Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Bike Tour Bliss with CanBiCuba

We're back from our bike tour with CanBiCuba and I feel amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It was like I remembered from five years ago, only better, if that's possible. It was a trip full of excitement with lots of activity, good food, drinks and laughs. We had a great time with a terrific group of people. As I sit here thinking about what to say, I'm basking in the memories and feeling the bliss.

Maybe it was so wonderful because I set and met all three of my goals. I wanted to enjoy the rides, avoid crashing and be sociable. My goals were simple and totally focused on fun. It was a vacation after all.

To prepare for riding, my husband and I started indoor trainer workouts in November. We did high intensity intervals once or twice a week for 45-55 mins with an easier ride or two mixed in. I used a heart rate monitor to make sure I was working hard. I wasn't sure how I would do on the hills and long rides but I managed just fine with a little helping hand from my husband and the bus when the going got really tough.

To avoid crashing, I was careful to ride following my husband's wheel and we usually rode ahead so I didn't have to worry about watching other riders. My strategy worked and I didn't crash although I did have a few exciting moments involving hills, speed and really rough roads.

To encourage more social time, I left all my distractions at home. I took no crochet, no books and no gadgets. As it turned out, socializing in Cuba was easy with our group. Everybody was interesting and fun. 

Like I mentioned in my last post, we did this tour five years ago so I knew what to expect. Still my memories were a bit fuzzy omitting much of the detail. I recognized some of the same hotels but some were new. Some of the routes have changed and we couldn't remember the roads properly anyway so would have been lost without guidance. 

Every night, our translator/tour guide Celso (pronounced Selso) would tell us where we were headed the next day then he would repeat the instructions before we set off in the morning. It was perfect because we neglected to bring a copy of our itinerary and with short attention spans/memories, the repeated instructions were much appreciated. 

The routes were intentionally kept simple with as few turns as possible and our bus (#1849) would park at key spots providing a recognizable landmark. We also used our cycle computers to track distance and speed which helped for estimating how far to the next turn or stop. I think we only lost somebody once and not for very long. The locals ended up pointed her in the right direction because they had noticed where the rest of us "milk bottles" in spandex had gone.

I thought you might like an embellished itinerary of sorts along with a few photos so you can see where we went, where we stayed and what we did on this tour (January  24 to February 7, 2015). I kept a journal, as did most people, so it's fairly accurate. Read on and enjoy the ride!

Day 1 - Saturday - overnight at Mirador de Mayabe in Holguin (pick up at airport)
  • flew Air Transat from Toronto to Holguin (1 hr late) 
  • waited for Air Canada flight (also 1 hr late)
  • at hotel by 11:30 p.m. in time for a cold chicken dinner
  • plan to assemble bikes before breakfast tomorrow

Day 2 - Sunday - bike to Hotel Sierra Meastra in Bayamo (stay 1 night)
  • assemble bikes before breakfast
  • group shot in front of the drinking donkey logo
  • ready to ride by 9:30 a.m.
  • ride to Bayamo starts with a very steep and rough downhill from the hotel
  • 80 km ride with the last 25 km being very bumpy
  • walking tour of Bayamo in the afternoon (one of the oldest cities in Cuba)
  • tomorrow we ride to El Salton in the mountains

Day 3 - Monday - ride to Hotel El Salton from Sierra Maestra
  • ride out of Bayamo at 9 a.m.
  • first 45 km is very busy and hectic with traffic
  • turn on to quiet hilly road to El Salton, very hot day
  • longer, steeper climbs require a bit of walking in the hot sun
  • wait in the shade for the bus at km 69 while my husband keeps going
  • ride the bus past some of the longer climbs then finish off riding to the hotel
  • time to celebrate our accomplishment
  • my total distance 77 km; my husband's total distance 90 km

Day 4 - Tuesday - another night at Hotel El Salton
  • mountain hike with local guide named Ricardo
  • visited two mountain farms and bought some coffee
  • enjoyed seeing the local flora and fauna
  • rest day with no biking

Day 5 - Wednesday - overnight at Hotel San Juan in Santiago 
  • bus dropped us in a small town called Contramaestra to start the ride 
  • rolling hills and a bit overcast so not quite as hot today
  • my husband helped push me up some of the longer hills which helped immensely
  • stopped for lunch half way to our destination the Basilica at El Cobre
  • total distance 60 km to the Basilica 
  • my husband added 10 km to check out the copper mine further down the road
  • got on the bus at El Cobre and rode to our hotel in Santiago
  • relaxed by the pool before dinner
  • another good day

Day 6 - Thursday - another night at Hotel San Juan in Santiago 
  • toured the National Cemetery with Jose Marti tomb, watched the changing of the guards (happens every 1/2 hr)
  • walking tour of Santiago
  • drinks on rooftop cafe at the Hotel Grande
  • delicious lunch at rooftop palador
  • relaxed by the pool after tour
  • rest day for me, no biking
  • my husband and Dave rode ~50 km to the Dinosaur Park
  • our hotel was beside a zoo so we could hear the lions roar at night

Day 7 - Friday - overnight at Hotel Sierra Mar (all inclusive with a beach) 
  • the bus dropped us off at the Cemetery near the edge of town to ride to Sierra Mar
  • first part of the ride was busy with traffic then the road was quiet with ocean views on the left and mountain up ahead
  • missed the bus for water so stopped at beach cafe for local Hatuey beer, refreshing
  • a pleasant 63 km ride

Day 8 - Saturday - another night at Hotel Sierra Mar (all inclusive)
  • another beach day for me
  • hung out with Karine who snorkeled to the reef
  • I borrowed her equipment to swim but didn't make it to the reef without fins
  • my husband joined most of the group for a short 20 km ride to Chivirico
  • in the afternoon he borrowed Karine's equipment and hotel fins to swim to the reef, got a few photos as proof
  • delicious traditional Cuban dinner at the reservation restaurant instead of the busy hotel buffet

Day 9 - Sunday - overnight at Hotel Niquero (ride south coast road 112 km total)
  • early 8:30 a.m. start on the bikes
  • long ride on the coast road today, one of our favourite roads
  • bus took a 6 hr detour so we had 2 jeeps providing support
  • tail wind, lots of climbs, rough roads, crooked bridges, beautiful scenery
  • my husband helped push me up most of the long climbs
  • stopped for sandwiches and juice provided by Celso (70 km in)
  • got one flat descending too fast through potholes
  • delicious free lunch including a flaming ice cream cake provided by Hotel Mar Del Portillo because they were overbooked and had to cancel our reservation 
  • drove to Hotel Niquero (guide book stated hotel would be 'gob-smacked' if we stayed there) - it was actually quite nice
  • on the way to the hotel stopped at the house where Celia Sanchez lived

Day 10 - Monday - overnight at Hotel Santo Domingo (no beer sold here)
  • walked around Niquero before breakfast
  • 9 a.m. departure by bus to head to a small town near Santo Domingo
  • transfer to 2 jeeps to drive to Villa Santo Domingo with overnight bags
  • lunch at Villa Santo Domingo before hiking 3 km up the mountain to La Plata (Fidel's mountain hideout during the revolution)
  • got photos of the Cuban national bird, saw a clear winged butterfly and my husband got attacked by a mountain crab (latched onto his laces)
  • enjoyed a snack at another mountain farm with chicks
  • fun evening and dinner at the mountain resort
  • nice rest day with no biking

Day 11 - Tuesday - overnight at Casas in Manzanillo 
  • take jeeps back to the bus and get ready to ride to Manzanillo
  • my husband's front tire was flat so he had to change his tube before starting
  • rode together as a group for first 15 km so we wouldn't get lost
  • also rough roads for first 15 km but then lovely smooth roads the rest of the way
  • Celso pointed us towards Manzanillo and said turn left in 20 km
  • fairly direct route 39 km total
  • only one person missed the last turn, but she turned back and was directed by locals who had seen where all the other "milk bottles" in lycra had gone
  • we gathered at the hotel having drinks until the bus was ready to take us to various casa's in town
  • stayed with Mike and Rachel at a casa with 'matrimonial' beds ... very nice
  • walked around Manzanillo enjoying the sites before dinner 
  • enjoyed a lovely fish dinner at a lovely large palador in town (Mike had chicken)

Day 12 - Wednesday - overnight at Hotel Las Tunas
  • driven to the edge of town to ride to Las Tunas
  • a very windy day (head wind or cross wind the whole way)
  • met the Las Tunas kids' cycling club at the 52 km mark and rode with them
  • the kids are very strong riders
  • Lea a 14 year old girl stayed by my side and was so sweet, wish I spoke Spanish
  • total distance 88 km - exhausting with the wind
  • fun backyard pig roast with the kids at the coach's house
  • gifted donations to the club, fantastic evening

Day 13 - Thursday - overnight at Hotel Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca (all inclusive)
  • bus drove us to edge of Holguin to ride to Hotel Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca
  • I was still hurting from Wednesday's ride to Las Tunas but loved the ride anyway
  • beautiful smooth road with easy long rolling hills
  • total distance 55 km at 24.5 k/h
  • this was my last ride
  • I rode a total of 570 km; my husband rode 700 km ... not bad for February

Day 14 - Friday - Hotel Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca
  • beach day for Jodi and me
  • the rest of the group rode 55 km to a nearby Indian museum
  • it was a very hot day, perfect morning for the beach
  • Guardalavaca has beautiful white sandy beaches
  • my husband spent a couple hours packing the bikes after his ride and before lunch

Day 15 - Saturday - Fly out of Holguin to fly home
  • our first and only rain day
  • it rained at night and poured rain most of the morning
  • we had to wait for the rain to ease up to move from bar to bar to restaurant
  • checked out of our rooms by 12 p.m. and moved our luggage into Celso's room until 4 p.m.
  • walked to Brisas to see how it compared to Hotel Club Amigo - it looks nicer
  • gathered in the lobby of the 'barracks' as we liked to call our building to wait for the bus 
  • loaded up and at the airport by 6 p.m.
  • checked in right away although I questioned checking our luggage under an Air Transat sign marked Montreal
  • paid extra 20 pesos each for the VIP lounge upstairs (enjoyed red wine, cheese, ham, olives, comfy sofas, tv and quiet time until boarding which was late due to weather in Toronto)
  • another perk of VIP lounge, priority boarding ahead of the crowd
  • landed in Toronto but out of the airport late as we had to file a lost luggage report
  • back home in London by 6:30 a.m. Sunday ... slept until 11:30 a.m. then relaxed for the rest of the day
  • as suspected our luggage went to Montreal but was returned at 3 a.m. Monday
I've included a few photos in this post but if you would like to see more you can view our photo album here. To copy any photo, just open it full screen and click on 'more' then 'download photo'. 

This tour named A Tribute to Celia Sanchez organized by CanBiCuba offers a great venue with lots of variety from coastal roads to mountain views. I highly recommend it to travelers who love a bit of adventure. It's truly Bike Tour Bliss with CanBiCuba.

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  1. Wonderful summary Beth. It brought back so many great memories. Thanks for posting this!

    1. I love to share and save the memories in this way. Thanks for commenting and for helping create such great memories.

    2. what a fantastic write up...putting in on the FB page now

  2. It was a great vacation with you Beth and the others. Nice story!

  3. Glad you had such a good holiday. I've just 'skipped' through your write-up for now - will take more time later to enjoy the pictures.

    1. Scaled down photo album to 450 from over 1000 and added captions. Still a lot to scroll through but a bit better.

  4. So great to finally read your blog. I'm gob-smacked by your discipline in getting to it pronto and by your resolve in achieving your riding and socializing goals. I'm just catching up on email LOL.

    1. Thanks Rachel. It was fun to write about such a fun trip. I've not done much else other than work and laundry though. We rode our trainers a bit today and I did a bit of crochet but mostly I'm just resting including napping a bit more than usual.

  5. I read your blog about cuba. We are possibly planning the same trip. I would like to ask a few questions. How were the hotels?

    1. I would like to ask more, but the site wouldn't accept any more

    2. I sent you an email. I can answer more questions that way.

  6. Thanks Beth for taking the time to document this mid winter adventure. Three months post and despite summer weather finally arriving in Ontario, your account of the ride reminds me that "summer" riding any time of the year is just a short flight away. Enjoyed meeting you and Lee and hope to cross paths again someday. Dave

    1. So true Dave. Cuba is a great place to escape winter and enjoy biking. We're so glad the weather has finally become more summer-like here at home. Enjoy, Beth

  7. I re read your blog again Beth. What a great write up. I will do the fat mary tour in March. Hope all is well

    1. One advantage of keeping this blog is being able to read and remember what we did. The Fat Mary tour looks like fun ... something to look forward to for next year. Enjoy!

    2. Wow all these years later I finaly see your blog Beth. So glad you have a good time. There have been changes made in our attempts to improve our tours. The small cycling club has evolved to become a girls only squad and their coach will be moving up to Havana in September to work with the national team. I sure hope that Las Tunas can find a coach as dedicated as Manuel has proved to be.