Hello from Cuba (8) - Bicycle Rides, Camellos and Cannon Shots
by Susanne Pacher
After picking up the bicycle on Thursday, I finally took my first
ride on Friday afternoon through the beautiful residential area of
Vedado. We had had a tropical downpour in the early afternoon, so
the streets were a bit wet and it was about 4 pm or so by the time
I got out. Of course, by that time, rush hour traffic had already
started and there were thousands of people in the street, waiting
for buses. The bicycle was a pretty new mountain bike, but it seems
that all the gears and derailleurs were totally screwed up and I constantly
had problems with the chain. 2 of the 3 chainrings in the front didn''t
work at all and I had a pretty hard time getting along with the bike.
But even more so than the technical difficulties, the stares I got
from all the locals were a really unnerving experience, especially
since there were so many people in the street. You don't see too many
modern bicycles on the street, and even fewer are ridden by women.
Of course the guys whistle at you at every turn, which, as I am told,
is totally part of the culture and not a threatening gesture. Nevertheless,
I did feel rather unnverved with this experience.
Bicycles in general are basic means of transportation here, not recreational
vehicles. And considering that even a very basic new bike at maybe
$100 or so is worth 5, 6 or even 10 months of state salary, it's not
surprising that they tell you never to let the bicycle out of your
sight. And riding through the streets I almost felt as if I was surrounded
by a group of lions that were ready to pounce to capture their prey.
So as a result I decided, I'd rather not attract that much attention
to myself and I decided to hand the bike back to the owner. The last
thing I wanted is for the bicycle to get stolen, so I decided I'll
wing it with regular transportation options and do more walking, getting
some exercise at the same time.
In the evening my friend Pedro and I decided to catch the "GuaGua"
again and we took a "Camello" (a very large bus with 2 humps,
pulled by a truck engine) from around the Capitolio to the other side
of Havana Bay to the old fortress of "El Morro" which was
built in th 16th century. The Camello was so full that one of my feet
couldn't touch the ground and the hydraulic doors coulnd't close because
people were hanging out the door. Certainly an experience.....
Every day at 9 pm they have a ceremony at the fortress where they
have a few men dressed up in old (colonial?) uniforms and they shoot
off 2 cannon balls across the bay to commemorate La Habana's military
past. El Morro and Las Cabanas is an interesting area with a museum
and numerous stores selling tourist merchandise. After the ceremony
we caught another, much less overstuffed, GuaGua back to the western
side of La Habana and we had another very affordable dinner in the
This time my intestinal system was okay and I caught a good night's
sleep to rest up for the weekend.
About the Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions
(http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals
with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real
life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts,
insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many
other features. You will also find stories about life and the t-ransitions
that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm)
and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon
"Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons".
The travel story with photos is published at Travel and Transitions
Travel Stories (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/hello_cuba_8.htm).