In 2017 & 2016 we returned and flew into Holguin and rode the coast west of Santiago de Cuba (a very popular cyclists route) and then east to Baracoa. It is all great biking!
We have biked in Cuba six times. In November 2000 we flew via Cancun Mexico and rode east to the Bay of Pigs, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus and Matanzas. In November 2001 we flew through Toronto Canada (where we were busted by immigration on our return, nothing came of it.) and biked west to Pinar del Rio. For biking, the trips west are far superior but for interesting cities the trips east were better. In 2011, we bailed out of Costa Rica to Cuba and, in 2012, we finally biked east to Santiago de Cuba. We left our bikes at a dodgy Casa Particular and several months later they were stolen. Our plans to bike around the east, therefore were cut short. As mentioned above we returned Holguin in 2017 & 2016.
Most of central Cuba is dull scenically. Best is around Vinales and, we finally got to the east, Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa, a great destination in itself.
Havana is spectacular for the old town, music and nightlife. The city is fun to bike around especially along the Malecon. The Caribbean winds are predictable so it’s preferred to go east to west.
How We Rate This Trip
Other than “La Farola” in the east, the terrain of Cuba is not that challenging so the grades are very easy. Generally, you use the main roads, which are maintained. The secondary roads we took were also in good shape. We didn’t travel to the far west where the roads are often gravel or to the far east where the terrain is more challenging. The city of Havana is bicycle friendly. Update 11/17: 2-lanes and narrow and often broken except the Autopista which is multi laned in the east.
Sometimes we enjoyed a little traffic because it consisted of old vintage Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs. There are areas where these were the only traffic. Some of the old trucks belched ugly black unbreathable smoke. Even the main highway, the old Carretera Central, has little traffic. Out of Havana is easy on the Malecon to the west. Through town it’s congested but it’s easy to get around the old town. The Autopista is posted “NO BIKES ALLOWED”, but the Cuban cyclists (and us) ignored this and blithely pedal past the tollbooths onto the Freeway. But it’s not good biking. Update 11/17: More traffic around Santiago de Cuba but the routes farther east or west along the coast are quiet.
You can get rained on. Sometimes it lasts for several hours. It is the typical Caribbean climate. Occasionally, cold fronts from the U.S. can actually reach Cuba and affect the weather for a short time. Temperatures are moderate on the coast but in the dry interior with the sun out it can be brutal. Know where you can find fluids.
Usually predictable. This is the Caribbean and, as the sailors know, the winds are out of the East at 15 mph on the coasts. The best itinerary would start in the east and go west. Especially in the boring stretches in central Cuba where it’s beneficial to have a tail wind. Down winds and inland can be very hot. Update 11/17: Winds occasionally vary. A cold front brought strong NE winds for 4 days in November.
The further east, the better. It is the most beautiful part of the country and raises our score. The beauty spot in the west was around Vinales but the area is relatively small. The far west was not recommended to us.
Our trip to the east of Havana, even along the sea, was scenically dull. The saving grace was the interesting cities. And of course there’s Havana.
Bike touring is getting more and more popular in Cuba. Also, the Cubans use bikes. With the collapse of Communism has come belt-tightening, especially in the form of transportation. Cuba is the bike capitol of the Americas. Local bikers helped and often guided us. For example, on the ride from the airport into Havana a local biker lead us most of the way. The best guide book for road descriptions in the Moon Handbook by Christopher P. Baker.
An excellent book is Biking In Cuba by Wallace and Barbara Smith. This was published after we were there.
Road Safety: 8
Around Havana, the road infrastructure is good and well maintained. It’s just that they have run out of fuel. The Cubans have handed in their cars for bicycles so the consciousness of the few drivers left is heightened for the many bikers now on the roads. Bikes even ride on the Autopista with impunity. There’s often a lane for bikes on the busy roads. In the cities, there are lots of other cyclists. Update 11/17: Even the biggest trucks will pull in behind you if there’s on coming traffic.
General Safety: 8
Always take precautions against theft. Violent crime is almost unheard of. Sally walked alone in Havana at night to our casa particular which was out from the main tourist area and felt perfectly safe. Your bike should always be locked up and recognize that the Cubans do want your money. You will never encounter more prostitutes anywhere (Okay, maybe Pat Pong in Bangkok).
Forget the hotels, casa particulars, restaurants, and the paradors. The two great values in Cuba are ice cream and beer (with entertainment). The mammoth, crowded ice cream parlors are an incredible value. Especially in Havana but also elsewhere you can have a cold beer outside with great music for a dollar. In Havana, the restaurants and hotels are generally poor value. It’s always better to eat and sleep in the private places but that’s no guarantee that it’s a good value. Some of the state run restaurants in the smaller cities are just pathetic. Update 11/17: The paladors are improving.
If you want you can drink the worst beer in the world for pennies. Drought beer right out of a tank truck. The regular bottled beer is okay. If you care, water is drinkable from the tap. There’s also bottled water which we prefer. Cold is not always available. Frequently there are long distances between shops so carry plenty of water. At times, we drank soda pop even though we wanted water since it wasn’t available.
On the road, we favored pork sandwiches or little pan pizzas mostly served on the street. If they aren’t available, you’re stuck with the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwiches. The food is basic otherwise. You try to find the private restaurants. Often you have to pay a tout to take you. Even these are only okay. The government restaurants are pathetic but occasionally you can be surprised. The huge ice cream parlors are cheap, good, crowded and fun. You can get cheap bread at the bakeries. You don’t come to Cuba for the food. Update 11/17: The paladors are getting better and the really good ones are in Trip Advisor.
In Havana, finding a room was often challenging. There seems to be more demand than supply especially on the weekends. Hotels in Havana are many and fit all tastes. The casas particulars are variable so you have to look closely. There were sizeable towns which offered no accommodation. In San Cristoble, for example, we stayed in a “love hotel” which was illegal for us ( US $4) but the owner took pity on us since we had no alternative.
Sally was talking to a young Canadian guy upon our arrival at the airport. He was on his eighth trip here. She said that this trip (our second) just couldn’t compare with our first. He said “every trip is great here.” He said “We have everything and are unhappy. They have nothing and are happy.” So true. The Cubans are flamboyant and fun loving. They fully participate in all the free things in life if you know what I mean. There’s a joy of life here.
In Matanzas, we happened past a classical music concert in the historic concert house and bought a ticket and went in. An excellent concert by professionals cost US $4 for two. Then, after the concert, we went out into the streets to discover a free concert by a great Cuban group. Everyone dancing. In Pinar del Rio, there was a brilliant concert (expensive $8/person) by the great Pablo Mantanias. In Havana, there’s music everywhere. There is a distinctive Cuban culture. Music, dancing, joy, sensuality, and color. Cuban art is colorful and special. Havana and Santiago de Cuba are the centers of all this.
Old Havana is the oldest, most interesting colonial city in the Americas. There are also a few interesting cities with historical centers including Trinidad, Cienfuegas, and even Matanzas. A great second city in Cuba is Santiago which we first visited in 2012 and again in 2016 & 2017. The vintage American cars are in everyday use. It’s kind of like pop history.
TOTAL SCORE 86
Route Descriptions and Maps
Bike trip 2017, Holguin to Holguin
Holguin to Guardalavaca 54Ks
Out to Highway, urban then rolling. A better 2-lane road. Some traffic. Plenty of foreign cyclists. NE winds (head). At 26Ks, climb for 2Ks then down 4Ks, Good scenery. Rolling again then up 1K and down 2Ks to 45Ks. Rolling to Guardalavaca at 54Ks.
Holguin to Gibara 34Ks
Urban streets. 2-lanes. Rough and often broken. NE (head or cross) wind. Good scenery. Rolling all the way. At 33Ks, the town appears around a corner and there you are at 34Ks. Some early traffic.
Holguin to Santiago de Cuba 157Ks
(short cut not thru Bayamo and no places to stay on this route)
To Las Biajacas at 7Ks. Long rolling hills. 2-lanes, rough and broken road. So-so scenery.
At 19Ks, Charco Prieto. At 55Ks, Alto Cedro. Side winds, at 85Ks, Mella. Palma Soriano at 117Ks but onto Auto Pista before. Divided highway. Less hilly. Dull into wind. San Luis at 132Ks. Turn for Guantanamo at 145Ks. Now a gradual descent to Santiago at 157Ks.
Santiago de Cuba to Guantanamo 86Ks
(see below in reverse)
Guantanamo to Baracoa 150Ks
(see below in reverse)
Baracoa to Yumuri 30Ks (side trip)
Out to junction at 4Ks, left. Hilly inland to Jamal at 11Ks. Left! more hills. Bay at 18Ks. More hills then along coast. Yumuri at 30Ks.
**You can connect Baracoa and Holguin thru Moa. Reported as a rough broken road. The
bridge in Moa is out as of 12-17 but cyclists can get across the river in a boat.**
Baracoa to Guantanamo 150Ks
Out to 12Ks then snake up “La Farola” (famous highway) thru the Sierra del Purial. Lots of steep and curvey parts. Beautiful. Good 2-lane road. Light traffic. Baracoa district line at 26Ks then down to valley at 28Ks. Then steep up to top at 31ks. Views of the sea. Now rolling down to a river at 43Ks. Tail winds. At the sea at 50Ks. Along the coast. At 65Ks, up a gradual valley. At 69Ks, San Antono de Sur. At 75Ks, back at coast. Inland again, then back to coast at 100Ks. Climb to 125Ks. Then down. Last 10Ks are urban to Guantanamo at 150Ks.
Guantanamo to Santiago de Cuba 86Ks
To Autppista which ends at 25Ks. Dull, rolling. Now on Carreterra Central. Rolling up. 2-lanes. Light traffic. Tailwinds. Climb to 74Ks at Autopista, left. Gradual descent to Santiago at 86Ks.
Bike trip 2016, Holguin to Holguin
Holguin to Bayamo 73Ks
For 25Ks, bumpy and slow. At 13Ks, Airport, then 2 lanes. Traffic, light and polite. After 25Ks, smother.
Bayamo to Santiago 127Ks
Thru town on wide street then 2 lanes, easy rolling to Jiguani at 27Ks. Hillier and prettier to Palma Soriano at 82Ks. To Auto Pista 3Ks then San Luis at 96Ks. On the wide Auto Pista into Santiago, at 115, gradually down for 10 Ks to city Centro at 127Ks. (Fun)
Santiago to Siboney 18Ks (side trip)
4 lanes to 8Ks then 2 lanes. Climb to 11Ks Sevilla) good view back to Santiago at the top. Gradually down to Siboney. Good scenery, light traffic.
Santiago to Chiveriaco 76Ks
(popular cyclist route around the coast, saw a few tour groups)
4 lanes and industrial to 8Ks then 2 lanes, quieter, rolling. Good new road. Tail wind . At 16Ks, you see the sea. 1K up then down and mostly flat. Along the sea. Occasional rooms to rent. Winds swirl sometimes. A few minor hills. Good scenery. At 64ks, Hotel. (Double $92 Cucs) Greener here. At 76Ks, Chiverico.
Chiverico to La Mula 40Ks
OK road. At 2Ks, climb 2Ks. Down and up easy then flat and pretty to 24Ks at the collapsed bridge, tail winds. Rough for 3Ks, then new road to 37Ks. Mostly flat on scrabbly gravel. Better on a Mountain Bike. La Mula Campismo at 40Ks.
La Mula to Pilon 73Ks
Some dirt, some older paved road. At 18Ks, 2K climb, then down, beautiful. Tailwind. A couple 1K climbs then 2K up to 40Ks. Then down and rolling, the road is good pavement for 25%, pot holed but ok pavement for 35% and rough but ridable pavement 25% and smooth dirt 13% and scrabble 2%. At 60Ks, turn for resorts. Rolling to Pilon at 73Ks.
Pilon to Niquero 40Ks
OK road. Climb 8Ks 1/2 moderate, 1/2 steep. Then gradual descent over rolling hills. More of a head wind thru here. Last 6Ks to Junction, straight and 2% descent. Junction at 28Ks. (right, 62Ks to Manzanillo) left,12 fast Ks, flat, down wind on a relatively good road thru sugar
cane to Niquero at 40Ks.
Niquero to Cabo Cruz 30Ks (side trip)
Flat thru sugar cane and agriculture. Good Road. Tail wind out.. Belic at 14Ks. Las Coloradas at 17Ks. So so scenery. Light traffic. Cabo at 30Ks. (Slow return into the wind)
Niquero to Manzanillo 74Ks
Back to junction 12Ks. Flat. At 24Ks, Media Luna (a big town, casas and restaurants). Sugar cane fields. Easy rolling to Campechuela at 46Ks. Dull scenery, some rough sections. Head winds all the way. At71Ks Junction (right to Bayamo 62Ks). Straight, down, into town at 74Ks.
Manzanillo to Bayamo 64Ks
2Ks to By Pass junction (no hill), populated to 8Ks. Flat. Good road. Mostly a cross wind to Yara at 21Ks. At 26Ks, road is older and rougher. Head winds now. Nice countryside and vegetation. Stores are available. After 58ks, it is a complicated route into town just keep asking for the “Centro” or “Parque Cespedes”. There at 64Ks.
Bike trip 2012 to the far South, Havana to Santiago
Havana to Matanzas 92Ks
Cyclobus at Habana Street and the Malecon. (no bike in Tunnel). Auto pista for 5Ks then left toward Playas del Este on the Via Blanca. AT 66Ks, right into Canasi at 68Ks, left. Rough but pretty road. Some hills. Over a small pass at 90Ks then down into Matanzas at 92Ks. Head winds are tough on Via Blanca.
Matanzas to Jaguey Grande 112Ks
5Ks toward Varadero then right on Caraterra Central. Narrow 2-lanes with traffic. Climb for 2Ks then rolling. Jovellanos at 57Ks. Right toward Jaguey Grande. 2-lanes, less traffic. So-so scenery. Maguey at 112Ks. Dull ride into the wind.
Jaguey Grande to Junction for Cienfuegos 50Ks
2Ks to the Autopista then left (east). 6-lanes somewhat broken. Very dull into the wind. At 50Ks, junction for road for Cienfuegos.
Junction to Cienfuegos 70Ks
Autopista. Right to Yaguarams at 23Ks. Narrow 2-lane road. Some traffic. Swing east (head winds) to Rodas at 43Ks easy rolling. Then swing south to Cienfuegos. OK scenery. Center at 70Ks.
Cienfuegos to Trinidad 83Ks
Out to the east (ask for Hotel Faro Luna). Rolling hills, good views. Narrow 2-lane road. Light traffic. At 13Ks, left (sign for Trinidad). Slightly rough road. Hilly. Quiet. Good views. At 21Ks. right on Main Road. Gradual descent then easy rolling. From 50Ks, some moderate hills then from 62Ks, mostly level along the sea. Very light winds here. At 78Ks, hills into Trinidad. Cobblestones in Trinidad at 83Ks.
Trinidad to Sancti Spiritus 70Ks
Out to Highway. Moderate climb to 5Ks. 2-lanes. Rolling, nice scenery. At 14Ks, junction, rough road to Santa Clara. Light traffic. NE winds, head or cross. At 55Ks, 2K descent. At 68Ks, left to Centro (there’s a sign). The Plaza at 70Ks.
Sancti Spiritus to Ciego de Avila 74Ks
Out to the Caraterra Central 2-lanes. Moderate traffic. Strong NE (head) winds. Easy rolling. So-so scenery. At 29Ks, Jatibonico. Crops and sugar cane. Road is rough in places. Poor ride. Ciego de Avila at 74Ks
Ciego de Avila to Florida 73Ks
Easy rolling. NE winds (head) 2-lanes, Narrow. Moderate Traffic. So-so scenery. Hard, dull ride into the wind.
Florida to Camaguey 40Ks
Flat. Dull and hard. Head winds.
Camaquey to Las Tunas 115Ks
Carraterra Central, 2-lanes, narrow. Moderate traffic. Dull scenery. Today, strong cool NE (head) winds. Some parts rough. At 80Ks, Guaimaro. Into Las Tunas, at 115Ks. Easy rolling.
Las Tunas to Holguin *75Ks
Carraterra Central, 2-lanes narrow. So-so scenery. Moderate traffic. Strong (today) NE winds (head). Easy rolling. Nothing special. Into Holguin at 75Ks.
**Las Tunas to Bayamo see below.
Holguin to Bayamo 70Ks
To Highway. A few moderate hills. At 14Ks, past the international airport. OK scenery. Today, strong, cool NE winds. Tail (fast ride) light traffic. Most traffic to Santiago takes the new route direct to the city. Mostly good 2-lanes. Some rough spots.
Bayamo to Manzanillo *
Our original plan was to bike the coast road to Santiago but this route has been battered by storms including Sandy in 10/12. Road is extremely rough and infrastructure is meager. So we only went to Manzailla and back.
Manzanillo to Bayamo 65Ks
Highway has a bike lane for 5Ks. Minor rolling hills then flat to Yara at 20Ks. Moderate traffic with trucks. ENE winds (head). OK scenery. 2-lanes, good condition. Slightly rising to 45Ks then rolling to Ring Road at 61Ks. left to 62Ks, right toward Centro. At 63Ks bear left up then left to Playa at 65Ks.
Bayamo to Santiago 120Ks
(described from a bus)
Carreterra Central. 2-lanes, moderate traffic. Trucks. ENE winds (head). OK scenery. Some rough parts of road. At 26Ks, Jiguani. Rolling . At 47Ks, Contramaestre 2 climbs (moderate) to Palma Sonano, good views and scenery then to San Luis at 84Ks. Left or narrow road to the Autopista at 88Ks. Right. 4-lanes. Light traffic. Rolling into Santiago at 120Ks. (Its 113Ks, if you stay on the Carraterra Central into Santiago, busy)
Bayamo to Las Tunas 79Ks
Out on Aquilera for 2Ks then right (signs) on Highway. Good 2-lanes. Flat, cross (ENE) wind. Light traffic. Dull scenery. More of a head wind toward Las Tunas. Some moderate hills into Las Tunas. At 75Ks, Carraterra Central. Left to 77Ks then right (signs) to Las Tunas at 79Ks.
November 2000 (via Mexico) to Havana
We rode East and then returned to Havana
Airport to Old City 25Ks
The best way is to ask directions since it’s not always obvious which way to go. Out of the airport, cross over Independencia Avenue on the first road right (north) toward the city. Basically we followed the train tracks in. It’s busy and a little hilly but wide. More and more congested as you go but okay for an urban bike ride. We took different ways four different times. In Havana, riding along the Malecon is recommended. Many minor streets are bumpy, broken, but quiet.
Havana to Matanzas 102Ks
Via the Via Blanca (for better way, see later route Matanzas to Havana and go backwards.) Not a great trip. Winds always out of the east. Bikes can’t go to the other side of the bay via the tunnel so take the “cyclobus” which you get behind the Capitolio near Dragones street. Off on the east side of the bay. Via Blanca, four lanes with a bike lane. Light traffic, dull scenery even along the sea. It’s possible to ride on some side roads near the resorts. After resorts, through limestone rocks, mangrove swamps and oil wells. There’s a climb as the road turns south. Views of Varadero beach. More traffic into Matanzas.
Matanzas to Australia 115Ks
Across the river then right toward Union de Reyes on a minor road (41Ks). Two lanes quiet. Climb up to a plateau through sugar cane and agriculture. Then to Pedro Betancourt 31Ks. Right on a gradual descent to Australia just past the junction with the National Autopista. Not a pretty ride.
Australia to Playa Giron 65Ks
Flat with swamp on both sides. 30Ks to Playa Larga. Nothing special. Light traffic. Then 35Ks to Playa Giron. Boring.
Playa Giron to Cienfuegos 95Ks
Flat and not very interesting at first. Then through sugar cane and crops. 47Ks to Yaguaramas. Then 48Ks to Cienfuegos. A broad boulevard into town. It’s an interesting town. Be sure to ride out on the narrow peninsula to Punta Gorda
Cienfuegas to Trinidad 83Ks
Some minor hills with mountains in the background. Ranch country with real cowboys. Finally it’s interesting and scenic. It flattens out along the coast. Many long beaches. Cobblestone streets in Trinidad. Nice city..
Trinidad to Sancti Spiritus 73Ks
(Initially we were going to go straight to Santa Clara but other bikers said the road was narrow, steep, and terrible. The route from Manicaragua to Santa Clara is reputed to be “one of the most scenic drives in Cuba”. So to Sancti Spiritus. Into the strong wind, away from the coast up a pretty valley with sugar cane fields. Going north, the wind is from the side but when heading east, the wind is tough. Rolling hills, quiet on a good road. Sancti Spiritus was confusing but we finally found the Centro. Inland, it’s hotter at night.
Sancti Spiritus to Remedios
Traffic out of town and some hills. 22Ks to Cabaigan then another 5Ks to the junction with the Autopista. After this, there is much less traffic on the Carretera Central to Placetas 25Ks. North (right) to Remedios 34Ks on a quiet road.
Remedios to Santa Clara 64Ks
(There is a direct route to Santa Clara (45Ks) which we wanted to take but we had to go back to Sancti Spiritus). Back to Placetas 34Ks then west on the Carretera Central to Santa Clara 30Ks. Nothing special.
Santa Clara to Matanzas 183Ks
Tail winds help on a long ride. No traffic. Long stretches of sugar cane fields, flat. Small towns along the way. We took a taxi (a 1947 Oldsmobile which is big enough for our two bikes and us) for 20Ks between two towns so that we could make the distance to Matanzas. Hot and sunny but an enjoyable short rainfall refreshed us. Dull but fast.
Maranzas to Havana 105Ks
A better way back to Havana. Out of town on Calzada de Esteban not on the Via Blanca. Climb out of town. Then toward Madruga (32Ks). Then 21Ks to Autopista junction. 12Ks to San Jose. 24Ks to the Havana outskirts. The early ride is beautiful, then you finish through all of Havana so it’s a lot of urban riding. It is a tradeoff.
Our 2nd trip through Canada to Havana and back in November 2001. We rode to the west of Havana.
Havana to Hemingway Marina 17Ks
Great ride out on the Malecon. Wide, light traffic and often a bike lane (or a wide sidewalk) along the sea. A rainy day so we were cut short. In Miramar you can ride on 1st or 3rd Avenues. They are quieter.
Hemingway Marina to Bahia Hondo 90Ks
Continue on coast road. Four lanes and flat. Very light traffic. In Muriel, there’s a huge cement factory. Poor scenery even along the coast. The two lane coast road has small hills and ridges with views of small mountains and palm trees in the distance. Also through sugarcane fields. Into Bahia Hondo.
Bahia Hondo to Vinales 85Ks
The coast road is called Circuito Norte. The land turns deep rust red. The scenery improves. Through La Palma (there’s food here). 10Ks west of La Palma is the junction for Vinales. Beautiful limestone formations looming over tobacco fields. Mostly flat and quiet. Great riding. The sleepy town of Vinales is one of the most charming in all Cuba.
Vinales to Pinar del Rio 62Ks (through Pons)
Great ride. Red earth and limestone cliffs. 32Ks to Pons, then 9Ks to Cabeza. Long steady 7K climb out of Cabeza. The direct way from Vinales to Pinar del Rio is only 25Ks.
Pinar del Rio to San Cristoble 90Ks
The roads are busy around Pinar which is a big city. There are a few side streets to take but once on the central highway in town it’s busy. Out of town it’s quieter. We had to detour into San Diego de la Banos because the bridge was flooded. Into the wind. Actually into San Diego de la Banos was a better, quieter, more interesting way and only 10Ks further. The Carretera Central is rather dull. No “real” hotel or casa particular in San Diego de la Banos but we stayed in a “love motel” (illegal, uncomfortable and weird.)
San Cristoble to Havana 90Ks
Good road. The central highway, mostly flat, boring, more and more traffic but manageable. A long way through outskirts of Havana.
Havana to Pinar del Rio (2nd time. We repeated the trip with a few minor changes. See below)
A second time on the same route. To Bahia Hondo then to Vinales. From Vinales to Pinar del Rio through Pons. Returning we overnighted in San Diego de las Banos, then Soroa which is 8Ks off the Carretera Central.
Soroa to Havana 90Ks through Terrazas
Continue on to Terrazas (it’s 1K off road), then toward the Autopista but take the back road to left to Guanajay. Good ride on a ridge with views of palms, fields and ocean. Also cowboy country. No signs but people are helpful. After Guanajay, take the Carretera Central which runs along the railroad and then into Havana.
In Trinidad, we met two young Swiss guys in their late 20’s who were on their first bike tour and having the time of their lives. We shared bike stories standing in the central square for a long time.. “So let’s have dinner.” We took them to the “private” restaurant we had enjoyed so much the night before. We loved Julio, the large entrepreneurial and outspoken owner. The restaurant was in a beautiful old home and there were tables in the flowered central courtyard. Most of the private restaurants in Cuba are limited to a maximum of 10 people but Julio had at least 20 tables. We asked how he got by with this, “I serve excellent food and give the government officials a big discount.” Our Swiss friends asked Julio where they might buy some art. “Come to my house”. A little later, we asked, “Where can we buy the old currency for souvenirs?” Julio’s reply “Come to my house.”
We follow Julio to his home not far from his restaurant after dinner. He sells us old bank notes signed by Che Guevara who was the head of the Treasury at one time. We are mesmerized by all his art and small sculptures by local artists. Every inch of the walls are covered with art. Finally, he shares his dream of one day owning a Cuban Baseball Team, which would compete in the American League. His name for the Baseball Team will be, “The Sugar Kings”. He has figured the system out. We think he’ll be the richest man in Cuba once Fidel is gone.
The next morning the Swiss planned a Taxi back to Varadero to fly home. They were short of time. They had reserved a 1952 Oldsmobile Taxi (most of the old American cars are now taxies) and planned to luxuriate in the back seat with Cuban cigars. We arrived to see them off. The taxi was stuffed with passengers but the driver did give them preferential seating. They were on the passenger side, one blond head in the front seat window and the other directly behind with cigars aglow, elbows out the windows and wearing big smiles as they flicked ashes goodbye to us.
I would never walk out on to a stage with Ballet dancers and I would never get up and dance with the Cubans for the same reason. The tourists watch and the Cubans dance. However, one night, in Havana, with two brilliant Cuban couples dancing up a storm, a couple from Houston, Texas took the floor. He was slightly paunchy, she was svelte and dark. They blew the Cubans away. They had all the moves and rhythm. We were all curious and envious. It turned out that dancing was their reason for visiting Cuba and she had been born in Turkey and was an accomplished belly dancer. Score one for the tourists.