Having never been to Cuba, we were hoping not to arrive after dark, so we booked a Redye flight to get us in early in the day. This worked well, as we got to see Matanzas in its sunny splendour.
The airport is pretty much in between the city and the resort area of Varadero. Because of the proximity to the resort, it was cheaper for us to fly there than it would have been to Havana.
For those not familiar with Cuba, there are three ways to spend time there: book an all inclusive, book hotels or book what are called a "casa particulare". These are homestays in private houses, bookable online or when you get there. We are booking at the casas, as we want to spend as much time as we can learning about the country and its people, even with our limited Spanish.
Our first booking is at a place we found on line courtesy of another cyclist's blog. Casa Rabelo is right downtown in Matanzas and we're told we can leave our bike cases there while we do our loop.
As arranged by our host Mora, we are met at the airport by driver Andrés in his sparkling 1956 Chev.
He brings us to our casa, situated in a lovely old home downtown. We are about a block from the town central square, in this historic city. Make sure to budget some time to get to know it. It's not a huge tourist destination but offers an unvarnished glimpse of the country.
Mora was a gracious host and provided us with a large clean room and hearty breakfast. We booked it on cubacasas.net. When searching for a casa, look for the blue anchor. These have been approved by the government as legal b&bs.
We spend the day putting our bikes together and changing our money from Canadian to the CUC Cuban currency. Make sure you read up on currency exchange before you start your trip, as nothing is totally straightforward here. There are two currencies in Cuba, local Pesos and CUCs, which are designed for foreign travellers.
It takes about 30 minutes to get our Bike Friday folding bikes assembled and tuned up. They're great because these suitcases are under the maximum allowable size and weight for checked luggage. No overage charges. Always remember to deflate tires partially when flying because of air pressure differences.
After getting the bikes together and doing a shakedown ride, we are ready to begin the adventure. We have looked at the logistics of taking a bus to our starting point in Santa Clara and decide to let Andrés drive us there. Many find it is close to the same price and way more convenient to hire drivers for long trips. Andrés is charging us $100 CUC to bring us 220km to our starting point. How can you beat that!
Tomorrow we leave Matanzas to cab 230 km to Santa Clara where we start our bike journey.