Crabs. You usually have them on your plate as seafood after reading a menu. But we were in the height of crab migration season in Cuba. Cycling through hundreds of crabs crossing the road to get to the ocean.
We tried to avoid them, but every now and then a death crunch would sound as you rolled over one. All we could say was thank you Kevlar tyres. The smell of sun baked dead crab fermenting, greets you long before you see them squashed on the road.
How we got here, had transpired from a year of planning – Spanish lessons, a bike mechanic course, research on cycling trips and training rides. With our lonely planet tucked under our armpit we couldn’t go wrong.
Cuba has really opened up to independent cycle touring. Although three white women on bikes is still a novelty for most Cubans.
The crab roulette was the first of our multi – day cycle trips. This was day two on what would eventually be an unforeseen ten hour day. We were biking along a remote section by the Bay of Pigs, next to the Caribbean. The maps on Kay’s cell phone she had downloaded saved us many times from taking wrong turns on numerous off shoots of tracks. At several track intersections we would need to check the phone to make sure we were on the right track. The solar charger was worth its extra weight.
We couldn’t say the same about the weather. Research before hitting Cuba had us biking in 25 degree heat. In reality most days we were biking in 32 degree heat. This section of track we saw very few people until the end, where we ran into locals walking ahead of their car trying to protect tyres from crabs. And fishermen on bikes and motor bikes returning from a day’s fishing.
The plan had been to exit near an old nucleur power station. When we saw a guard coming toward us on his motorbike we knew we would be in trouble. Even with our pigeon Spanish and his gestering, it was obvious he wanted us to leave immediately. He gestured to where we should exit. All we had to do now was catch the ferry down the river to Cienfugus.It was not to be. We had missed the last ferry by 20 minutes. But non planned adventures always mean you get to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet.
Strolling toward us was a young man dressed in white. White jeans, white T shirt, white converse shoes and designer sunglasses wrapped around his eyes. Speaking fluent English he introduced himself as Daniel. Asking us where we were from and where we were going to. He was back from his job at a resort in northern Cuba to see his family. His father owned the local ferry and said he could get us across the other side of the river, but we would have to bike 20 km from there to Cienfugus. Many hands helped load our bikes on the local ferry.
Low on drinking water, Daniel took us up to the local Cuban hotel where we stocked up on water and juice. With Daniel telling us about the history of the area. “Bike fast as the tormente will come soon,” were his parting words. Tormente is Spanish for storm. And tormente it did. For a solid hour of biking in our tenth hour. Sometimes with the puddles coming up almost to the bottom of our panniers.
Throughout our trip we would stay in casa particulares, which is staying in a local families home. For the equivalent of NZ$30. You could get a room and private bathroom for the three of us.
We arrived at our casa in Cienfugus early hours of the evening. Drenched, muddy and feeling homeless. The family took us and our bikes into their tiled floor lounge without batting an eyelid. Such is the generosity and open hearts of the Cuban people. This was one of our many biking adventures in Cuba.
Often we would be escorted into or out of towns on our bikes by a casa family member or their friend on their bikes. No where did we have any problems taking our bikes. One man even lifting our bikes up and down the narrow steep first floor casa stairs, and not allowing us to help him at all.
Cuba is a nation full off locals biking. Vechicles beep before they pass to you let you know they are coming. But bike theft is rife in Cuba. Casa owners made sure our bikes were in a safe place or watched them when we were loading our panniers.
We got slick at dismantling our bikes when we needed to put them on a bus for our next journey. The bus drivers always loaded our bikes under the bus with care and respect.
And one thing is for certain about Cuba for the three of us. We will never pick crab off a menu again.