After cycling Cuba we came to Costa Rica for some days of yoga, meditation, and volunteering. We ended up being here for 7 months due to the lockdown. Lockdown in Costa Rica wasn’t bad at all as you will find on the video.
We started doing yoga, meditation, silent retreats, for the first couple of months. Then we continued doing volunteering and work exchange right in the middle of the jungle. In comparison to our friends and family back home, being Lockdown in Costa Rica gave us freedom to move within many acres of nature. Pretty much more movement than we ever had during our regular life.
Our first stop was Pachamama, an amazing place for yoga, retreats, just visiting, or volunteering. You can also drop everything and move-in provided that you have the means. This place was built on a clean flat cattle land purchased 20 years ago. They started reforestation, and although is going to take 150 years to go back to what it was, today it’s incredible to see how much wildlife it holds. Food is mostly vegan and amazing!
Our second stop was Cascada Elysiana. An eco-lodge where we ended up for more months than the originally planned 30 days. You can camp, stay in a dorm, glamping tents, or in cabins. These last ones have their one private bathrooms. Most of it is bamboo construction which you will find in great abundance around the area. They have many trails and the hospitality is really good. There we did work exchange and volunteering work around.
After these two places we stayed in Manuel Antonio for a month to work on our projects. At this time, the pandemic is not over yet but we need to do important immigration stuff in the US for some days and then we will let you know where we are going next. Thanks for watching!
We hope you like this video that summarizes the western loop. The first day of cycling, from La Habana to Cabañas, is captured on our previous video. For more details on each of these sections dive into our individual posts for each section.
Similar to our last ride, we did the steepest hill on the first 15km as we arrived to El Pinto. You can stretch your legs after you pass La Ermita with a nice 13km downhill. After that we found the way to Trinidad -our final cycling destination- comfortable to ride with a total of 71km and 916m of elevation.
Again, as earlier described, we were very impressed by how clean is the town of Sancti Spiritus and how friendly the people is. So far we had experience technology from the 50s in cars and other machinery. This town showed the kindness and innocence from the ages ago where everyone is friendly, trust each other, and has no rush whatsoever.
We made a lunch stop at a bus / chariot station, a lonely but convenient place for shade and sitting area. Little we knew that we had a primary school right behind us. Kids came out and stopped staring at Spaghetti as something out of this world to them.
“Is el Brujo gone already?” the kids asked us.
“Yes”. I replied. “Just 5 minutes ago.”
Before them other kids jumped at the highway yelling “Brujo, give us a ride home!” at a chariot driver pulled by a horse.
“Oh no”, said the later kids with disappointment, “now we will have to walk home with this heat”.
We offered them a sandwich we made with the breakfast leftovers. They gladly accepted it and we witnessed the shift of emotions only kids have. From deep sadness to total happiness in a moment.
Trinidad is by far the best town in Cuba for us. It offers many choices bigger cities have. Yes, it does have a lot of tourism, but it’s local colonial charm is very vivid. Surprisingly there are good options for dining. Amazing places for salsa dancing with live music. People is very friendly and they help you with anything. There are no airports here, but if we could choose one city to come back to in Cuba, it would be Trinidad.
We did a tour around the pristine local beaches with Spaghetti. It was impressive to see the huge projects going on from the big hotel chains. Last time I saw such large cranes felt like a million years ago. We were happy for the money coming into the island but couldn’t stop thinking of the massive amount of waste and resources needed to run those things. Needless to say recycling and ecological impact is not high up in the government’s agenda. Feeding their people is kind of their priority.
As of now here in Trinidad the tourism here is not the common all inclusive hotel zombi type. -Coming soon though-. The visitors we talked to had a really close impression of the real Cuba. Although some were idealizing the little they saw. Socialism in appearance is attractive and abundant for everyone, when it works.
The reality we found while cycling Cuba with all it’s amazing people, is that the system is far from providing the bare necessities. Their development is on hold for over half a century -for good or bad-. It would be common sense to say that they are lucky to not pay a mortgage, have -more or less- food, and somehow free education and health care. But at a deeper level we found that this created a strong level of conformism. Under penalty of not obeying they are encouraged to not make an impact. The impact was already done for them by the heroes of the nation and their job was now to keep celebrating the 60sh year old victory.
Trinidad is our final destination, thank you for following our blog! We loved our trip in Cuba and we highly recommend it as a cycling destination!
We were eager to get back on Spaghetti, get to Sancti Spiritus, and tomorrow to our final destination Trinidad. For a change, we started with a 200m climb on the first 18km. But once we reached Zulueta, most of the road was downhill all the way down to Sancti Spiritus. Weather was great, roads in rather good condition, and traffic absent.
We didn’t have high expectations at all on Sancti Spiritus. In fact we were afraid this would be a second experience of a Palacios visit. But we were up to a nice surprise. Indeed the town did not have international tourism but has nice areas of interest and we were spoiled by where-to-sleep choices. We tried our recommendation of Casa Particular which we did not like and instead we went to Anay’s Palace (aka Hostal Palace). We had great experience with her and the place was in great condition.
There are some interesting things here. Hernan Cortes recruited a couple of guys from this town on his way to conquering Mexico over 500 years ago. It’s got a theater, Cuba’s oldest church called Parroquial Mayor, and the Casa de la Guayabera. Some of us grooms were married wearing a guayabera in Mexico, and is also worn by politicians and many other people in Latin America. The word is that guayaba workers’ wives of this region sewed pockets into their working clothes so that they could store all tools and food. They claim it they invented it and then taken to Mexico and latinamerica.
What we loved the most about this place is how clean and chill out everything is. The main plaza in the center has little or no traffic at all. As other places in Cuba it felt very safe but here we found a more family oriented plaza and streets. While almost everyone carries a mobile phone we found them all talking in groups of friends or family. It’s a feeling I had in Mexico decades ago but haven’t feel so much freedom and safety ever since.
Our casa particular did not offer dinner but recommended a good restaurant across the street. Again, expensive for what it was and the food was not at all our taste. They strongly recommended to have a papaya with cheese desert but actually couldn’t finish it. Needless to say we wont have it again.
We opted for a two-day break on our trip at a Melia Hotel in Cayo Santa Maria. For this we had to ride from Santa Clara to Remedios. Will leave Spaghetti there and take a taxi or bus to the hotel. We thought about cycling there but it is super windy, hot and boring. We would then come back to Remedios and ride to Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad.
Before leaving Santa Clara we had an amazing breakfast. The owner himself baked the pastries and we had the chance to take a generous appetizer for our lunch.
Santa Clara has a beautiful clean plaza with some tourism but not overwhelming. Exiting Santa Clara towards Remedios we passed through the Train explosion monument / museum. Visiting this place brought us weird feelings. I remembered the little models we made at school with plasticine on how someone won or lost a war. This is when during the Cuban revolution they were able to blow a train. They grabbed the arms and munitions inside the cars that otherwise would be used against them. This marked the revolutionaries -led by el Che on this area- victory over Santa Clara. We respected their victory but did not participate in the explosion celebration. So for this time we passed entering into the museum.
Valentina had frequent breakdowns on the first days while trying to reduce the misery of cycling pain. Once she found the right position of handlebar position and seat angle, height, and horizontal placement we were gold. The best move was to give her her own multi-tool and have her adjust everything at her leisure. Now it was my turn. The road to exit Santa Clara is through a very narrow road with traffic. That meant two things, sharing the space managing to not fall into the road shoulder. But not too much towards the lane center so that vehicles could pass. The second one and way worse was the smog coming out of all vehicles. On top of that, we might have started cycling late that day because it was already hot and dusty. Finally, the shoulder was full of random trash, plastic bags, bottles, paper, etc.
I developed a sharp pain on my trapeze muscles because I transferred my upper body weight all the way there. I kept my arms loose and not locked on the elbows but that wasn’t enough. My homoplate bones were sticking out all the time making the muscles around carry all the weight. Later on I remembered the corrections during yoga to puff-up the muscles around the spine hiding the homoplate bones. This way I distributed the load more evenly along the back muscles and core, sending more force to the legs. If you are wondering “your arms should carry no weight at all”. Well, on a tandem bike loaded with panniers there is continuous steering and equilibrium keeping.
So, dusty, hot, in pain, thoroughly polluted up a hill, and feeling all cars passing next to us ever so close, we decided to stop for a break next to the trash around. I yelled Valentina loudly and miserably I hated absolutely everything of what we were doing. Not only that, I hated the place, the food, the pollution. The fact the Spaghetti’s well-being was hanging from a shoestring now that we finished some of the spare parts. I was angry at myself for spending so much money on a place that in my eyes could be just like any poor town in Mexico. Except that there, we could actually find anything we needed at our leisure, not like here. I finished firmly, “I would not recommend anyone closely or publicly doing this horrible nightmare of trip!”
She bursted out laughing. “I thought you would never come to this point in your life.” She replied as happy as ever. True, this was probably the first time I expressed so much hate openly. Her green-brownish eyes shine like someone who had just received a declaration of sincere love and kept staring at me with immense joy. Her natural posture wearing a sleeveless jersey made her look elegant and very attractive. Surrounded by houses falling apart, trash, dust and smog we laughed and hugged. There was nothing to say, the explosion had to come and go as an event in itself and not as a problem to overcome with a logic solution. We had some pastry from the amazing breakfast leftovers and got back in the road.
We arrived to Remedios and realized that the route was way shorter than what we wanted. Our legs were used to the 70-80sh km per day and we kind of wanted to keep going. Then it started to rain so it wasn’t that bad to have arrived already. Remedios is very straight forward and we had no problems to find the Villa Colonial Frank and Arelys. We strongly recommend this place, they have very reasonable prices and the place is in great condition. Frank is very friendly and willing to help.
Remedios is one of the oldest cities in Cuba, from 1511? Its original date of settlement is unknown because they hid it from the Spanish crown in order to avoid paying taxes. The settlement grew and eventually they found them. On around 1682 Father Gonzalez de la Cruz claimed that satanic forces took over the place. Two years later the Spanish Crown sent a Royal Decree transferring 18 families. The new settlement was free of demons and they called it Santa Clara.
We found interesting that not many central plazas in Cuba have a church. This one does. The Iglesia mayor of San Juan Bautista suffered many pirate attacks over the centuries. For this reason, it is said, they covered the gold with white paint on the walls. They re-discovered it right before the revolution while doing some restoration.
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.
Cycling Cuba challenges are mostly not having access to water or food in the middle of nowhere or even worse, not finding accommodation because you -as a tourist- are not meant to be there -as we learnt on Day 6-. So instead of cycling to Playa Larga we decided to take a Taxi that would cost a little more than the bus, but most importantly it would take Spaghetti lightly unassembled into boxes and our belongings from our place and at the time we wanted.
We said goodbye to the Canadian family and Maria de los Angeles, owner of Villa Arcoiris, for last time. We made it to Playa Larga and spent the afternoon at the beach. Nice colors and everything but still our favorite beach was Cayo Levise. We stayed at a place not even worth mentioning but like any other Casa Particular was clean, had hot water and AC. The owner kept playing different tricks, insisting that on Playa Giron -our next destination- everything was full and that he recommended staying another night at his place. We had that before and the more he insisted and talking about how bad the idea was to continue our trip the less we trusted him. So we have no good recommendations for Playa Larga. That said, we really liked the beach.
We continued assembling Spaghetti and headed towards Playa Giron. We stopped half way through at las Cuevas de los Peces beach. The snorkeling there is an absolutely must. Depth might be 10m so this was not that different to what you could have seen going down diving. The Cueva itself is ok, they kept saying is like a Mexican cenote, so my expectations were like that. We can safely say its a nice place but don’t expect anything close to a cenote.
We met a French couple along the road about our age who was traveling with their family for a year. They had 4 kids. The smallest were twins and they were 8 years old. Each of the six family members had its own bike with flags from many countries -the ones they had cycled so far-. When asked about what their teachers thought about pulling them out of school for a year and travel the world, they responded, “that’s the best thing they can do, take these books and try to teach them every now and then”.
We continued towards Playa Giron stoping every now and then at the amazing beaches we had on our right -again with the wind against us-.
When we arrived there, afraid that everything was full as we were warned, we stopped at the most beautiful house, negotiated the price and got a place for the night.
Lobster and shrimps were part of the dinner they made for us. This amazing couple, he from Quebec and she local, had done a wonderful job building a house for over 5 years. As a builder, while working on construction sites, sourcing material meant for me some annoying 10-15 drive or a 24 to 72 hour long wait when ordering online. They on the other side, had to bring must of their material on each of the trips they did to Canada, that included gutters, caulking, lamps, etc. Lumber was sourced locally and inconsistently from different parts of the island and at different times of the year. It took them 5 years to finish the main renovation.
We had a great conversation with them and for the first time, we saw the “libreta”. That is the little book government gives Cuban citizens to keep track of the food they were given that month. Bread, rice, coffee, brown sugar, white sugar, pork, eggs, matches, and other basic stuff. They received that and distributed locally but for their own consumption they opted for sourcing their kitchen with the products local farmers provided. The rice we had with them had a way superior quality than everything else we had tried in Cuba. The libreta was important for them, not to obtain food, but as the most important -or only- document to proof their address. Needless to say that we played Playa Giron song from Silvio Rodriguez.
We missed having a good picture of their property but here are the owners with us and their house behind.
We were impressed by the number of families traveling with their kids by bicycle in general but even more here in Cuba. There is a lot of people in the world that are not chained to a 9-5 office job, and many kids that are having a school traveling year with their parents. These Canadian farmers -about our age- travel with their 5 year old daughter who is fluent in English, French, and is quicker than her parents in adopting Spanish thanks to her social skills. She engages a conversation with anyone or anything that crosses her path. Some of her family members and friends at home thought they were completely crazy, but surely they are an inspiration for many who are dreaming of doing this trip.
Since we could not take the bus to the eastern side, we rode to this town and we would make our way down to Soroa, visit Las Terrazas on a day trip, and then take a taxi down to Playa Larga. We considered cycling instead of taking the taxi but there are no tourist areas in between and we learnt yesterday that we wont find a place to sleep at all, let alone by drinking water, food, etc.
We said goodbye to the German solo traveler and the Canadian family, and started pedaling. Cycling from San Diego de los Baños to Soroa we choose the Carretera Central de Cuba instead of the big highway favoring slower vehicles and less straight boring roads. We also felt more protected from the wind with all the vegetation around. Drivers love using their 18-wheeler like horn for saying “hi” right next to your ear as you try to avoid falling into the next pavement hole. Once you recover from the shock and / or unbalance, they push the gas -or more accurate diesel- pedal, and your nostrils and lungs will travel back to the 50’s when fast cars exhaust pollution was cool (was it?).
We made it to the highly recommended Villa Arcoiris and were very impressed by the level of detail they put into the room, bath, and house in general. Dinner and breakfast were amazing. The host is a super decent educated lady taking care of her house and guests. She knows everyone around and can help you with anything you need. In our case, she arranged for us a taxi who would drive us down to Playa Larga days later.
We left our stuff at Villa Arcoiris, prepared a single pannier with tools and spare parts and went up to the Cascada and Mirador. This short 2km or so have been by far the steepest stretch we’ve done in Cuba. There was not a single cyclist on their bike, everyone except us luckily in a tandem, was walking up their bikes. People around and even us laughed at ourselves by how ridiculous it was to cycle that slope. But this is where a tandem bike -also- excels, we had 4 legs pedaling making cycling the hill possible. Both the Cascada and Mirador are highly recommended.
We took a few hours to source cartons and pack Spaghetti into three home made boxes ready to take the Taxi Colectivo to Cienfuegos and continue our trip on the eastern side of La Habana. We originally had a “regular” taxi (not certified) booked but the day before, the government announced that all taxis effective immediately needed to be certified to avoid illegal cars working as taxis, this change created a bit of a chaos on the transportation system all over and Colectivos (certified taxis) were overbooked. Some say it was announced months in advance without a specific date to be effective, others that it was something they never heard about. Promptly at 8am our driver arrived, stared at our belongings, and broke into a laugh, “there is no way I can fit all your stuff here… see you guys.”
We looked at each other, and went to the bus office finding that the next place available to Cienfuegos would be in 3 days with no guarantees of taking our belongings with us. We went back to the casa particular, assembled Spaghetti and left towards San Diego de los Baños changing our route.
Or that’s what we thought. Half way through we stopped for some papaya rest at a house in a small town. It wasn’t actually a town, it was an intersection with a few houses together. They cut it and offered to sit in front of their house. We sat on their chairs enjoying the shade and their papaya, they recommended that we stayed at Los Palacios for the night because they thought it was a really nice place. The kids seemed to enjoy seeing and hearing foreigners and we really liked seeing them happy surrounded by pigs, horses, chickens, dogs, and cats.
We gave them some alegrias (Mexican amaranth candies, now trendy and considered Superfood) and as we went back into the almost empty highway intersection I heard “Pablo!!!”. Someone jumped out of a taxi towards us. It was Jose, our host in La Havana who was traveling with the family, we hugged, assured that the trip was going well and he jumped back into his taxi.
Even if Los Palacios was further away than San Diego de los Baños -our original destination- we thought the recommendation might be a good idea. We did not talk to 4 more people like we normally do and Lonely Planet insists, we did not ask the living encyclopedia Jose, and we did not search for Los Palacios on any of our books.
To make it faster we decided to take the highway, windy, and rather cold and became a bit boring. We both were tired but made it safely to Los Palacios right before sunset, great timing. Arriving to Cuba is traveling in time, but this place was yet another dimension. Everyone starred at us, the place did not come up in the Lonely Planet, our offline version of Google maps didn’t show any place where to stay and we could not find any. Everyone gave different directions on where to stay overnight.
We finally talked to someone who actually ran a place but it had the red anchor instead of the blue anchor sign. Red means locals only. This place was not only not meant for tourism but any local who hosted a tourist would have been in great trouble. We had over 70km of cycling on our backs starting at 1pm because we were going to take a taxi and instead we assembled Spaghetti, most of the road was against the wind, and now we were hungry, it was dark, and had no place where to stay.
We asked a few taxis to take us to the nearby town but they all shrugged their shoulders, shaking their heads, and exhaling a “not at this time, thank you”. We thought about leaving Spaghetti at someone’s house over night, take the bus to another town and come back the next day. But the bus was also not meant for tourists. We were trapped into our own mistake.
Being part of a fault in the system attracted some locals around, Spaghetti in itself was weird, but now we, and our situation was also weird. One of them came closer than the rest of the locals and talked to us. The kind you don’t want to talk to, a bit drunk, dirty, and really hard to understand. Freddy. He said he will help us and asked what we needed. We said a truck who can carry us and Spaghetti to San Diego de Los Baños. He signaled “hold my beer”. On any other country we would feel fear from other people in this situation, but being in one of the safest places on earth we had new emotions. Uncertainty, stupidity, fear of not having control?
Minutes later, happy to not having the drunk guy around and thinking what to do next, we kept brainstorming and talking to people who would like to hide spaghetti and us in their yard, but nothing sounded convincing. Then, Freddy came back. “Ok, its going to cost you 25CUC, its all sorted out” he said. He took us to a house where the driver was and the 50’s State truck was waiting for us. He helped us carrying all panniers and Spaghetti into the back of the truck and we sat at the cabin. He completely saved us. I gave him 2CUC, shook hands and thanked him.
We made it there and as we stopped into the first casa particular to ask for information a familiar drunken voice says, “they have no place here, let’s ask for the next one.” It was Freddy, he actually jumped into the back of the truck in Los Palacios and rode with us all the way there. He completely made sure we found somewhere to stay, we paid the driver once we found our place and couldn’t believe how much we underestimated Freddy’s hospitality skills.
We joined a Canadian family cycling Cuba with her 5 year old daughter having dinner with a German guy and never loved so much hearing English accents and broken Spanish.
This is the Strava ride, we just forgot to stop it when we arrived to Los Palacios so it kept recording the leg we did on a truck.