Still hilly 70sh km road but never like Terrazas or Viñales area. Valentina and I got good momentum going and none mechanic problems with Spaghetti. The thing about riding on a tandem is that Stocker and Captain have to adjust to each other’s performance. Just like two different kind of cars, they have their own torque and speed curves. Valentinas favored pushing the pedals harder at low rpms, whereas I preferred less force at my constant rather faster rpms. I found my running and cycling optimum cadence to be about 80sh. I liked to stay there, hers was very variable.
How does this translate into cycling? A desperate Stocker will ask you -Captain- to change gears right at your comfortable spot. But anticipating some of these reasons for divorce, we opted for an independent coasting system. DaVinci tandems offer that. We both still need to be at the same cadence, each pushing at whatever force we want to contribute. But the beauty is that each can stop pedaling while the other keeps going. If we brought two single bikes, our group speed would be the slowest of the two. Instead with this kind of tandem our speed was the fastest of the two.
Like any other trip leg, we passed horses, horse carts, and other cyclists going uphill at a considerable faster speed. When we stopped it was common for people to come nearby and ask us to buy Spaghetti. Often cyclists get a cheap bike to Cuba, at the end of their tour sell it or donate it. Sadly this was not our case.
For some reason breakfast on Casas Particulares are pretty much the same all over Cuba. You can argue, “Well, those are the only ingredients they have”. Papaya (fruta bomba), banana, guayaba, guayaba juice and bread for a start. Eggs, tomato, cucumber, cheese, and ham, for Secondo. And guayaba jam, pastry with tea, and coffee to finish. Those who serve breakfast witness that cyclists are the only ones who almost get to finish all that. We didn’t actually eat everything but we did put away eggs and bread for lunch later and some fruit. This on its own was way better than stopping at a restaurant.
We stopped for lunch at the road side under a tree shade. Prepared our breakfast sandwich with the delicatessen Habanero Tuna bag that we brought from Merida’s Walmart. Two guys on their bikes came to talk to us. “We thought we wouldn’t see you again, you overtook us two hills ago. You know she is slowing you down? You are very aerodynamic down on your handlebar and she is completely straight”. One of them said. He was touching a sensitive spot. Valentina did not want to go that fast on downhills so she did not agree on speeding even more. At least on the early days. Secondly, she felt it wasn’t fair for me to get all the view and she just watching my back. So when I came down on the bars she could enjoy the view at her eye level.
The two guys were mechanics and they were fascinated with Spaghetti’s independent coasting system. Their job was drilling for water wells. Not a difficult one if you have the right equipment. They instead had to built it from all scrap parts they could find from tractors and any other abandoned machinery. Like anything else in Cuba, creativity was the main resource they had to make things happen.
We finished our talk and continue the narrow road. Luckily drivers were used to non-engine slow traffic like us. All was good except the pollution from the trucks and cars. Most trucks came on the 70s from Russia and all older cars have “new” engines. The government buys them from China or Korea. These engines come from used smaller trucks that needed a new engine or were totaled. You can find local workshops that will take your ’56 Buick and install the 2nd (or more) hand diesel Hyundai truck engine with all adaptations needed.
Listening to the Chan-chan in La Habana malecon, drinking a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio or Floridita, or dancing salsa to live music is cool. But you can’t have a better welcoming to Cuba than cycling a long hill followed by a wide clean downhill and find the Che Guevara impressive mausoleum. You might have thought that the Capitolio in La Habina is way oversized to fit the city. A few cm taller than D.C.’s, built with unlimited sugar money. But wait til you see Che’s mausoleum proportion to Santa Clara. Here are Che’s remainings -brought from Bolivia where he was killed-, and is open for anyone to admire. He proudly wrote to Fidel he left nothing to his wife and daughter. But would leave in peace knowing that the State would take care of all their needs.
We normally shy away from the Lonely Planet (LP) and other guides recommended lodging in support of those with less or no publicity. This time however, we came to town with no water, dusty, under the sun for long hours, and really tired. So we went for the best LP recommendation and found Alba Hostal who ended up being a really good option. Strangely enough, that Casa Particular with so many good reviews did not offer dinner. Instead the owner was the chef at a restaurant close by and that’s where he diverted his clients. We had mixed feelings, so far we only had good food at Casas Particulares and not at restaurants in Cuba.
That night Valentina had the best Ropa Vieja and I had the best lobster in Cuba by far. The ambiance was a jungle style garden sitting with warm light lighting around and live music. This wasn’t the typical complete band. Just a guy with his guitar and occasionally a lady joined him singing tunes of Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez. This Troba Cubana gave already a more original and relaxed ambiance as opposed to the always welcome and easy to find salsa.
We liked the feeling of Santa Clara since we could feel the regular local life as opposed to the touristic areas.