About Richard
The Journey
World Friends

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Report: #34
Date: 09/03/04
Location: Port Antonio, Jamaica. (Though much written in Cuba)
Cuba: Impressions of a Locomotive, Wannabe Revolutionary

The Need to Fight

I'm in Jamaica.

The difficulty of the fight may not be greater with increased danger of defeat, but perhaps, conversely, with no perceived threat, the fight becomes more difficult.

And we must fight in our daily lives; to do what we want; to keep doing what we want; to stay alive.

I find that in countries like this, I get sucked down by a malaise and lethargy brought on by the heat and humidity. The fight in me drains away. Just walking along the street, I find difficult to do in a purposeful manner. And writing......

Firstly, there's finding the motivation, which often finally comes when it's an imperative.

A few hours aren't then too difficult to find, although there are always lots of other things to do. It's Sunday, it's raining intermittently and I have a table to sit at on the porch / verandah of my hostel in a large, slightly run-down, colonial house. I'm looking out at the dense foliage of a thriving mango tree. But it's not exactly peaceful. Squeezing in the gate and over the white-wash walls and assorted bushes and between the mango trees and up the brown-tiled pathway is the large sound of disco and reggae music, coming from the shack shop selling beer opposite, occasionally overlaid by the buzz of a saw or drill.

What is it with Jamaicans and their sound systems??? It's almost impossible to escape the range of some music box or other, played so that it can be heard miles away. "Noise Devils" was the term used by one irate complainer in a letter to The Gleaner (a national newspaper, that I originally thought was called The Cleaner).

I don't imagine Jamaica will ever have problems building larger airports, since there don't appear to be any noise restrictions.

I wouldn't mind so much if it was more of a variety; but the mono-culture of Reggae just gets to me. And I like Reggae.

The guide book says that there are a number of distinct forms of Jamaican music, but I reckon I'm just not that fine tuned.

The mono-culture of Salsa got to me in Cuba, too, though it might have been Son, Trova, Samba or Casino. If I could have distinguished between them, maybe I would've had more tolerance.

As regards material to write about, after two yacht voyages and a month in Cuba, I have plenty of that bouncing around in my head and jotted in my diary. But my brain is battling to find a way to present it to you in a vital and coherent fashion. This is as much my fight as pedaling my bicycle against the elements and gradients, or almost as much as pushing myself to be open and aware to the extraordinary circumstances of life around me. The latter is a task for everyone, though.

The big black mama caretaker woman [in a place where I'm often called "White Bwai" or succinctly, "English", political correctness is on a different plain] just plodded back up the path with a 500ml PET bottle of p**si from the shop opposite, up the few steps to the verandah, and set it on another table over to my right, the other side of the main entrance, into which she then disappeared briefly before returning to her bottle with a black plastic bag of home-cooked food in a Tupperware box. She's now sitting down eating.

I look up at the only one, young, mango that I can see on the tree in front of me, for inspiration.

The heat, the lack of breeze, rhythmic music and the kaleidoscope of events running around inside my head anaesthetized me and I just fell asleep for a spell. I hope you didn't notice. How can I write so that this will not happen to you? It's got to be alive, personal, sharp, witty, original, compelling, topical, like nothing I've ever written before...... v I'm going nowhere. At least some of the heat has left the day and my head is a bit clearer. I could start at the end, and see if that will work: A goal, a target, a destination to give you a sense of urgency and importance; a deadline. Build some suspense; that's it! Though everyone really knows that it's the journey that's important, not the destination.

I am fighting towards a transition, though, not really a destination. My wife and a new life await me. How I take that transition from a life of transitions to a life of different transitions, will measure the man in me. I'm struggling towards my final continent, eyes out for a fitting climax to these 14years of dream chasing. But this is not Hollywood, though I sometimes think that the credits will roll as I gaze upon the sunrise in the arms of my wife.

6:26pm : wind getting up. Sky gloaming. 1st mosquito. Cat stalking.

But if nothing else, this....

INTERUPTION by girl telling me about pizza place for good take-away, and that I should go "before it rains and doesn't stop".

....this journey has taught me that I should look for a climax in everyday. I can't say that I've always found them, but perhaps more than my fair share. Isn't it the looking that's important, not the finding, though?

A CLOUD OF MOSQUITOES has formed threateningly at my left shoulder. Time to retreat to the relative safety of the fan in my room.

IN BED NOW. I look sideways at the smiley face I've taped to the bar-bag which mounts on the front of my bike. I always have a smile in front of me, even if my bike has to look like Thomas the Tank Engine.

This finale I'm pushing for is South America, with all its range of exotic dangers, zodiac of hazards and spectrum of menaces. But to get there, I've been subjecting myself and my equipment to what could easily be proven the riskiest phase of my journey to date; The Caribbean Sea in cyclone season.

Courting Disaster

(Writing in Port Antonio Library 24/8/04. On a shelf on my right hand side I can see a book entitled, "An advanced Guide to Hard Times." It's a shame it's just about the Dickens novel. )

So you want to enter the realms of popular writing: How better than to experience catastrophe, calamity and cataclysm at the hands of nature's fury and in the claws of the supernatural, beset by devils, enemies and personal ghosts; to sink into the depths of despair and emerge battered, but strengthened. Simple! (But it shouldn't be too easy.)

What do you think?

[A] The Caribbean Sea, approaching cyclone season for elemental hostility.

[B] Out in a small sailing yacht, the Cantamar, with three relative strangers; the only puny Englishman amongst raving Canadians and an American who'd like to be Canadian;

The yacht has engine troubles, electrical troubles and water-system troubles, plus is, according to the Bahamian boatyard technicians, "jinxed". When one thing is fixed, another goes wrong. When the generator set is finally up and running, the engine rev. counter stops when the gen. set is switched on. And they are supposed to be unconnected systems. And after weeks (which should have been days) getting things in order, a battery explodes (fortunately harmlessly) almost directly underneath my berth, the day before embarkation. It filled the boat with an evil, rotten-eggs smell, which one crew, Sea Dog Hugh, thought was me. (Thanks!!!) Anyway, that smell, combined with the smells from the engine, regularly being opened up in the galley (kitchen, to you land lubbers) and toyed with, brings on a mild nausea which I don't need in my attempts to resist the onset of sea-sickness.

[C] My life vest has no emergency distress beacon.

And to top this off;

[D] the passage is to Cuba, one of Mr W. Bush's pet enemies. And who knows where that puts us "if we're not with him, we're against him." So in the meantime it's a potential gauntlet to run along the Straits of Florida where we could be intercepted from either side, against a strong current.

And that's saying nothing of [E] p-p-p-pirates; either living or deceased.

I found a berth for my bicycle, after a few adjustments to make it narrower and smaller, up near my own berth at the most-rocking end of the boat. I bunjeed it down securely.

We overtook a tug towing a submarine kind of eerily, with nothing to mark the long tow cable. We were on a converging course, so we tacked to port (left) and then again to starboard (right), behind it, to avoid crossing in front.

We were under sail at that time. Good wind. Yacht leaning stably.

The wind slackened and changed direction, to bring it from the wrong direction for sailing on our course, so we started up the engine and put steering on autopilot.

My watch was 8 'til midnight, which I did with Chef Craig, the next most inexperienced crewmember. I took hourly position-, wind-, engine- and battery readings, not really happy reading or going into the corkscrewing cabin where I couldn't keep my eyes on the horizon. Uneventfully.

And that's how the voyage went, except for flying fish skipping away from the bow in the daytime, and Hugh catching a MahiMahi (Dolphin Fish, not a dolphin) on a drag line. When that fish is brought aboard, it shimmers with every colour of the rainbow for a brief time before becoming dull in death. Tasty though.

I was secretly disappointed that the U.S. coastguard didn't board us and make a bit of a story of it. But I'm sure Captain John was happy not to have to deal with them after all the previous delays, as were we all, really.

As Hugh didn't cease pointing out to me, I was very lucky that super-generous Capt. John had taken me on and to Cuba. Grasias, Senor John.

We dodged a few lightening storms, a little nervous that we were just riding floating lightening rods. The yacht was a schooner, and thus had two tall masts. We caught some heavy rain on approach to Havana, following the coast of Cuba which was almost invisible through curtains of rain and low cloud.

No-one came out to greet us. We sailed unchallenged into Marina Hemmingway, though not, of course, without having established right of passage, over the radio, first.

We were met by a customs officer wearing a N.Y. baseball cap and riding a cheap mountain bike, at wharf-side.


American Enemy. Axis of Salsa.

Cuba had been in my sights for an interminably long time. Cuba and Jamaica had pulled me across the Caribbean, as opposed to the more straightforward cycling way south through Central America.

Was Cuba merely a relic from a bygone era; outdated and left behind, heading for inevitable collapse into the arms of slavering developers; preserved by the iron fist of a tyrannical despot?

Or was it an oasis of a better period....nay, a farer, more egalitarian order of society seen nowhere else, powered by the love of the people for a benevolent dictator, and now un-uprootable?

I guess I wanted to see a simple, non-materialistic society, where people were living sustainably outside the grasp of ever-accelerating commercialism and consumerism; classless and untainted by the accumulation of wealth. And not just because it's the law, but because the people desire to live that way.

I hope that what I want to see doesn't determine what I actually see. But I am aware that there is a danger of that.

My first experience of Cuba was at Marina Hemmingway which was more like a no-man's-land, and as such, almost not Cuba; a gated, secure facility. But it was immediately evident that we were the interface with the forbidden or denied or unavailable fruits of the West, because officials and guards showed desirous interest in our belongings, such as magazines and comestibles. It didn't lead to untrustworthy behaviour, though.

Here also, the U.S. dollar was the legal currency, and Cuban pesos could get you precisely nothing. This was glaring evidence of a gaping divide in Cuba; those who have dollars and those who don't. And I knew which group I was going to be lumped in with.

My lack of Spanish, I'm not proud to say, would not help me overcome this and a host of other perhaps insurmountable differences. Cuba was my first Spanish-speaking country on this journey. But there stand to be plenty more, so I determined to study and learn it to a working proficiency. First things to get round; the vowel shifts and dropped S's from standard Spanish. Cuba isn't the best place to learn 'proper' Spanish.

I lived on the Cantamar, which was moored in the company of an assortment of other vessels; some luxurious, some decrepit, some big, some small, until I had acquired an onward flight ticket (owch!) to enable me to leave the crew list. I made forays the eight or nine miles by bicycle along avenues and tunnels of tropical trees, past people hitchhike commuting on corners, into humming Havana.

There are no real traffic jams in Havana. Bumper to bumper only happens when a really slow moving vehicle like a horse cart or bici-taxi is in front, or something is broken down. But there aren't as few vehicles on the roads as I'd expected or hoped for, either.

Talking of breakdowns, given the phenomenal age of many of the cars, they don't occur as often as you might imagine. The cars are so old it's sometimes surprising not to see the occupants' legs sticking out from underneath a la Flintstones or Anthill Mob, powering the car by running along.

This brings me to the worst aspect of Cuba, and that is the dense, billowing, choking clouds of smoky exhaust fumes belched out by just about every vehicle; especially trucks on the uphill whine. I spent a remarkable amount of time holding my breath. I've now got to remind myself to breathe. Ha Ha! Not really.

Like I held my breath and time seemed to stand still, Cuba has held itself (or been held) in a kind of time warp. Albeit a time warp where stuff ages.

Not only the cars and technology are in the grip of the '50s, but also most of the buildings haven't been through the demolition and rebuild cycle in the last century. I guess this has avoided the ugliness of the '60s, '70s and '80s and the space age since then, and has made retro entirely unnecessary. What I saw around practically every corner and from every vantage point, were striking views like classical paintings. Even in the modern section! It's a living museum.

Stone and stucco; grand and imposing, four or five storeys, sturdy and square; with a complexion of wooden shutters and ironmongery, balustrades and balconies, for miles in all directions, swallowed me up and spun me around, trying to take in every angle of this Other-Time. But it is weathering and decaying and badly wanting resurfacing and shoring up. This, however, displays the age and ages with greater emphasis.

As if being tied to the dollar wasn't insult enough, a U.S.-style, copy-cat Capitolio building (1929) peers down two hundred years or so over the shoulders of Cubans squeezing by each other in the long, narrow alleys of the Spanish Colonial [really-] old section.

In the daytime, in the air-less streets, I hugged the peeling walls as I walked, pressing myself into the margins of shade. I had to watch out for lethal, unguarded holes underfoot and for stuff dangling from above. People dangle ropes and baskets from their balconies to take delivery of all sorts of goods. I even saw a dining table being hoisted.

The Colombian Connection in Havana

I met a Colombian lad, Joaquin, at an airline office, whose English was pretty good and whose Spanish was, naturally, immaculate. We did a few museums and sights together. Some of my early encounters with Cubans were with him as interpreter, though he also pushed me to use and stretch my Spanish. Thanks, Joaquin. He helped me find a 'Casa Particular' (Special House; a kind of guest house) for a good rate and with cool people. Their ever-readiness to offer cups of strong, Cuban coffee, was wonderful, and quite rare, unfortunately, across Cuba.

Given his nationality, many people thought Joaquin must be a drug runner, but, though he didn't have his bike with him, he was just a simple bicycle enthusiast like me, just on the look-out for cultural curiosities and exchange, good-but-cheap nourishment, and all things written in rhythm.

We heard music, so we homed in on a doorway and found, in a living room by the street, accomplished musicians and singers brewing up a storm of Salsa just practicing their routine; casually brilliant. The joyous sound filled the street. This was common.

Young Joaquin navigated me through the queuing- and ordering- ritual of Havana's supreme, one-peso- (4US cents) ice-cream establishment, and found a restaurant, La Zorra y el Cuervo (Vixen and Crow) where they had chicken and rice for a dollar, accompanied by traditional Cuban jazz. We sang along, "One dollar Chicken! It's only one dollar chicken!" to the famous, Cuban refrain of Guantanamera. [To you English football nuts, that's the tune to "You only sing when you're winning!" or "There's only one Michael Owen!"]

Joaquin was also able to pass on some insights he'd picked up by being able to engage with locals. For example; of the most common car on the roads, the '70s style, Soviet-made Lada, government ministers apparently owned the white ones. Fidel Castro is a little more equal than them, and has Mercedes cars, in fact, a large fleet of them. He needs decoys because of the likelihood of assassination attempts. I thought that if he really wished to go incognito, though, he'd simply drive a Lada.

Later, I did notice that some white Ladas were taxis. Perhaps ministers were illegally moonlighting with two jobs.


Man goes to auto repair workshop and says to the mechanic:

"I'd like a windscreen wiper for my Lada."

The mechanic replies, "Mmmmm....OK. That's a good exchange."


[Thanks to author Lynette Chiang for my partial plagiarism from her book title]

Stretch Ladas!!!! Very oxymoronic!

Disappointingly, though I tried to chase one or two of these down, I never managed to get one on film. Amazingly they manage to keep them running in Cuba. And I imagine they have no need for the heated rear windscreen, either. [For those who don't know that joke, it's to keep your hands warm in winter.] v I did manage to photograph several gaily yellow and spherical "Coco Taxis" [coco = coconut in Spanish], thanks partly to the vigilance of Joaquin, though you did miss a few, Joaquin. I can forgive that though. Without you I'd never have known that that staff lady at the art museum was explaining that she was a teacher like me. "A sex teacher!!" Joaquin said she said [unlike me, though]. On second thoughts, maybe I'd rather not have known. Anyway, both of my and Joaquin's hearts are attached elsewhere, and we had no want to be her students.

Havana was spawned of a superb natural harbour and protected against invasion from the sea, by a couple of impressive forts at the lips of the harbour. It was protected against invasion of the sea by a long, formidable sea wall on a tough shelf of wave-scarred limestone, curving off from the western fort and snaking towards the sunset. This snake is partnered by a wide path and a divided, four-lane boulevard. Here was the place we found breeze, and therefore people, colour and activity. The Malecon.

In the daytime, some daring street kids took turns to do running leaps from the parapet, to clear the stone shelf and dive into the choppy water, sometimes targeting an inflated truck innertube. We frequently refused rides from prospecting bici-taxis (3-wheeled, human- (usually man-) powered carriers of two passengers), even though it would have been illegal for them to carry us foreigners anyway, and subject to heavy fine.

Sundown was the Malecon's time for strollers, exercisers and socialisers.

Night time drew couples, canoodlers and cruisers. And we had to refuse illicit cigars, single red roses and single women of the night. Peanut-sellers, with fists full of slim paper cones, and guitar-toting troubadours also plied the line of people.

I was surprised at the variety of racial types, from the blackest of African black diamonds to the palest of Caucasian cream, with all hues, heights, shapes and dress-style in between. But in spite of this, I stood out like a sore thumb. Perhaps something in my movement (and posture) gave me away. Cubans, who Salsa "from birth," seem to flow as they move, and their posture is so proud and natural. They are finely attuned to rhythms, too.

This line of people looked out over the sea, towards the USA only 90miles away. The breeze blew across them from the hammerhead-shark-shaped landmass of Cuba. And that was to be my direction. How come I so often have to fight the wind? Am I going the wrong way around the World?


The Malecon was a centre (if a centre can be linear, without saying axis again) of community and communication. But it was just one of many, because most of the streets and balconies thronged with people discoursing, vocalizing or shouting to one another. One Cuban gentleman, Xavier, a Casa Particular owner, told me that since the optimism of the revolucion, people had started amassing in this way. To me, this was one of the most beautiful features of Cuban life.

On returning from a two-week spell with my long-suffering wife, who visited me in Jamaica, I landed back in Havana in the middle of an unusually complete power blackout (Abagon!) It had silenced the clamorous TVs and radios (the constant noise of which I only really noticed when it was absent); it had stilled the fans and ancient, big-square-box air-cons; and it had cut off the phones. It brought even more folks out onto their balconies and doorsteps, and people called across the darkness using what I called the 'balconyphone' system.

Joaquin could call my name from his Casa Particular opposite mine, and my name would echo between the buildings and in my side window to rouse me in the morning, or invite me out to a street Rumba.

Going Nowhere Fast

Joaquin explained how to get me and my bicycle across the harbour, since the tunnel was closed to cycling. There was a special bus with no seats, but cheaper and more regular was a ferry for 40 Cuban centavos (about 2 US cents). So down through the old city I went; past the whitewashed port buildings with a colourful stencil of Che Guevara graffiti'd on, and a little further, to the anonymous-looking, ferry terminal. The ferry looked like a shed with a hull. But the security was tight and keen. They swiped me and my bag with a metal detector baton and searched my bag. They found my SwissTool (combination pliers, screw-drivers and cutters), which I use as my key fob even though it's heavy. They immediately barred me from the ferry! It seemed ridiculous, but they meant it, and I had to back out embarrassingly through a press of people. Later I found out that hijackers had taken the ferry three times in the past and set course for Florida. Once successfully!

Oh well, at least I knew that I couldn't go that way when I finally left Havana with bike fully loaded. And I would have to delay my visit to the

SECOND FUNNIEST THING IN CUBA; an enormous statue of Jesus across the harbour. The funny thing about it is that it has a serious-looking lightening rod protruding over his head. I suppose it could be Zeus who hurls the lightening bolts.

I cycled over to Parque Lennon to find the famous sculpture of John Lennon in ordinary repose on a park bench. Some vandal had removed John's glasses. He doesn't look like himself without his specs.

I had been given the wrong date stamp upon my re-entry into Cuba, which meant that I had to go twice to the Immigration Department in some out-of-the-way suburb of shabby apartment blocks. All visitors there were kept waiting out on the street without information as to what the procedure was. [It was very good of you to help me with that one, Joaquin.]

I cast my eyeballs skywards in a moment of frustration.

A girl is blowing bubbles from a crumbling balcony.

I must move on.

I don't have it so bad.

Keeping on keeping on.

Returning home to my casa, after filling myself for a few pesos at an expensive-looking vegetarian restaurant, my regular place, I pass a cat with kitten under a monster, blue, '50s, American automobile. I make a mental note that this would make a great photograph, when it's lighter. It's eight fifteen; the sun has not long moved to other longitudes and the sky is still bright. A little further, I stop briefly to examine the state of play of the chess being played on the pavement by a small square where kids kick a ball around. Another half block to my casa, nearby which I salute, as I always do, an old man who invariably sits on his doorstep, watching over goings on. His name is Peru, and when I first needed somewhere to lodge my metal donkey, I was pointed in his direction. He took my bike into his ground-floor bedroom and propped it against a table at the foot of his bed. The table had the preparings of a meal on it. GrindCore punk was gnashing out of his small radio! As out of place as plutonium in a toy-box. It instantly transported me back to times in Japan, moshing to the band, Godie. I wish I'd had enough Spanish to be able to ask him if he liked it. He didn't turn it off, though. Anyway, I knew that the bike would be well looked after here, but although Peru appeared entirely happy with the arrangement, it was an uncomfortable imposition on him and I would have to change it. Fortunately, when I returned from Jamaica, I had to stay at a different casa, and there was space in my room to stash my bike.

I was learning Spanish slowly, but steadily:

'Avocado' is Lawyer. ('Aoacate' is Avocado)

'Esposa' is Wife and 'Eposas' are hand-cuffs.

'Casado' is Married and 'Cansado' is Tired.

Was Spanish invented by men, by any chance??? Or by women?

And 'Fruta Bomba' is Papaya, but 'Papaya' is pussy (except in the east of Cuba where it is Papaya).

So if you say Papaya wrongly, you might end up needing an Avocado!

It was coming into avocado season.

The first day of summer arrived, even though every day had felt like high summer so far. It was heralded with an enormous party. The whole Malecon was closed to traffic, and there were sound-systems, food-stalls and a motorcycle race in the daytime. Joaquin and I were amused at the slowness of the 125cc motorcycles, but when some demonstration 600cc machines razzed up and down, we wondered how on earth anyone had been able to acquire such things here.

I was actually more interested in looking at some people's motorized bicycles. Quite a few people mount tiny petrol-engines on their ordinary bicycles, so that they can ride, well, about as fast as I can when I'm working hard. They are great examples of home engineering.

That evening, the crowd swelled to a shoulder-to-shoulder river along the whole Malecon, for live music on several sound stages at kilometer intervals. I hadn't realized there were going to be so many stages, and I couldn't find Joaquin at "the stage" where I thought he was going to be. Couples salsa'd everywhere and rum flowed freely. There was not a hint of trouble and there were very few police. At least uniformed ones. There are very few places where this could be done in such a relaxed manner.

Our Man Out of Havana.

Joaquin, after a couple of scares concerning full, or non-connecting, flights, managed to fly back to Colombia via Venezuela, in possession of one hard-fought-for Venezuelan visa which he never needed in the end, because he easily got a connection and didn't need to take a bus from Caracas to Bogota. He enthusiastically bade me visit him.

The British Ambassador wished me good luck. He was the first ambassador to ever receive me, and he and his staff nicely made me feel important. I'm not, of course, but I do need a boost every now and again. It was a little extra impulse to get me out of Havana.

I left Havana without ticking off everything I wanted to do there. There's so much! I didn't manage to photograph a camel towing rollerbladers. [If you want that explained, then either write to me, or go there.]

I loaded my pack-mule onto the special bus, under the lens of a photographer from Reuters, to pass under the harbour entrance, and headed back towards Havana because the bus drove too far before letting me off. Then I headed off across Cuba, confidently expecting a cyclist's paradise. Laughter was still ringing in my ears, from a group of three Cuban lady dancers who had laughed uncontrollably at the idea of bicycling to Santiago de Cuba, when they thought it was difficult by car. But I don't think I've seen the kind of muscle control that Cuban dancers have, anywhere else.

Every turn of the wheel is a revolution.

In Cuba, they have kept many vintage cars chugging along, though often missing side-windows, and likewise they've kept the revolucion going, though I don't think that the optimism is present in anywhere near it's original degree. But it's still going.

Perhaps the elements that have kept it going are that it is young, sexy and poetic; embodied in its icon, Che, and inspiration, Jose Marti. Che's early death has preserved the youthful face of the revolucion.

Of course, it was people-driven and still must be. Eighty or so rebels came over on an overcrowded boat from Mexico. About half were killed within a very short time. The other half took over the country. That's got to be difficult to do without the will of the people.

It was, and still is, all about heroes, too. Many billboards across the land remind everyone of this.

Embargo Babies.

Over a camp-stove, way back in Utah in the USA, I listened to the tales of one who had traveled sometime before to Cuba. He told me that Cubans were so disillusioned with the situation they lived in, that they were refusing to have babies. As a result, there was a marked absence of baby-strollers (prams or pushchairs) in the streets. A huge step to take for Latinos. But that doesn't look to be the case now. Whether due to any change in situation, political or otherwise, or because nature is just too strong, I couldn't tell. I saw plenty of kids, though not many baby-strollers, likely due to a lack of imports. Maybe that time was during the 'Special Period' just after the demise of their benefactor, the USSR. Which brings us to the un-neighbourly neighbour to the north; the USA.

Unfortunately for Cuba, the USA election was won, or stolen (as I was informed by many Americans) in Florida, where a large contingent of discontented Cuban exiles holds substantial sway. The outcome is that the few control the many. Some democracy! (But who ever said that democracy was, or could be, perfect?)

And they have tightened the screws on an already under-pressure Cuba.

Being an underdog fan at heart, I say "Good On Cuba!" for standing up to the bully.

Hardship and depression may at times have come from Castro's policies, a massive skill-and-brain-drain to the USA, and/or an over reliance on sugar crop or the USSR, but they don't exist in isolation and World-policeman-judge-and-jury, USA, have not exactly helped matters. Trade embargo, lawsuits, a tempting free citizenship to those who make it to US soil, and a block on US citizens going as tourists to Cuba [technically, US citizens spending US currency] are not small business.

I was told of a 75 year old American grandmother, from San Diego, CA, who bicycle-toured in Cuba. After returning to the USA, she was fined US$7,500!! Something to do with a "trading with the enemy" act. The section of the Treasury Department that levied the fine, is also supposed to track terrorists'money and finances. They increased her fine to over $10,000 because she missed a mailed notice when she was away caring for her dying son! The maximum fine is $55,000. But if you are American and you receive such a fine, you can claim your right to a hearing, immediately you receive the notice. They haven't employed judges for the hearings for years, so you just go on a waiting list and you keep your money. At least for now.

For one reason or another, the destructive bombs of fast-food restaurants [McBombs] with its cousin, trash-along-the-roadside, and homelessness, have not fallen here in Cuba. But ironically, when the USA finally see sense and release their fingers from Cuba's throat, maybe it will be the DELLuge of consumerist, commercial, materialist crap that will be Cuba's downfall.

There are some smile-less, sullen people here, who seem to have no enthusiasm for their jobs. Of course, they exist in every society, but I feel there are more here than in other places I've been. Maybe there is a nationalized-industry syndrome. When assured of a job, food, water and housing, people find it difficult to motivate themselves to excellence. Especially when accumulation of wealth is illegal.

From Joaquin's grapevine in Havana, I gathered that the monthly salary for a job such as police officer or teacher, is somewhere between US$8 and US$12. But a teacher of teachers in Santiago de Cuba mentioned that he received US$27 or 28. He also said that doctors could make a bit more, but a street cleaner earns about US$15. Skill and difficulty of job are factors. [By the way, wages are paid in pesos.]

US$1 is roughly 28pesos. And the food rations that every person is entitled to, cost of the order of 1peso or maybe less.

But the law is one job only, and for some positions, such as harbour master at the marina, it's a 24hour shift followed by 3days off. Lots of time for the family, eh?

Crowning all this is a lid on leaving the country, which is political rather than economical, and imposed from within, as opposed to by foreign immigration policies. All that's needed to be allowed to go to a foreign country is an official invitation, but many people don't apparently know this and, if they do, it's not easy to obtain one.

Mi Casa Tu Casa [My House is Your House]

Something ?that is, I'm convinced, essential to human well-being, is the ability to give. Particularly for someone to say, "Come and stay at my house." Whether they be rich or poor. But in Cuba, to control who gets the tourist dollar, and that they don't amass too much, and to ensure that a large chunk of it is channeled to the State (from whence it should be evenly distributed, in theory), only licensed casas particular are permitted to accommodate tourists in homes. The licenses can cost US$200 or US$300 a month! So those who can invite travelers, HAVE TO get dollars from them. Usually between US$10 and US$30 for a night.

Of course I am biased along these lines because I'm just about always happy when someone invites me into their home. And knowing the importance of balance of things, I want to be able to do the same for others one day.

I felt that this was another obstacle between Cubans and me. But whatever, I was going to put myself and my bike amongst them and see what happened.

Rider meets Jockeys

East of Havana; through some oil-fields and by a couple of power stations that I'd spotted through the fog on the inbound yacht.

I pedaled along the billboard trail. Advertising was replaced by propagandizing. Is there really any difference? I was heartened by the clean, clean roadside verge; an incredibly refreshing change. In every other country (so far), roadside rubbish has been an annoying, disheartening eye-distracter.

Very soon I noticed that the head- and cross- winds provided very welcome cooling in the crucible temperatures. Then thunderheads built, flashed, rumbled and, ultimately, dumped their reservoirs of water all over me. The first of many, daily, late-afternoon storms. The Spanish for storm is tormenta. But the cool was a relief. Until the sauna steam rose. Though this didn't happen on the first day.

I dropped down off a coastal ridge at dusk, still wet, into a town called Matanzas. My guide book said there wouldn't be, but there were, jineteros [pronounced 'hin e ter o'. Literally; jockey]. They are lads who tout for casas particular and make a commission if they take you to one. They're an irritation more than a danger. They try to divert you from where you are going, or try to pretend they've taken you where you're going when you arrive. And they reduce your bargaining power, and sometimes force the casa patron to increase the price. Now began a long-running battle the length of the country. I had to be very firm, and know where I was going, or at least pretend well. They would be very difficult to shake.

Jineteras (female 'jockeys') were often very pretty, and usually tried to persuade me to be unfaithful to my wife, saying, "No problem. It's OK. She'll never know," in response to my showing them my wedding ring. I replied that she would know, because I tell her everything.

Jineteros would also try to get a beer from me and commission from a restaurant if they managed to accompany me inside. Since I was always after the cheapest rice and beans (congri, if mixed), for one or two pesos, I had to dash their dreams of dollars.

No Toilet Seats 'till Camaguey.

The hunt for loo seats had already begun in Havana. There just weren't any!! And moving along Cuba, I realized it wasn't just a local phenomenon. I haven't come up with a theory to explain why there WERE toilet seats in the city of Camaguey and nowhere else, but I discussed the matter with the teacher of teachers in Santiago de Cuba, who had become a good friend and close enough to call familia [family]. He said that toilets were items bought with dollars and also very difficult to obtain. "If you break the toilet in your house, it's a major disaster!" I assumed from that, that toilet lids, having the potential to crack your bowl, were largely removed. I wonder if anyone knows where.

On another tack, entirely unconnected with that slippery subject, beans and rice is very often served with a salad of cucumber slices mixed with cucumber slices, or of green beans mixed with green beans.

And since I'm going on about food; They've taken Billy Joel's lyrics to heart; their indicator that they've made it into the uptown, high-class league , is that they're all living in a white-bread world. I didn't see a brown loaf anywhere. That's a first world, culturo-dietary swap-about that has gone unnoticed here. Or maybe they see whole-wheat as a capitalist device.

Brake Shoes, Shocks and Dodging Death

I used the Carretera Central, route 1 (I think), the main town-connector, plus some smaller lanes, to cross Cuba without getting lost, and avoiding using the Autopista. The Autopista is usually the quietest road, though. But it's largely devoid of places for refreshment. I regularly needed numerous glasses of sugar-cane juice, fruit juice or 'refresco', even if they came with ice that, likely as not, had been dragged along the ground and broken up on the floor.

People marveled at my capacity for these drinks.

I drank a lot of something called 'mamey' juice, which has no English translation that I know of, and I'd never heard of before.

At times I rode a few kilometers with a local on a bike Mostly they were male, though I did see women cycling, usually in towns, and once, a girl riding hard with a young man sitting on the luggage carrier behind. A farmer here, a ponchero [puncture repair man] there, a student here, an agricultural worker there. Or maybe a teacher. But generally Cuban people don't use their bicycles to travel long distances. The fact that they lack brakes, and have to use their shoes either on the road or against the front tyre to aid deceleration, or that the chains regularly jump off the gears, could be reasons. But they were strong, and could sometimes ride three to a bike!

Up and down easy gradients, fields of sugar, maize, potatoes and tobacco flew by. Tatty banana trees in huddles or plantations, and upright, proud Royal Palms, with slender, but bulging, trunks, ignored me. Horses and cows with prominent ribs displaying their hunger, in some areas worse than others, tracked me with their faces.

Slack-skinned, white bullocks were still vying with prehistoric tractors for the ploughshare.

Cows and goats wore long-stick, wooden contraptions about their necks, to prevent them going through fences. v This was a busy road; I could usually see at least one vehicle on my stretch of road. Not counting horse-drawn carts or horse-riders. Horse riders with guitars smoking fat cigars.

Calls of "Buena!" [Good, with the 'afternoon' or 'day' missed off] and "Hello, friend!" and "Amigo!" greeted me, along with "Cargao!" [luggage] "Camion!" [(It's like a) truck!]. And from kids; "Chiklet!" I think a call for bonbons.

I overnighted in the smouldering towns. Towns breathing out the heat of the day from thick, red tiles and chunky walls. I haggled with the owners of once well-to-do residences. I slouched in their caned-seat rocking chairs, sought breeze in their courtyards next to giant pot plants (giant plants in giant pots), and slept behind their louvered shutters and lattices and beneath their high ceilings, avoiding use of air-con, preferring a simple fan. I wrote my diary under bare bulbs or fluorescent tubes, or sometimes under a nifty, touch-sensitive lamp. Just touch it and it lights up or changes brightness.

By the way, if the slippery toilet doesn't get you, the electric shower-head might!

Trailing a tractor through the sugar belt one day, a sack of farm-produce bounced and dislodged itself from the rear of the tractor and dropped on the road dead ahead of me. I braked and swerved and, to my surprise, didn't hit the thing.

Shortly afterwards, I passed a road kill something, with its attending court of red-headed, Turkey Vultures. That could have been me!

In the towns, the greetings were more often, "Casa!" "Cigarros!" "Chica?" [(Do you want a) Girl?], "Ron!" [Rum], or "Taxi!" And one jinetero on a bicycle went so far as to call me "A**hole!" for not allowing him to take me where I didn't want to go.

Patria o Muerte

I guess that Cuba is as inward looking as any other country, but still, the dollar is always greener on the other side of the Florida Straits.

There are only two TV stations, usually the same.

And one 26th July night (their national day), as I was searching for some English news on my short-wave receiver, I found out that almost all the radio stations are the same Cuban national, too. I know because the TV was broadcasting a live speech by Fidel himself, and all up and down the radio dial were the same words coming out of his mouth. They totally swamped all the normal frequencies for BBC, VOA or Radio Australia.

Only a couple of Christian stations made it through. I think the evangelists have the most powerful transmitters in the World.

Fidel, as much as I could tell, spent most of his time 'Boosh'-bashing, referring a number of times to alcoholism. An easy target. And someone's got to do it. He will probably not be listened to outside Cuba, though. Now if Che was alive.......

[Actually quite a lot of people are Bush-bashing in Cuba.]

My birthday falls on a famous date in Cuba. The same date four years after I was born, Che Guevara was captured in Bolivia. I had to show my passport every time I checked into a casa particular, and time and again someone would remark that it was the day Che died. But actually he was executed, with U.S. complicity, the day after.

His is one, if not the, most recognizable, iconic faces in the World. Although statues and images of Jose Marti are more ubiquitous around Cuba. (That's if there are levels of ubiquitousness).

My life overlaps Che's in another way too; he did some noted pedal- and motor-cycle touring in South America in his younger days.

But his was a military struggle against imperialism, whereas I am more of a pacifist. And I am an intellectual midget in comparison, he being a doctor. And, of course, I am nowhere near that good looking. Thank god.

This country persistently presses the questions upon me; "What would I fight for?" and "What would I die for?"

In the absence of a national religion, though revolucion could be said to be that, the prime motivator used is 'Patria,' or Fatherland. But I am not a fan of nationalism. It's too often used to make enemies, with religion commonly subverted to its cause. More, I'd like to be proud to be a member of the UN, of the World, of humanity. Then again, maybe Patria can be used to limit our range of interference with other people or peoples.

In the Museo de Belles Artes [Museum of Fine Arts] there is a large mosaic exhibit in the form of a map of the World. When Joaquin prompted me to look closer, I realized that it was constructed entirely from small wooden shapes of the island of Cuba. It's only art though. Or is it?

And how many other countries wish to shape the World in their likeness?

If we really allowed Cubans to fashion the World, it would more likely be made of dominoes in a sea of rum.

Crabs and Itches

Agricultural miles and stares from brown and black faces and busy bus-shelters and dusty crossroads and brushes from butterflies and glances from lizards and billboards and billboards, streamed by into hazy memory. Some moments fused into distinct knots of memory. A welling up of ecstasy on being buzzed by a humming bird, whilst riding. Soppingly riding out a storm, through inches of road surface flood, awash with swirling rainbows; oil from leaky engine blocks! Accidentally crushing crunchy crabs crossing the coastal carriageway. They look hilarious running sideways waving their claws, as if threatening passing cars. Mostly I only ran over ones that were dead already. A butterfly flew down into my front wheels and then made me happy by appearing on the other side and flying away. One not so lucky, flew into the exposed moving parts and drive-belt of the engine of another tractor close ahead of me, and came out as confetti; briefly beautiful in death, too.

Mostly the humps along the island were gentle, but it was the height of summer oven and my sweat just built up and wouldn't evaporate into the humidity. A long way from the Pennsylvania ice storms!

I longed for the day's end shower; shower-head switched to cold, for safety and for relief. But too often, the pressure was wanting and it was difficult to get a proper wash. And if anything makes a cyclist's life hell, it's not getting properly clean in the shall I put it politely?.....the saddle area. Itchy at night. Itchy and sore in the day. I know this is a delicate subject, but I just have to say it. You might think that I have a cruisy life pedaling from country to country; ?you who work 9 to 5 or do shifts, in swivel chairs, or on your feet, slaving away, with a zillion tasks to complete and deadlines or targets to meet, or, do any job, for that matter. Mmmmm... I think you are right.

Agitated Colon.

In a town tastefully named Colon, which had no tourists and so no casas particular, I stayed in a US$2 hotel with a thriving cockroach population. One woke me up as it walked over my hand during the night. After arriving, lugging all my gear up to my room, and showering, I walked out to explore the streets and see if I could find some rice and beans, and something sugary to drink and replenish my energy reserves. In a backstreet I found a stall selling drinks-cans, shampoo, cosmetics and canned foods, but it was a dollar shop, only accepting US dollars, and over my budget. Just then, a crowd of people came running down the road. I was initially alarmed until I saw that many had excited, laughing faces. I looked at the dollar-store keeper for explanation, and he put up his fists and mimicked boxing. I sought further clarification and used the fairly universal word, "Sport?" He nodded. I decided to latch on to the crowd still running past, to see what entertains a small town like this. A couple of blocks on, the crowd halted briefly and then moved on a half a block following an agitated woman, to where the street was already blocked with about a hundred people. Others spectated from rooftops and windows. All that fascinated these people was a domestic dispute between two large, angry, neighbourhood women. Ms. Agitated, a heavyweight, banged and yelled at the other woman's door and window. The second woman, perhaps a light-heavyweight, eventually came out to save her windows, with some friends or relatives, and the two protagonists set up a screaming and shoving match. I got the feeling that some infidelity was involved, but the reasons weren't really my business. Nor probably were they the business of most of the people there. And no police officer or unit showed up to make it their business either. I took a few crowd photographs and wondered off. Just before turning the corner, Ms. Agitated confronted me, having separated from the fray, and started going off about "photo" and "camera". I thought she was trying to get some money from me, so I pretended to think she wanted me to take her picture, pointing to my camera and then at her. It only took a few minutes for her to give up.

I headed back towards the main strip of Colon. On the way I came upon a group of kids on a doorstep in front of a verandah, and they grinningly motioned to me to photograph them. I was only too happy to oblige. Gathered there, they were already a real picture. And I made some new friends, showing them some of their photos and others I'd taken in Cuba, on the back of my new-fangled digital camera. They kept waving goodbye the whole couple of hundred metres 'till I turned the next corner.

Later, I was sitting outside at a fly-blown restaurant on the main street, eating five peso pizza, and three of the kids happened by. A begging man was, at this point, hanging around in front of me, waving an angry, red sore on his elbow at me. One of the boys, though still small, got aggressive and protectively shooed the beggar away. I'm not sure that that's what I wanted, but thanks, kid, all the same.

Darkness had descended and it was time to head back to cockroachland. But before I got far, I was accosted by a couple of teenager lads in white trousers and aprons, outside the bread bakery. They eagerly invited me in to meet their colleagues and watch the dough kneading. The bread would be fresh very early the next morning. It was here that I found out that the bread makers were about the most helpful, questioning and conversational set of people in Cuba, yet the least demanding for money or gifts. And this was borne out in other places, too. I was often given bread with payment refused.

Imaginary Marco Polo.

An enormous statue of Che Guevara stands on a stone platform over his mausoleum and museum, overlooking an expansive parade ground and some Royal Palms, on the outskirts of Santa Clara. As luck would have it, the day I rested to go and visit it, happened to be the day of the week it was closed. So I took another day, but it was again closed, for some renovations. "Manana," [Tomorrow] a security guard assured me, so I stopped another day. But guess what, it was still closed. Fidel was to make his 26th July speech [which I mentioned before] in Santa Clara and work had to be done that couldn't wait for the visit of someone who'd bicycled 35,000miles around the World to get there once in his life. In fact, much of Santa Clara was receiving a new lick of paint and fumigation, about a week before the visitation.

Luckily, during my delay, I was able to spend more time with Polo, a friend I'd made in Havana, and his family. As I commented on before, I wasn't able to stay at his house, but I felt like real family as I was permitted to sit through the 3hour video of his daughter's 15th birthday celebrations two times. The 15th is an extravagant affair for girls, when they are made up and photographed like models in swim suits and fine clothes, culminating in a wedding style dress, and then have a big party bash in their honour. A number of times across Cuba I saw these 15year old princesses being photographed in exotic locations; marinas, castles, gardens or viewpoints over the sea.

Polo's son is a trained dancer. Most Cubans are, or seem to be, but he is much more so. The highlight of the video was when he partnered his sister and dance-serenaded her, and swung her gracefully about the dance floor.

Polo also introduced me to a skilled oil-painter whose real job was truck-driver. He brought a large, beautiful landscape canvas for Polo to keep at his house; a fine and costly piece of craftsmanship, which I think he transported on his small vintage motorcycle! At least he left on the motorcycle.

There seems to be some sort of connection between truck-drivers and the arts in Cuba. Famous, Cuban ballet dancer, Carlos Acosta, in the Royal London Ballet, is the son of a Havana trucky, too. I know because Polo also showed me a video about Acosta's life. It made me nostalgic for the Malecon.

There are a lot of people in Cuba who, when they realize you aren't going to spend dollars with them or give them dollars, want nothing more to do with you. Thanks, Polo and family, for preserving my faith in humanity and keeping interested.

Polo amazed me with his geographic knowledge. He said, "People say I never travel, so what's the use of such knowledge? I say they are wrong; I've traveled all over the World in my head!" I hope one day you really get out there, Polo. I'll miss the banter with you and your buddies on your balmy balcony, and your rocking chair by the fan, when the rain is slamming on the ochre tiles all around.

Also, much appreciation to Polo for directions to my next town of Cienfuegos on the coast. I got onto the Autopista, for once, near the parade ground, and the statue of Che watched my back as I trundled away, for quite some distance. It was as if he was taunting me for having failed to enter his mausoleum. Che lives on! At least in the revolucion and the 3peso coin.

A few hills.

One final look back at the distant Che.

And then it's just me and the holey road and the punishing Sun.

Lows and Highs.

I remember Cienfuegos for an excursion into the poorer, rough-edged, grey, concrete-apartment-block district. People were watchful and wary, and I felt somewhat vulnerable, but I had no exact reason for that. The patron of the casa I'd aimed at was out. The neighbours were so friendly that I was inclined to wait and stay there, but my 150lb iron bull was rebelling at a trip to the third floor (no lift/elevator) after a hard-slog day. Also, with only an hour of daylight left, waiting around could leave me with no choice as to whether to stay there or not (a major bargaining chip), or worse, it could leave me stranded if the owner didn't return. I reluctantly turned away and rolled back downhill towards the older, classier middle of town, which was beginning to relax under a sky turning pastel oranges and blues.

I found a casa run by a tough-looking guy, with shaven head and like an overweight ex-boxer, who kept Dobermans on the roof, near the well-barred passageway to the room that was mine. Contrary to appearances, Mr. Tough was a pleasure to deal with, polite almost to a fault, very friendly and just as helpful. A total softy, really, and almost fearful of doing anything that didn't please. The place was owned by his mother, who generally kept herself to herself, unless I approached her directly. His little schoolgirl daughter, inquisitive and enquiring, brightened up the dark-wooden-furnished-house beneath my room and my trips down the stairs which flanked two sides of the living room on their way to the front door.

Public-transporting horse-drawn carriages stopped outside that door, to pick up or deposit passengers. Usually those carriages were full to bursting point, like virtually every other form of conveyance in Cuba, from the scoops of earth-movers to the trailers of trucks. At night each carriage burned a kerosene-oil wick behind the rear axle as a safety light.

The main square of Cienfuegos is rimmed with attractive, classical buildings, and at one end a cute, domed corner-tower tops one of them, with an imaginative, iron-work, spiral stairway climbing inside it to a lookout at the very top. At ground floor the building has some kind of offices, and a girl sat behind a desk and phone in the entranceway. The building was closed. [Cerraado!] But with a small amount of verbal and monetary persuasion, she let me in. It had been a veritable palace indeed. Everything whispered of grandeur, even in disuse; one room that still housed two hulks of grand pianos; ornate ceilings; intricate floor patterns; lavishly decorated walls; marble and alabaster. The metal cleats of my Shimano bicycle shoes clacked across a still-proud stone courtyard on the roof, and clanged up that stairway. To the pinnacle. My pinnacle.

I surveyed yet more red-tile-scape, and every shade of sagging, weathered red, to mountains where a lightening storm was flashing warning signals; to a placid, blue Caribbean; down to an avenue where a young man rode a lady on his bicycle crossbar, perhaps his lifelong Salsa partner; and down to the square where a solitary policeman with a clipboard watched occasional traffic.

I could've stayed up there for hours, but I didn't want to get the girl down below [Not to be confused with GalFromDownUnder, Lynette Chiang] into trouble. As it was, she was on her way up to find me as I was passing the grand pianos again.

I was very satisfied with my sightseeing for the day and now I wanted to attend to a bit of a neck ache and stiff shoulders, as sometimes happens when riding flatter or bumpy terrain. I wanted a good professional massage [masahito]. It only took a mention and desk girl discussed it with another girl there, and soon she was on the phone to a local sports medicine man who, five minutes later, materialized on his bicycle to accompany me to his house. There he performed a very dextrous, full-body massage for 30pesos (just over US$1).

He used baby oil, to reduce friction, and rubbing-alcohol mixed with a secret, herbal formula, to give cooling and an all-over, pleasant, tingly feeling.

I like Cienfuegos!

I was overtaken by a few rare racing cyclists on some grinding gradients up and slightly inland as I headed for Trinidad. I nearly caught them at a rest, but they remounted and were gone. Later the road took me back to the coast for a dousing by a squall and then it brightened up for the crab run. After a few busy, little, beaches, another uphill told of the approach to Trinidad. With a few kilometers left to go, I spied some big mangoes and avocadoes for sale under a shade tree, in front of a short row of houses on the right.. I chose a luxurious-looking mango and tried to bargain for it, but the kind people wouldn't accept a cent! However, the mango left me with the most terrible after taste that had me gagging for water, just when I'd run out! The first residence I found, about 1Km on, I stopped and pleaded for water. They filled my water bottle with ice-cold life-saver and I downed practically all of it in one go. The best tasting water since the southern Californian desert!

I spent hours in Trinidad trying to find a reasonably-priced casa; from 4pm 'till gone 9pm, well after dark. Up and down a grid of streets; some cobbled, some smooth but with puddles here and there; and several times past a butchers'with a pig's head hanging at the barred window. At last, with my second pleading of the day, I found what I needed. But that's where I got a head shock from the shower-head!

In Sancti Spiritus.

Waterfalls sprang from the gutterless rooves in a downpour that caught me off-guard and splashed up at me as I pressed myself and my bike against a townhouse wall under wide eaves, in a deserted street.

The storm relented and I found a casa that had the best orange juice in the world, but no room.

It only took me three attempts to find reasonable lodging this time, though. Plenty of time for me to get ready for the lively celebrations of the end of week-long carnival, in the town square that evening.

In the kitchen at the cool heart of my townhouse casa in the centre of Sancti Spiritus, in the downdraught of a tri-bladed ceiling fan, I feasted on cold, sliced mango and listened to the casa matron's woes. Though still strikingly beautiful and youthful for a woman with children in their late teens, and though she would be the envy of many an occidental narcissist, she lamented the passing of her youth and beauty. She also didn't hold back in expressing her dissatisfaction with the political system and Fidel Castro, whom she referred to by making a beard sign with thumb and forefinger to her chin, and placing two fingers to her shoulder to denote military rank (he almost always wears uniform). She did this in the way you might if you thought walls had ears, except that she didn't refrain from saying his name out loud. Of Che, she complained, "He was too much of a volunteer. Just because he worked for no money, doesn't mean everyone can."

There are some people you can never impress, eh?


Forging into the eastern part of Cuba, the road flattened; the calm before the climb over the last barrier; the Sierra Maestre Mountains. Cacti became more prevalent; notably, thickets of a special cactus grown as animal-proof fences, in this hotter, drier region. However, those late afternoon storms kept coming.

The province of Holguin, not far off, was having drought problems. So much so that a CNN reporter was sent to the scene. When she got there, it rained every day!

Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, then Bayamo. Places few of you will have heard of.

On the run in to Bayamo, one of those storms was spreading across the sky before me, dark, inky and ominous. It was close to 180 degrees from right to left, so I knew I was riding into it, but I only had two or three kilometres to go, so I thought I might be able to find shelter before the worst of it. I raced by a small township with a few shops and thought about stopping, but I didn't want to relinquish my pace. "I can make it," I tried to convince myself. Just as I made this decision, I felt an itch on my left thigh, and I brushed it with my left hand, absentmindedly. Then PAIN! And I looked down to see a bee stinging me through my Lycra shorts. INTENSE PAIN! I picked it off and slung it away frantically. INTENSE, PERSISTENT PAIN! But I had to go on. However, it felt like a warning that I should've stopped for shelter. I also started thinking about bee sting allergies. I could only remember having been stung once before, in childhood. I knew that severe reactions often only occur upon a second sting. Was I about to swell up and die right here? But I didn't have much time to think about this as suddenly the promise of a storm became an I-told-you-so!!!

The clouds ruptured and unzipped in blinding rips and a preliminary volley of water bullets made me halt and head straight for the nearest semblance of shelter. I rode the bike down the verge, through a gap in a wire fence and across a small field to a small shack with a corrugated iron awning out front. Whilst uttering apologies in Spanish to the occupants, I pulled the bike up onto a patch of concrete and tried to position it where rain wasn't driving through gaping holes in the awning. Some boys without shirts or shoes continued to play with a soft football out between the fence and the road. An old lady welcomed me at the house and a couple of boys and girls came out with sheets of plastic to cover up my bike. I held my bike and stood and watched the rain and the boys splashing about, carefree. Then the lightening came dangerously close and they headed for the house, too. They invited me inside. I was wet and declined at first, but they insisted, so I propped the bike and I dripped inside. I needn't have worried about me getting the house wet, because rain was coming into the house anyway; through the cinder-block windows and the roof. Here, my eyes were opened dramatically to how meager existence could get for the country people of Cuba. Though maybe this wasn't the nadir. Bare concrete floor; bare brick walls; bare corrugated roofing; bare light-bulb, fed by bare wiring, switched by hooking two naked wires together, but which the weather had extinguished. I was provided the best chair, which means it didn't fall apart if sat on in the wrong way. It was in the driest portion of the room. The nine or ten kids stood around, sat on the floor, or shared three or four other chairs, mostly in boisterous and humourous mood, despite regular shivers as the rain blew through. One boy was on a chair supported against a wall. Whenever he laughed, the leg fell off, and a number of times he came close to collapsing on top of it. This would set the others off giggling. The old lady, Isabel, went to a kerosene stove in the 'kitchen', the other side of a flimsy dividing wall, and concocted a large cup of powerful, Cuban coffee for me. I felt guilty.

I asked round all the names and found out their relationships. Only one or two were related to Isabel. I told them as much about my life as I could and answered as many of their questions as I could understand. I left feeling decidedly humbled. I took a couple of group photographs outside, and promised to send them copies. My comfortable casa accommodation would take on a new look from now on, and I'd have less sympathy with the casa owners who whinged about the US$200 license fee.

I was sick in Bayamo. Loose motion. 'Nuff said.

The east end of Cuba was serving up the friendliest and most generous of people. When I was toiling up hill one time, getting my lower gear teeth into the Sierra Maestre, a car stopped in the middle of the opposite lane, and two men jumped out and handed me a plump, ripe avocado and filled my bottle with iced water. They didn't worry about blocking the traffic, though there were only a few cars. Also, however, and this includes these two guys, people were more and more inclined to call me 'loco' [crazy], when they learned I was riding across Cuba.

Some people are impossible to impress, eh?

I finished off pretty much where the revolucion started in Cuba; in Santiago de Cuba. A mere block away from a school that Fidel attended.

I can't remember having waited so much so often for so many different reasons, as in Santiago de Cuba. Usually it was associated with power outages. But again I profited from waiting by staying longer at Giovanni and Esther's casa of fun, next door to their good neighbour, Louis's little casa of fun. OK, so it was raining in my room a couple of days. But you did fix it quickly, Giovanni. Though was it really because of the cat on the roof, like you said? It must have been a Catzilla to make those holes in that rusty metal sheeting the repairman took away! I guess it was just another of your many jokes. I can take them, my friends, in fact, I loved them. Keep the Spirit! Teacher of teachers, joker of jokers.

The waiting also brought success. Instead of heading back to Havana, I was able to dismantle the bike and pack it in flour- and rice- sacks in a cubby hole on a tiny four-berth yacht to Jamaica. Yeehaaaa! I was quadruply lucky; it was the only yacht going, and one of the crew left, making just enough room for me, which Captain Lothar surprisingly let me fill.

Lucky, I thought, 'till the engine failed mid voyage..........

By the way, those flour sacks were imported from USA. I'm impressed with whoever's doing that.

Hasta Luego! See You Later!

Keep the Spirit!

Regards and Respect,


Special Thanks to:-

Lynette Chiang. For hints on Cuba.

Check out her new book

John of Port Antonio Marina. For the facilities to type this.

Greg & Pattie of Freeport, Bahamas. For tolerating me, looking after me, entertaining me, letting me help the with painting, and finding me the ride to Cuba.

Captain John of the Cantamar. For getting me to Cuba FREE, plus some excellent grub.

Cantamar Chef Craig and SeaDog Hugh. For assistance.

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