Cuba-Mexico heading

January 19, Havana

We arrived in Havana yesterday, January 18, on an uneventful flight from Cancun. We are staying at Casa Ana on Calle 17, at the western edge of Vedado. We've not seen too much of Ana because she's been suffering with a bad back, but her husband Pepe has been kind and helpful. packing bike

We spent almost all of today, the 19th, putting the bikes together. The more completely you break our down Cruzbike Quests, the easier and better they fit in the suitcases (right) but the more time it takes to rebuild them. Wally was upset to have lost or mislaid or never packed a little bag of nuts and bolts and other small spares, but for the time being at least, the bikes are built, we tested them by riding around Havana for an hour or two in late afternoon, and they seem ready to go. (The small parts bag turned up later on the trip.)

The bikes are ready, but we're not! We're going to stay another day in Havana to rest up, look around, and get organized, before we head out to Pinar del Rio.


January 20, Havana

Today is our last day in Havana before riding west to Pinar del Rio. Last night we went for dinner at Havana Chef, a wonderful restaurant. More about this later.

We cycled around Havana for much of the day, sightseeing as well as running errands. When we were last here in Havana, just over 10 years ago, we were getting a sense of the city's geography, but we have forgotten a lot in 10 years.

We visited the famous Hotel Nacional to use special debit cards for withdrawing Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) at the hotel’s efficient currency exchange. (Cuba's odd currency situation is explained in More about Cuba.) We'd been to the landmark Hotel Nacional once before, but we were impressed all over again. I love a place where the doorman thanks you for the opportunity to open the door for you! Anyway, we have enough cash for the time being.

We found our way to Havana Centro and Havana Vieja, and we rode along the Malecon again. About 10 people asked us what our bikes cost. (Cubans are not the least shy about this kind of thing.) We got done today the things we needed to do — except for finally packing our panniers. Which we will do now. We need to get an early start tomorrow.

In Havana Centro, statue of Jose Marti, and in the background, Hotel Inglaterra (right) and Teatro Nacional (left)

on malecon
On the malecon, near Old Havana; Castillo El Morro in the background


January 21, Havana to Las Terrazas Hui

For our last night in Havana, we went to Havana Chef for dinner again, and again it was very good. This time we were joined by Hui, a lovely young Chinese woman whom we met at Casa Ana. (right). Hui lives in Shanghai and works for a French media company owned by Hearst. (What a global economy we live in!)

At our casa yesterday Pepe said that things are better in Cuba now than they were 10 years ago, and he was talking primarily about opportunities for small businesses. If this restaurant, Havana Chef, is an example, we see exactly what he means.

Havana Chef is on Calle 24 in Vedado, between Calles 21 and 23  — an unlit block in a primarily residential neighborhood. What a surprise! The food was wonderful, the atmosphere informal but slightly upscale (for Cuba anyway) with unobtrusive, live music, and the service was excellent. And it was relatively cheap. Who knew we could eat so well in Cuba! We ate at Havana Chef five or six times during our stops in Havana on this trip.

Below is a strip of photos of photos of Havana Chef. We're making a big deal about it for a couple of reasons. First, it is one small sign of a big change that may be coming in Cuba — the development and even the encouragement of more private businesses as part of a strategic move to a mixed economy. Also, we wanted to put Havana Chef on the internet because we liked it so well and hope the business will thrive!

Havana Chef
Left to right: A corner of the dining room at Havana Chef; the busy kitchen; Barbara digging in

We got off to a reasonably early start this morning, about 7:30. We decided to follow the route in our book to Las Terrazas, and it wasn't quite as smooth and seamless as we might have hoped. We missed the turn to the autopista (freeway) outside Havana and had to find our way back onto the route by constantly asking directions. We ended up adding a few extra kilometers.

As we rode along, we found that a few landmarks were gone, some signs had changed, or disappeared, or appeared where there were none before. Even some of the roads themselves had changed over ten years simply by deteriorating. Despite the changes, we find the book is still useful because the directions for the routes are generally unchanged over the years.

On road to Las Terrazas, this cow, like all Cubans, is curious about our odd bikes.

Nearing Las Terrazas, we met a man riding a bicycle, and he was eager to lead us to a room. The place to which he took us, and where we are now staying, is a farm -- pigs, chickens, dairy cows, goats, bananas, who knows what else, worked by a wonderful family. The guest room is clean, its refrigerator is stocked with cold beer, and the food is good. Our host, Marta Duque, is welcoming. Altogether, this casa particular, Villa Duque, is an excellent place to stay. Tomorrow we will try to spend a good deal of time in Las Terrazas, and then probably ride on to Soroa for the night.

Villa Duque, a casa particular near Las Terrazas; Wally naps upon arrival; typically generous dinner.     


January 22, Las Terrazas

We decided first thing this morning to to stay here at Marta's Villa Duque for another night. We enjoyed talking for a while to Marta's son-in-law Raidel Oceguera, a graduate student in computer science.

We also decided to take our time here and in Pinar del Rio. We'll ride a bus back from Viñales so that we don't have to spend two or three days cycling back to Havana.

After breakfast we rode up to the Cafetal Buena Vista, an old coffee estate, and the operative word is "UP!" (Photo on right — the road gets steeper!) It's the first time in years that we've had to walk our bikes, principally because the road got so steep that our tires were slipping and we couldn't keep our balance. Vermonters: think "Smuggler's Notch" on recumbents in tropical weather. From the Cafetal, we took a short hike to a few viewpoints, from which we could see the Las Terrazas community far below.

Las Terrazas is remarkable. It is an “eco-community” conceived back in 1968, when the Cuban government became concerned about the ecological effects of deforestation in the region. Las Terrazas is an intentional community, largely self-sufficient, with focus on organic agriculture, reforestation and permaculture, tourism (at Moka, Cuba's only true "eco hotel,") the arts, and above all, sustainability.

Lonely Planet, not a guide we often quote, wryly notes that the forward-thinking Cuban government conceived the Las Terrazas eco-community when Al Gore was "still cramming at Harvard." We had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant at Las Terrazas, and we were struck by the contrast between a comment on the menu, and a sign we photographed in Washington, D.C.

Entering Las Terrazas

El Romero, the vegetarian restaurant in Las Terrazas, featuring locally raised, organic food and spices

The English-language version of the menu at El Romero restaurant is below.The italicized words say, "Before eating this dish may we suggest you take one another by the hands and, with closed eyes, make an invocation to give thanks to nature for food, love, health, harmony, solidarity, and peace."

Below is an advertisement on the Washington D.C. metro. Think about it!

Next page >>