How better to celebrate your father’s 75th birthday then with a motorcycle tour of Cuba. Our father had wanted to return to Cuba and see the land and people of a nation that so captured his military and historical curiousity. An easy excuse to have some time with our father on what would be an adventure we will always remember, made even more exciting element with the sheer lack of planning. Our only contact was the father of one of our international staff that lived in the area; and with only one week out from our father’s birthday, we purchased airplane tickets and asked our contact to find 5 motorcycles. Route TBD…
We landed in Holguin, and knew we had to make our way to Santiago de Cuba. Our brother-in-law “Señor Cinco” worked his magic and got us a place to stay, and we soon found ourselves with a map and taxi en route to our launching point. That night we visited with the men that would rent their bikes and discussed the details of this new transaction. None of the men had ever done anything like this, and the amount of trust that would be extended was above and beyond what we could have ever expected.
However hard and difficult the challenges of arranging things in a communist country (there is lots of waiting), we were continuously inspired by the people, the culture, and the landscape that we were immersed in. We found ourselves with a serious decision to make: should we loop East or West? Bigger mountains to the West, but our lonely planet guidebook suggested that East could end up a better cultural experience. We left late in the day with the sun at our backs.
The first day was filled with fueling up, waiting, fixing bikes, waiting, trading bikes, waiting, eating, and waiting and then we finally pulled out towards Guantánamo and the south coast. Before the trip we had decided not to travel at night, and on the first day we had already broken this rule. Fortunately we found ourselves at one of the most amazing Hostel experiences of the trip: Hostal Costa Sur in Tortuguilla. Not only was our first home so very comfortable, but the story of a Cuban-Canadian that returned to invest and help out his small town was inspiring. I couldn’t imagine the trip getting any better as I slept in my hammock overlooking the beach with the amazing stars overhead; but it did.
The next day was maybe one of my favorite motorcycling days of the trip. Beautiful coastal roads that eventually turned northward and through an unbelievably beautiful mountain range that descended into the most amazing city of Baracoa. That night we ate at a woman’s home rumored to be one of the best cooks in the town. Our meal was fabulous, and my favorite eating experience of the entire trip. Claudia served Fish, Pork, and Beef beautifully seasoned and we poured every drop of the sauces onto our rice until everything was devoured. It also happened to be Señor Cinco’s birthday and so much cause for celebration that that very same night everyone in the town marched through town with torches in rememberence of José Martí, a Cuban national hero. The night never seemed to end with festivities, dancing, and celebrations. It is definitely a place I need to return, Baracoa is known for its cocoa production, and so we filled our pockets and bellies as well as our souls.
We had heard the road north from Baracoa was bad… but WOW was it bad! On top of that, the devastation that Hurricane Matthew had on the area must have been nothing short of terrifying. Weaving in and out of potholes that one could lose their entire bike in made the day long, the sun was hot, but spirits could not be broken. Driving behind our old man as he nimbly weaved around one obstacle after another showed us just how strong our father actually was. Long days can be mentally and physically exhausting, however each day his spirit was nothing short of inspirational. He jokingly commented that he would have to do the next trip in a sidecar, however I don’t believe it. This man is so strong, and any pains or signs of slowing down were tossed aside by his positive attitude. The road eventually improved and brought us to the ugliness and brutal realities of nickel mining in a town called Moa. Earth torn open while bits and pieces dyed the landscape of what was once so beautiful. We eventually found another town to stop at and after getting separated and turned around for awhile we ended up staying with the nicest family that were doctors in a town called Mayarí. Another hidden gem of the night was a restaurant tucked behind someone’s house. The food was prepared and served with love as they all sang Happy Birthday to what would be our last night in Cuba.
We made it back to the Airport in Holguin where all the owners to the bikes anxiously awaited to see the condition of their bikes after our 400+ km joyride. I wish the bikes could have returned the same way I did when I dismounted my 200cc single cylinder Jawa ~ cleansed by the Cuban air that blew through me day and night, stirred by the music and culture, refreshed with my thoughts from soaking in the landscape, joyous from the shared experience with my brothers, brother-in-law, cubans, and inspired from riding with my father ~ usually alongside, sometimes in the lead, but always wanting to follow right behind him… in his tracks. Just another adventure to remind us of the important things in life.
My Packing List: Everything should fit into one duffle on the back of your motorbike that was attached with a 12’ NRS strap. The ideal duffle size is the 60L Patagonia Black Hole, however I had the 45L (make sure you have room to bring something back). Motorcycle Helmet (¾ at most), Clothes for Travel days, 2 pair of Socks, Shorts/Swim Suit, 2 t-Shirts, Button up Short sleeve shirt, Button-up Long sleeve shirt. Long pants (same as travel clothes), toilet kit, Deck of Cards for Tablenet, Hat, Lightweight Jacket, Sunglasses/Motorcycle goggles, headlamp, Sunscreen, a collapsable lightweight backpack, and book: Waiting for Snow in Havana.
Extras I was able to carry but not necessary: Exped Hammock, Exped Wallcrawler Sleeping Bag, flip-flops.
Things I wish I had: Go-Pro