Final Days : Havana

From Pinar del Rio, we rode back to Havana for our last week in Cuba. With a population over two million, Havana is the biggest city in the Caribbean, reasonably safe for cyclists, and certainly very different from every other Cuban town or city that we visited. The dome you see down the street in this photo is the old Presidential Palace, now the Museum of the Revolution -- a wonderfully informative place to visit.

If you saw the film Buena Vista Social Club, believe us, Havana looks a lot better today than it did in the movie. Sure, some of the city is badly run down, but so much of it is still beautiful, or at least quite livable. We loved the many lions and the wonderful lamps on this Havana street.

Plaza de Armas was our favorite park in Havana. It had used bookstalls, shady benches, street musicians -- a great place for hanging out. Havana Vieja, the old part of the city where this park is located, is a wonderful warren of narrow streets and pocket parks, popular with tourists for good reason.

Here is the Malecon, Havana's great seaside boulevard. In the evenings and weekends, the seawall is lined with Habaneros talking and flirting, drinking rum, playing music, walking their dogs. It is the best hangout of all.

Our parting thoughts are nothing profound, just some miscellaneous observations and favorite photos that didn't fit anywhere else. First, traveling on bikes was a wonderful way to see Cuba, and to meet people as well. Many Cubans are cyclists themselves, so they were always interested in our semi-recumbents. They had never seen anything like them before!

In fact, it was often hard simply to stop somewhere and rest because so many people, especially children, gathered round to look at our bikes and ask questions.

This is a shot of the island, Cayo Granma, in Santiago Bay, where we came across the musicians who were playing for the love of it.

And here's a little boy in a pot, right on that same island. This is documentary proof that the communists cook and eat their children -- so it was a big mistake to send Elian back home. Not! This little boy is having a bath.

Here is a cute little girl in Trinidad asking Barbara for some chewing gum. Lots of Cubans will ask foreign tourists for one thing or another, sometimes with a persistence that can be annoying. However, in our experience, they were not begging. They were trying to "make business," that is, offering to sell something or perform a service. Many Cubans are needy, but they are proud. In our experience, they do not beg -- except, sometimes, children who want gum!

Since Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cobblestone streets are preserved, not paved. Notice the refrigerator being delivered by horse cart!

We liked Havana, but still, it was a big city, and the mountains of Pinar del Rio were our favorite place. When we visited this swimming hole in the mountains near Las Terrazas, it was frequented by more Cubans than foreign tourists. A large family of Cubans were having a party, playing instruments and singing, when we were there.

And Barb loved the waterfall!

Cuba is such a beautiful, friendly, and profoundly interesting country that we look forward to the day when anyone can travel there freely.

If you are seriously interested in cycling in Cuba, get in touch by e-mail. And please refer cycling friends to this site.

Sunset near Vinales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba