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 Cuba Bike Tour - Sierra Maestra - Trip Report
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By: Lee Orphan (offline) on Sunday, March 28 2010 @ 11:10 AM (Read 1642 times)  
Lee Orphan

Beth and I took part in a great tour of the Sierra Maestra mountain range at the southeast end of Cuba in February/March 2010. I thought I'd post this to let people know about the opportunity for future tours they may want to take.

The tour was organized by Peter Marshall (well known St. Catharines/Hamilton area cycling organizer). He lives part time in Cuba with a nice Cuban wife Anna Maria so he is very well connected with how to do business in Cuba - which is quite a challenge with all their crazy rules and the dual (tourist/local) economy. Included in the ride was a proper tour bus to haul our stuff, provide some sag support, and haul our bikes when we cut off some distance on long hauls between destinations, a cuban tour guide who answered all out questions and helped with negotiations at restaurants/stores etc. (cuban law requires one...), a cuban bike racer who rode with us to assist during the rides (Alberto), all hotel rooms, and most meals except lunches. Once you are away from the tourist areas, the economy becomes entirely cuban peso based vs. based on the Cuban Convertible Peso (known as a CUC) that tourists are required to use. The CUC is valued at about 20% above the Canadian dollar essentially to hose tourists, while the Peso is worth 1/25th of a CUC and has almost the same purchasing power in the rural areas. The reason I mention this is that you can live very cheaply outside the tourist economy (like a Cuban) but it was a big help to have the assistance of our guides to negotiate with the restaurants/shops because outside the tourist areas people do not speak very much English. Paying in CUCs isn't that bad either as the prices are still fair for us and you are supporting their economy...

The Sierra Maestra tour which we did covered about 800 km over 2 weeks which was pretty comfortable. The mountains are bigger than I had expected but very scenic. One day we did an out-and-back ride from Santiago de Cuba to the top of the Gran Piedra at about 1400 metres - that was quite a climb, it took me 1.5 hours! We visited many of the cities in the area, and dozens of small villages. The roads are a unique experience, generally a good asphalt surface, but sometimes in the more rural areas the road just broke down completely. We came across many bridges that were falling apart and unusable for cars, but okay for bikes.... Cyclists are a well respected component of the road users, sharing the road with walkers, horse/oxen drawn carriages, motor vehicles of every description, and goats/sheep/pigs/chickens/cattle who frequently wander around on the road. Vehicles always honk their horn to pass which initially can be irritating, but eventually you just accept it as part of the culture (they do it for safety). I used a rigid mtn bike with 1.5 inch smooth tires, Beth road a hybrid with 32 mm smooth tires and they worked great. Cyclocross bikes also worked well. You would not want to use a road racing bike on most of the roads we traveled, but if you did a tour on the main highways you'd be okay (the areas we were in were not touristy or part of the main economy so the roads were not as good as you would see around, for example, Varadero or Havana).

One very nice aspect of the tour was joining up with a group of teenage bike racers that are supported by Canadians. We all brought bike parts (mostly consumables like tires, tubes, cables, chains) and donated them to their club. The "kids" came out to meet us 50 km from their hometown of Las Tunas one day, then the next day they put on a bike race at our hotel (we watched) and a pig roast/party at the coach's house in the evening. They also road 50km towards Holguin with us the next day. This really gave us the chance to connect with people and see how they live. Word of warning - don't try to out race the older kids - they'll kick you ass.Wink

Costs were something like $1500pp for the land portion, and $700pp for the flight which included a 20kg additional allowance for a bike beyond the 20kg for luggage. I used a bag going down and a cardboard box coming back for my bike and that worked well, Beth borrowed a soft sided bike bag and it too worked well. Either way it was necessary to wrap the tubes in foam pipe insulation and take other precautions to avoid damage. We spent about $500pp while we were down there on lunches, some dinners, and of course rum and cigars..... A good bottle of 7 year rum is $12, a bottle of regular white rum is about $4.

In summary, a great tour!

There is more info on the specifics of the tours at:

http://canbicuba.com

You can see my photos at:
http://picasaweb.google.ca/leeorphan2/LeeBethSCubaTrip2010



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