfold. Within three years 65% of Cubans became cyclists.
General health improved. Traffic congestion was reduced. Oil consumption
Your own bike assures you of a well set up and geared bike for this big, hilly Caribbean island. A proper fit, racks for panniers, proper lighting, and those additional, special accessories will support touring endeavors. Our Canadian charter made cartage simple. Air Transat supplies heavy-duty plastic bags to pack bicycles and transports them free as baggage. Upon arrival, after repumping the tires and rescrewing the pedals, you're ready for your Cuban adventure.
Using two gears we zipped over the gentle hills along the wide highway toward the city of Varadero. Lush greenery and royal palms lined our route for the first few kilometers, when we encountered an ecological park and two historic limestone caves. Only a few of the other 43 resorts strung along the water could be glimpsed behind the acres of tropical foliage. However, the former Dupont mansion sat aloof on a grassy knoll.
Stretching along 22 kilometers of white-sand beach, Veradero was once the Caribbean playground for America's rich and famous. After the Duponts bought half the Veradero Peninsula for 4 cents a square meter, other tycoons followed and purchased winter retreats. Expropriated after the Cuban revolution, the mansion is now a hotel and restaurant; the Dupont lawn, a panoramic golf course.
Just a few
more kilometers and off the highway, prosperous sprawling Veradero City
offers tourists a few shops, restaurants, and two extraordinary handicraft
marketplaces where Cubans proudly display and barter handicrafts that
well represent their culture. Cuban-African religion was introduced to
us by rows of Yoruba god masks.
There's a huge demand for bikes in Cuba exacerbated by a shortage of parts for over a million basic Chinese-built bikes. A Canadian Foundation called Sanctuary delivers 200 donated bikes and stripped-down parts of 800 more every two months to warehouses in Havana. Bikes are assembled, repaired and distributed. Ten and twelve-speeds are being rebuilt as fancy Canadian road bikes with replacement handlebars angling upward like antlers, nicknamed "Caribou".
On the outskirts of Veradero City, Al Capone's stone beachfront home now sits vacant behind a ghostly Model T Ford. During prohibition, many thirsty Americans visited Cuba and this fashionable beach destination. After a swig of water, we began our pedal back to our resort 16 kilometers away.
be a hearty cycle, a hectic rental car drive or an air-conditioned public
bus ride. We chose the pleasant three-hour bus trip into Cuba's fascinating
capital and roomed on the edge of Old Havana at the Hotel Inglaterra.
Celebrities such as Sara Bernhard once patronized this neoclassical hotel.
Walking is a great way to experience Havana. After breakfast we strolled the extraordinary 18th Century Paseo del Prado's shady marble promenade. The Prado is especially picturesque on Saturdays when couples marry at the decorative Matrimonial Palace, once Casino Espanol. The Prado extends to the Malecon, a scenic seaside walkway.
We soon arrived at Plaza de Armas. There, the Americas' oldest existing fortress overlooks Havana Bay. Encircled by a moat and thick coral block walls, Castillo de la Real Fuerza was built on the site of an earlier fort destroyed by French privateers in 1555. A bronze weather vane, said to depict Hernando de Soto's wife awaiting her husband's return, rotates atop the west tower. We rambled cobblestone streets once busy with horses and carriages and now like many of Havana's streets, closed to cars.
Old Havana exemplifies one of the finest Spanish colonial cities in the Americas. Opulent royal palaces, graceful plazas, sculptured colonnades; churches and monasteries inspire leisurely walks and wondrous explorations. Our last intriguing day in this World Heritage Site ended as one of the many pedicabs returned us to the down town Hotel Inglaterra. Incidentally, this three-wheel bike conveyance cost only $3 including a dollar tip.
Cuba is unforgettable!
As Cuba takes a less commercialized and more environmental path, this
Caribbean Island has paved a better way for tourists to enjoy healthy,
fascinating and relaxing holidays. Will we return? "Si!" And
our next visit will be longer including a grand "tour de bicicletas".
Read more GoNOMAD stories about Cuba
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