Monday January 9, 2017
TL/DR: Long distance cab is affordable and convenient. Internet is a challenge! Make paper copies of important information. Baseball is a pleasant surprise
We made the decision to start the ride in Santa Clara based on our time frame. As Canadians our cycling season usually ends mid fall, so we weren't sure we wanted to add this extra 230 kilometres to our trip. In retrospect, I'm sorry we didn't ride it, but it was nice to spend a day seeing the countryside from the passenger seat of our 1956 Bel Air.
It's a nice ride with our driver Andres. What we learn is that it's a little busy on the roads coming out of Matanzas, but the traffic tapers off around 30 kilometres out of town. We see a few local cyclists, lots of sugar cane and enjoy the view as we head south east toward central Cuba.
The ride costs us only 100 CUC, which works out to 103 USD or 140 CND. Great value for the money. We discovered it would be very difficult to make the bus connections to get us to Santa Clara, so we have time to enjoy the day.
Our Casa is located in central Santa Clara, an inviting home called Hostal la Casa Suri. We booked it on www.mycasaparticular.com. For anyone travelling to Cuba, it's important that you make paper copies of your bookings along with any maps to get you there. There is virtually no internet. When you arrive in an area, you have to first, purchase a card to give you connectivity for one to three hours. The cards cost 1.50CUC/hour. You have to stand in line at an ETECSA centre to purchase a card. Usually there is someone who might sell you one for 4.00CUC and you can avoid the line up which is usually 15 minutes to an hour.
But wait! There's more. Once you get the card you will look for a hot spot in the area. Many parks and town squares are hot spots. You will know you've found one when you see dozens of locals and foreigners sitting side by side with their noses in their phones or tablets. You look for the hot spot name on your phone, input the login in and password numbers and you may have internet. I say "may" because there are sometimes up to 100 people using the same wifi portal. It's frustrating that sometimes in that hour you can't even send an email. Photo? Next to impossible. Video? Forget about it!
Costs $1.50CUC for one hour of spotty (at best) internet.
Long story short, make sure you have paper maps, addresses and confirmation receipts if you've pre booked a place, or if you want to get to a certain location.
But here's tip that saved our bacon on many occasions. There is an app for phones and tablets called "maps.me". It is an offline map app that performed beyond our wildest dreams and expectations. Even though I had pre loaded google maps, they were useless for routing. Most often it would say I was off line and wouldn't give me anything. Maps.me was the opposite. Having downloaded the Cuba maps, it gave reliable and accurate route maps - car, bus and most importantly bike" - and had great location mapping of restaurants, museums, some casas, and street names. Best of all, it's free!
After being dropped off, we put our bikes together and do a short (1k) shakedown ride. Marilyn's front derailleur is misbehaving, the tailing edge is hitting the chain ring on the upshift. This is remedied with a little bit of upward pressure with a long screwdriver. Aside form that, both bikes are assembled and roadworthy for tomorrow's start.
We spend the rest of the day walking the town. Our first stop is for lunch on the "boulevard", a lovely pedestrian-only street downtown. We have our first taste of what is a staple for anyone doing these bike rides - Cuban pizza. They're sold on street corners and in many restaurants and give you what you need - low cost carbs and cals. From there we head to the number one destination in most tourist books - the museum that celebrates an event that was a defining moment in the Cuban revolution, the Battle of Santa Clara in 1958. Che Guevara and his group of revolutionaries captured an armoured train and acquired the weapons used to take control of the city. The train is still there along with artifacts and context.
But you never know what you might find in a new city. As we are walking back we notice that most homes (doors and windows open) are filled with the sound of baseball. There's something important on because we can hear it from nearly every home and there are families sitting around the TVs. But strangely, it starts to sound like the crowds are enveloping us. A quick check of my map reveals there's a baseball stadium in the area. we head over to see a packed ballpark. When we ask a security guard where we buy a ticket, he indicates we can just enter through the back. It turns out it's the Cuban National Baseball playoffs. We hang in the bleachers with the Santa Clara mascot who insists I wear his mask. It was an unexpected treat to see this game and bask in the local pride.
Home early and prep for our first ride.