Check out our pictures HERE!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Saying Adios!

As we wrap up our bike trip (2000 kms later!!) and prepare to head back to Canada, we can't help but think about the things that we'll miss....

...fresh fruit and fresh fruit juices with every breakfast
...street pizzas for 10 cents!
...$2 mickeys of cuban rum and delicious ice cream (guilt-free thanks to all our biking)
...fried plantain chips (honest, we're not just here for the food!)
...working on our tans while we ride our bikes
...palm and banana trees
...friendly, smiling faces and waves as we ride by
...mojitos and pina coladas
...riding past horse- and bull-drawn carts and dodging sheep and goats on the road
...quiet back roads with more bicycles than cars music and watching sexy salsa
...warm, blue sea water!

But there are also some things that we won't miss... hissing and kissing at us as we pass
...riding in the rain
...having wet horse poop spray up our backs while we ride in the rain
...keeping track of two currencies
...rice and beans (at least not for a few weeks)
...sterilizing all of our water
...lumpy, bumpy beds (often shared)

Jodie and Vanessa are headed to the beach for a few more days of relaxing and I'm flying home tomorrow to start a new job on Monday. It's been an amazing trip and this is one place that I look forward to coming back to. So for now, instead of saying goodbye, I'll just say Hasta Luego, Cuba!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

You´re going to get wet!

People here love to tell us that we´re going to get wet. Se van a mojar! We´ve heard it far to many times on this trip. It´s often when we´ve already been riding through a downpour for hours and the use of the future tense seems sort of ironic - we couldn´t possibly be any wetter. But sometimes it´s well in advance... so far in advance that we´ve let the sun and light clouds fool us into hanging our laudry out on our bobs to dry and keeping our cameras out at the ready. Unfortunately, they´re right more often than not and we end up fully showered before we even reach our casa at the end of the day!

Fortunately, we didn´t hear anything about getting wet over our last two days of riding (we got dumped on pretty much all day on the day we rode out of Havana and into Cuba`s westernmost province) and we could enjoy the quiet backroads, rolling farmland and impressive limestone mountains of Pinar del Rio. And get one last sunburn....


Friday, October 28, 2011

This is the Hill that Never Ends.....

Innocently looking at our map one peaceful evening we noticed that there were three different routes from Trinidad to Cienfuegos. One followed the beautiful sceneic coast. The other two went up over the mountain range. One was shorter than the coastal route and was on a secondary road. The other longer and on a highway the whole way. All were under 90km. Ninety Kilometers... no problemo... we did 135km easy enough... right? So like all slightly insane people who decide to tour a country by bicycle we decided we have spent lots of time on the lovely flat coast... we'd like to bike through the mountains.... through being the key word.
So we set out early (lets not get cocky) with equal encouragment and discouragment from locals we talked to about our routes. Most of the discouragment was because of the pending storm and rain... which would be hitting the coast more than the mountains.... our decision was based on logic.
After a gruling 800m climb from sea level in the first 14 km and blisters forming in areas I didn't know could blister, we had a pop and congratulated ourselves on a job well done. 300 more meters and then obviously the long and well deserved downhill would appear and we would be back to the coast in no time. eerch! Nope. The road was impassible.... minor hiccup. After a bit of map looking and weather asseccing we flipped plans and decided to head to Santa Clara... still well within the 90km total. 2 hours later we were still in our granny gears... sweating our behinds off climbing yet another hill. By 2:30, we had gone only 30kms! Apparently we weren't going thru the mountains.... we were going over them.... them being more than one.
Jodie and I spent much of our time practising a duet for christine, it goes...

"This is the hill that never ends! It goes on and on my friend.... some people started cycling not knowing what it was. And then they kept on cycling FOREVER just because... this is the hil that never ends.... "

You get the picture. It sounded as beautiful as you can imagine thru all the huffing and puffing :)
Needless to say it did eventually end. We made our way down and out of the valley to Santa Clara 12 hours after we started our day.
What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger!


So you want to be a Cuban bus driver?

Choosing to ride along the Carretera Central (the national highway) through the centre of the country was a decision we made based on our time restrictions and our hope to ride the full length of the country. We knew it would be different from the small, rural roads that we usually prefer to ride, but it was worth it to move quickly through the flat, agricultural interior so that we would have more time to zig and zag a bit through the more moutnainous parts of the country. Compared to Canadian highways, Cuban highways are quite tame. Very few people here own private vehicles so most of the traffic that passes us on a daily basis (aside from the horse and bull-drawn carts and bicycles) are trucks and busses. Truck drivers tend to be very respectful of us and slow down behind us until there is a safe opportunity to pass. Bus drivers, to the contrary, love to try to squeeze between us and whatever mode of transportation is oncoming in the other lane. They leave us squeezing our handlebars and hunching our shoulders as if somehow making ourselves smaller on our bikes will keep us from being hit. Sometimes the turbulence they create sends us off the road and into the gravel ditch. While 99% of Cuban drivers are content to be set back by 10 seconds in order to safely pass us (smiling and waving as they do) bus drivers leave us with the impression that the only thing that matters is how quickly they can get to Havana...

We are happy to be heading into the quiet northwest of the country, following smaller backroads through Pinar del Rio province for the last few days of our trip. Hopefully, we'll be leaving these busses behind in the capital!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Central Cuba is Pretty......Pretty Flat.....

We survived the prairies of Cuba! You may notice that we're not posting quite as many pictures this time as the last few times. We have a good excuse: for the last 4 days, we've been riding across the open plains of sugar cane and livestock fields that cover Cuba's low-lying centre. We wanted to ride the island end to end and knew that it might mean a few long days of flats. But, I'd read that the predominant trade winds would help speed us along our way and that it would be easy to cover the large distances between provincial capitals where we could enjoy some city life in the evenings. Wrong! The winds blew almost every which way...which means every which way except at our backs. The strong side winds did little to help us along and we earned every wheel rotation on our 100+ km days. The cities were pleasant nightly rewards where we enjoyed comfortable casas, more rice and pork, nightly ice cream shop visits, and walks around the central plazas.

Today, on the ride between Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad, our spirits soared to be back in the mountains. Believe it or not, hilly roads are much easier on the body than long flats, and infinitely easier mentally. We're so happy to be back in beautiful!

Tomorrow, we'll take a day to explore the historical city of Trinidad; its cobbled streets and colonial mansions, all relics of the sugar boom over the last centuries. We'll also hit the beach in the afternoon to work on browing up our fishbellies and hopefully do some snorkelling :)


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My, What Big Teeth You Have!

Eight kms out of Manzanilla we came across a Crocidile farm, we had plenty of daylight so in we went. I had goosebumps in 38 degree heat for the enire tour through these little reptile corrals!!!

They were in concrete walled pens, that as far as I am concerned should have been a lot higher and held closed by more than rickety old rusting gates... There were all sizes and ages from this spring's babies to 10 yr old breeding stock. They just layed there, basking in the sun, mouths open and teeth waiting for some unsuspecting creature to make the wrong move... They seem to double in size every year and we figure the new ones are cute, the 5 yr olds are big lizards and a little scary and the adults are down right terrifying!

Some interesting details that Christine translated for us:

- they are fed once every five days and it's always some sort of remains from butcherd animals that people are eating

- they are used for their leather as well as for their meat

- each breeding pair lays 20-30 eggs every season that are burried in the sand, and get this - a crazy vetrinarian goes into the pen with them to dig them up and bring them to the incubator!!

The tour was very interesting and I am glad to have seen these animals, but I can guarantee that you're not going to catch me wandering around in a swamp anytime soon!


I Wait, You Wait, We All Wait for Ice Cream!

The longest line ups that we've seen are outside of the "Creamerias" in the cities. We are quickly catching on to this trend. The menu is outside, well back from the entrance of the place. A server takes your order, you pay, get your little hand written receipt and begin your wait. Sometimes as people leave, the next guests are invited in and other times there are several empty tables and it seems that new guests are allowed in only at the server's will.

The wait is worth it - Oh what a treat!! Delicous, multi flavoured dishes of ice cream are brought out with stacks of sweet little cookies and cakes for mixin' in. Where we have gone wrong is ordering one dish per person... We laugh as we look around and realize that the locals often have 4-5 stacked dishes PER PERSON! And, at 5 cents each, this is completly acceptable. Out latest plan is to choose what we want and then mulitply by three! mmmm... I love cuba! Oh, and don't worry, we will never be too full; Vanessa promises that everyone has a seperate ice cream stomach. :)


Cuban Menu

I saw a cuban cookbook in a store today and laughed.

We had heard that the food wasn't very good in Cuba. It is good (in our opinion), it's just very, very limited.

For breakfast, we eat white bread with butter, sometimes accompanied by eggs, jam and/or cheese (usually goat cheese - yuck!). There is usually a plate of fruit as well, sometimes just bananas and sometimes (on a good day), an array of tropical fruits including pineapple, papaya, mango, and starfruit. There is also always coffee with milk and lots of sugar.

For lunch, we eat what we can find in the small stores in cities. This always involves white bread (it's always nice, fresh bread, but it feels like an awful lot of white bread!), with butter, honey and/or jam (but we just found a jar of peanut butter that we are VERY excited about!).

Dinner is always a choice of meat (usually pork, fish or chicken), with rice, more white bread, and salad. Salad is usually avocadoes. Sometimes with cucumber or cabbage, but NEVER includes lettuce.

The other lunch or dinner option in cities is pizza. At 5 cents each for a 6-incher, it's hard to go wrong at a street-side pizza vendor. At a pizza restaurant, the pizzas are a little bigger and the selection a little better, but it is still just a choice of meat to add to your basic cheese pizza and never includes vegetables of any kind. Delicious, but not exactly nutritious...

Pure fruit juices are a real treat and we find them sometimes in small shops on the side of the road when we ride through towns.

All in all, decent biking food, though I sure do look forward to a big spinach salad when I get home!!


A Day in the Life....

Just to give you an idea or our daily routine... we thought we should post a: "day in the life of" so you can get into the general life of a cycle tourist.

0615 - Alarm goes off, Christine rouses herself and begins shuffling around the room, packing or making tea if needed. Vanessa and Jodie continue to sleep...

0625 - Alarm #2 goes off or Christine physically wakes V and J. Everyone sits or wanders around the room long enough to wake up.

0630 - Breakfast at a casa. White bread, butter, cheese, coffee.... juice and eggs if you are lucky.

0700 - Back to room. Pack. Wash/teeth/pills (oil of oregano for some) Dress for biking... bike shorts are the absolutely last thing to go on....

0730 - Load up BOBs/bikes. Pay for room. Last minute stuff.

0800 - Set out biking. Stop if needed for bread/cookies/salty snacks. Get out of the town or city (a couple km) head out on the open road. But there are always people, small villages along the route. Traffic lessens to nothing as we move away from the 'congested areas' and often we can bike three wide on a main highway.


1000 - Stop for First Lunch. White bread, honey or jalea (guava 'jam') or if we are lucky, butter/cheese or peanutbutter! Orange or banana... if available. 1/2 hour

-Still peddling-

1130 - Stretch and snack stop in the shade. 10 min


1300 - Second Lunch... same as the first so get used to it.


1430 - snack stop and moral support if a hard day :) (please note, most pictures are taken from the moving bicycle... unless very unique there is not much other stopping)

-Slower peddling-

1530....1730 - Arrive in town. Stop at Airconditioned El Rapido. Ask about Casa's in town. Find or enjoy an escort to a place to stay near the central plaza.

Next times vary depending on arrival...but the steps are the same:

1700 - unload into room. Store bikes/bobs ect. Rinse off or full wash if time before shops close. Laundry is important if there is time... you need time for it to semi dry in the evening.

1730 - Wander from shop to shop looking for groceries (searching for something vegetables or anything with substance) Buy white bread, snacks,the usual. Internet/phone if available or time allows.

1900 - Dinner (at Casa... so good! or at restraunts lately... not as good... well, its good, its just the same thing over and over again.)

2000 - Laundry, wash, journal, maps, books or wander the town.

2100 - Prep for bed. Stretches, brush/floss, steralize water for tomorrow. Pre pack if it is a big day and we need to get out early.

2200 - Should be sleeping... if not tomorrow will be a long day!

Repeat next day. And again day after. Small changes with weather or Camping vs Casa.

Of course our days are quite a bit more exciting than I make it sound in this post... insert other posts you read into the peddling portions or wandering the towns.


Where Mountains Meet Sea (with a road squeezed in between)

When I read the reference to the Big Sur in California, the south coast of Cuba immediately went to the top of my places-to-ride list. Between Cuba's highest mountains (the Sierra Maestra) and it's rugged Carribean coast is squeezed a narrow road linking Santiago de Cuba in the east with Pilon and Manzanillo in the west. For most of the ride, we had blue-green surf on our left, crumbling, rocky peaks to our right, and wind at our backs (plus, for half of it, rain on our heads!).

When I read about the route, it was described as good pavement with a few gravel sections that shouldn't slow cyclists down. That may have been the case pre-2005, but Hurricane Dennis in that year, took quite a toll on a highway built so close to the shore. The sections closest to the water were at best smooth gravel and at worst badly broken pavement. At times, the road disappeared all together and rogh tracks were etched into the hillside so as to make it passable. These short sections were nerve-wracking as the waves were crashing less than 50 feet from us and the rocky cliffs that towered over us spat down rocks because of the rain.

The rough road conditions made for a fun ride, and the rain only dampened our clothes, but not our spirits as we rode along what is touted as the most beautiful road in Cuba (though Jodie and I did realize that it's time for new waterproof bob bags before our next trip!).

Since my words can't really do it justice, be sure to check out our pictures (the link is at the top or to the left).

Since turning northward into the flatter interior dominated by sugar cane fields and banana plantations, the weather has been sunny and hot once again. From here, we'll ride the length of the island towards Havana and then further into the mountainous Northwest of the country. Stay tuned! Internet here is slow and hard to find, but we'll do our best to keep sharing blogs and pictures when we can!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why Cubans Don´t Camp

After a long day of riding, the hardest day so far, in a torrential downpour, we made our way to the "campismo" closest to Guantanamo.
First the security guards tried to blow us off even though there was not another place to stay within 70 KM and it was 1 hour to dark.
When the manager arrived some time later, Christine used her sweet Canadian barganing skills, we were able to stay in a "cabin" for 6$ each, as long as we were out by 6am. The first offer was out by 5am, but it doesn´t get light until 630am, so its nice that they budged on that one. (We weren´t allowed to set up our tent, not that we wanted to in the rain.)
We were stoked to get out of the rain and into our cement "hut" that contained 3 cells... a kitchen cell, bedroom cell and bathroom cell. It was pretty sparse, but dry..ish.
First duty of business after unpacking was to kill the massive spider that had crawled out of the bathroom to eye up us newcomers.
Next, we moved the bed (to single beds of almost the same height pushed together)away from the wall to avoid the drip that had started in the cieling. As the beds moved, we disrupted two resident mice who scurried out terrified, one took shelter in the kitch under our trailers and the other made a lap over my stuff and headed back under the bed to his home, most likely in the mattress. We decided not to mave the bed anymore, because if cuban mice are like cuban people, the whole extended family lived under there.
After settling in and getting as dry and clean as possible. We all found ourselves laying on our backs on the bed staring up at the ceiling watching the growing leak and listening to the rain and wind pound on the open air wooden shutters. With dinner and sleep still on the to do list, we talked about our day and what we were thankful for, it was Thanksgiving back at home afterall. With everything we´d endured on the hardest day so far, we found a lot to be grateful for, including the roof over our heads.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

It doesn´t rain in the desert!

After a few days of on and off rain along the Atlantic coast of Cuba, I was excited to ride over Cuba´s highest mountain pass and into the semi-arid region that follows the Carribean coast along the southeast shores of the country.

It poured rain most of the day before we left for the pass, and we were awaken early by the sound of hammering rain at 5 in the morning. We had an early breakfast anyway and were happy to see some blue sky open up as we packed our bags and hooked up our bobs. It was dry just long enough to tempt us out of our casa and onto the road.

Within an hour, it was pouring again. We rode against a constant stream of water on the way up the pass. All the way up, I reminded myself and the girls that we were in the wettest region of Cuba, but about to cross over to the driest. With any luck, we might even get a good view from the top!

From the top of the pass on a good day, you can see both the Atlantic and Carribean waters. All we could see was the inside of the cloud that shrouded the mountain we´d just climbed. We took shelter in a small tent at the top just long enough to get some food into us and to bundle up (the first time we felt cold in Cuba!) for the descent.

This time we were racing downhill with the current, dodging fresh rockfall from the open faces and splashing through deep puddles where the water was accumulating on the road. Though we still didn´t have much of a view, the road itself and the surrounding jungle-like vegetation were impressive in themselves. Most of the road was cement and built into the mountainside somewhat like a bridge. I tried not to look down over the cement railing that kept us to the road. As the rain started to fall harder, I stopped worrying about rockfall and began to worry more about the entire road being washed off the mountain.

As we descended, we began to see more and more cacti and fewer large, lush trees. But the rain still fell. When we hit the coast, the rain was still falling and we were shocked by the amount of mucky water raging in the rivers. When we passed through a small village and saw that most of it was flooded, we knew this must be more than the normal amount of rainfall. A woman told us that it had been raining hard for four days. We found a place to stay and it rained all night, then again for most of today as we road on towards Guantanamo. In a few places, we forged through water that covered the road and came about midway up our bobs. The wake from a passing truck sent Jodie off her bike. There was water everywhere!

We finally got a bit of sunshine this afternoon and our clothes are all hung out to dry at our casa in Guantanamo. We hope the clouds have run out of rain, but it looks like a new storm is already brewing in the distance. Tomorrow, we´ll ride out towards Santiago de Cuba, and then along the southeast shore of the island, keeping our fingers crossed for some sunny beach siestas along the way.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Another Roadside Attraction

The following are some of the things that we enjoy along the road

Bananas n'Pigs
- small fruit vendors selling bananas 4 for 1 peso (4cents Canadian)
- pigs, chickens, goats, bulls, sheep and turkeys freely grazing
- squeeling pigs tied on the back of bicycles heading to market

- small black birds that sound like hyperactive children

- every vehicle from a dump truck to a jeep to a cattle liner filled with people waving excitedly as they pass us

- horse- and ox-drawn carts hauling people and produce

- an array of looks from inpirational understanding to common-i-wanna-lay-ya from locals that we pass

- fruit trees; banana, mango, orange, papaya, guava, and coconut

-limestone clifs with roots and vines somehow clinging to them

-school children singing or chanting daily lessons

-vintage cars

-bicycle taxies that somehow blast music everywhere they go

-small but tidy houses tucked away behind flowers and fruit trees

-peso pizza places selling 10cent pizzas from under their colourful umbrellas

-turkey vultures soaring overhead waiting for us to die and reminding us to stay hydrated

-And eyes, eyes everywhere... so remember, before you drop those bike shorts, there's always someone watching from the nearest shady spot!


Mi casa es su casa

Cuban hospitality is at its finest in Casas Privadas (private houses, which we will call casas). These are homes belonging to local families that are licensed to accept foreigners. They are both cheaper and more interesting than hotels, and we know that the money we spend here goes into local hands, rather than directly to the government (even though licensing fees and taxes will take most of it the long run...).

In each casa that we´ve enjoyed so far, we´ve had a room all to ourselves, and in one home, they even hauled in an extra bed so that the three of us could share a room. There is always an attached bathroom with a cold shower and sometimes even a fridge or small kitchen. There is always a fan and sometimes an air conditioner. And, of course, there is always a smiling face ready to greet us and ask if there is anything else that we need.

They serve dinner and breakfast and the food is far better than anything we´ve had in restaurants so far, though we are beginning to suspect that there is somewhat of a set menu for tourists. With every dinner, there are fried bananas (the Cuban equivalent of french fries and delicious!!), some kind of vegetable (avocados and cucumbers are obviously in season right now...), a nice mix of rice and black beans, and then a choice of meats. Beer costs extra, but at a dollar apiece, the taste of a cold beer at the end of a day of riding in the heat is more than worth it!

Breakfast is a little more hit-and-miss and can range from bread with guava jam and coffee to a full spread of eggs, bread, cheese, coffee, fresh-squeezed juice and a heap of fresh local fruits.

Fortunately, these places aren´t hard to find. In fact, it´s a bit eerie how there is always someone waiting at the entrance to any town to direct us to the casa of someone they know. In some cases, it is prearranged by the casa where we stayed the night before. Other times, we figure that word must spread quickly that cyclists are on the way so that everyone with a casa or meal to offer can get out onto the street in time to offer it to us as we pass. So far, though, our luck has been great and we haven´t felt like we´ve been ripped off or led astray (knock on wood!). Quite to the contrary, the owners of every home where we´ve stayed have almost perfectly hit the balance between being open and welcoming and respecting our privacy. Our only slighty-less-than-great casa experience we´ve had so far was one morning when I managed to lock myself in the bathroom and we had to spend an hour dismantelling the doorknob to get me out!

So far, our tent and camping gear has only served as extra padding and weight (good training, right?), but as much as we love staying in casas, we do hope we get a chance to camp as we continue along the coast and find more secluded beaches...


Rookie Tales: Part One

Tips for the Rookie Cycle Tourist.

I do have some touring experience. At the age of 21 I cycled around NZ for 3 months, so I thought I was well prepared for this 5 week tour de Cuba with my ultra-experienced amigas. However, I am finding some things different and there is a bit of a learning curve. I thought I would share some thoughts from the beginner´s point of view...

-Clipless pedals. They keep your feet attached to the pedals even when you are heading horizontal.

-Bike shorts closely resemble a diaper. Add tropical humid weather and day after day of cycling into the mix and voila! You´ve got diaper rash in no time at all!

-Muddy puddles... depth? Your guess is as good as mine.

-If everything hurts you are doing it right. If only one thing hurts or you look good at the end of the day, you are doing it wrong.

-Your BOB trailer goes where you go. Everywhere you go. But it bounces higher through the bumps, so look back now and again to see that everything is still attached to the top of it.


Dear Mr. Kissey Face Cubano

Hi, my name is Vanessa, not Linda*, and I am not your mother.
I would like to say naice to meet you, but we have not really met in the 2.5 seconds it took me to pass you on my bike.
My friendly smile and "Hola" was a greeting, it was not meant to start the lip puckering, smouldering, sly look you just gave me.
Really? You think I am bonita (beautiful)? I am flushed, dripping sweat, covered in mud speckles and sporting a dusty mustache... I don´t always look this fine.
Could I just interrupt you before you profess your undying passion for my beauty, you have the wrong girl, my name is not Linda*.
Yes I can hear your whistles, hisses and lip smacking from across the road, in the apartment building, 2 feet behind me, and across the field. Is this communication meant to inspire me to jump off my bicycle and into your arms? Or do you just want me to look your way? Whatever your intention, I think for your sake I will just smile and keep on pedalling - Canada is very cold and my heart is already occupied.
My only advice to you if you want to snag a good Canadian girl is to tone it down a bit and take a pointer or two from the quiet, chiquita-respecting hottie beside you.

Vanessa, Canadian Tourista

*Linda is Spanish for pretty.

Fiesta mi amiga!?!?

*Warning: The following story is based on true events. The names of the people involved have been changed in order to protect their privacy. The following subject matter may not be suitable for all audiences...

Once, there were three cute Canadian girls on a tricycle trip in Cuba. They were having a lovely time swimming in the ocean, caring for their sunburns, practicing spanish and pedalling the countryside when they rolled into the city of Baracoa on a Saturday afternoon. They were immediately and reapeatedly invited to go dancing at Casa de la Trova or Club Paraiso. They could not resisit the idea of dancing and drinking with some fun loving Cubans so they showered up, put on their cleanest dresses and joined the party. The following is what they saw, heard and learned:

Havana Club Rum - it is not meant to be mixed, oh no, it is a fine alcohol that is drunk straight. If you are interested in a little flavour you may mix up to 10 drops of some sort of pop in your glass. When you order your drinks you order an entire bottle (one 26 of rum and two pops costs 5$). A server brings it and is not allowed to leave the glass bottle so he pours the entire bottle evenly into the glasses of everyone at the table. Salud! This is followed shortly after with a lot of singing and dancing...

Karaoke! And no shy people, the Cubans love to sing and dance and are more than happy to be alone in the middle of the dance floor singing at the top of their lungs. As soon as the karaoke comes to an end, the entire crowd gets onto their feet surrounds the dance floor, and are anxious to get their groove on!

An English speaking Cuban informed them that all Cubans do is "Dance, Drink and F*@k." Sometimes it seems that they are managing to do all three at once out there on that dance floor!! It as though these innocent canadian girls are part of Pee-Wee hockey where there is no contact allowed when they are dancing in Canada, and here in Cuba it is full contact NHL-style with no referees!

They have plenty of teachers that are more than willing to give lessons on this smooth Cuban dancing style, and some of the best quotes from their educational night were as follows:

"Just go on my leg like a dog"

"He just humped my leg like Chihuahua!!"

"Relax, relax and just move like the music"

"You are very beautiful and I love you forever"

"I think I pinched a nerve trying to dance like a Cuban!"

"Your boyfriend would be very proud"

"I learned to dance at home with my brother, one, two, three, one, two three, like this"

They girls danced, laughed and enjoyed their rum under the protective eye of their casa host Jose Ramon, who just happened to be the biggest man in the bar. Back at their beds, they drifted to sleep wondering if perhaps the 'stiff Canadian robot dance' might eventually transform into a beautiful, fluid Cuban salsa...


Coo coo for coconuts!

We´d been riding past coconut palms all week, wondering whether they were in season and when we would get to try something coco-nutty. When we passed by a long, low cement building with a huge pile of empty coconut shells piled outside of it, we hit the brakes and decided to see what was going on. The man we approached was friendly and welcoming and gave us a tour of what turned out to be a coconut processing plant. First, he cracked us open two coconuts, urging us to drink the water of the less mature one and to taste the germinated "apple" of the more mature one. The fruit of each was edible, but the germinated one was much better. The water was a little bitter but nutritious. He explained that every part of the coconut and its tree are used. The wood of the palm is used as timber. The palm leaves serve as roof materials for many local buildings. The water and fruit of the coconut are edible and used in a variety of products, both locally and for export. The empty shells of those whose fruit is taken are burned in a large oven (which we got to look inside of) that works as a dehydrator to dry others (with the fruit still in the shell) that will later be pressed to produce coconut oil down the road at another processing plant. Even the remains of the burned shells are further processed as activated charcoal for a world market. And all of this is done by hand in a small row of cement buildings, open to the air and piled high with thousands of local coconuts at various stages of maturity! So simple!

Unfortunately, we didn´t have the same luck at the chocolate factory that we passed a few kilometers later. The smell coming from the place was amazing, but they wouldn´t let us through the gates!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We're back!

And this time we've got a third adventurer in tow: Vanessa. We've been to Vegas and Alaska together so we know she's the perfect gal to turn our duo into a trio as we explore the Cuba's beaches, mountains and rum selection by bike! (She's also a massage therapist who has graciously offered to massage our sore butts along the way).

We leave this Friday (maybe I should be packing instead of blogging...) and we've got five weeks together to experience as much of Cuba as we can.

Check in with us on this blog and we'll update it as often as we can. You can also see where we are using the SPOT link on the left and you'll find a link to our pictures at the top of the page.

Yay mojitos!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Your official invitation: The Slideshow!

Thursday, November 27th, 2008 at Whole Wheat and Honey Coffee Shop (corner of 100th and 100th). Please come at 7:00 if you want coffee and snacks. The show will start at 7:30.

There will be a donation jar at the door just to help cover the cost of the show (keeping the coffee shop open late) so please bring some spare change.

Come one come all! Please pass this info on to anyone you think might be interested.

See you all on Thursday night.

Christine & Jodie

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Numbers

Some stats from the trip:

Total kilometers: 1900 km
Total elevation gain (over large passes only): 9540 meters
Highest pass: 4282 meters
Available oxygen in the air at 4282m: less than 1/2 of at sea level
Days riding: 33
Days spent dealing with central asian bureaucracy: 6
Rest days: 7
Sick days: 11 (ick!)
Riding-in-the-snow days: 4
Coldest night: -14C
Kilograms of Nutella consumed: 3
Flat tires: 0 (we love schwalble!)
Real stand-up hot showers: 2

Oh Canada!

We made it! We are in Vancouver and have already taken warm, stand up showers, enjoyed some non-stop tap water along with a nice COLD beer from Boston Pizza, and slept in beds with clean sheets... ahhh the luxury! It seems like a bit of a shock to the system and the details of the trip already seem to be fading into a story from the past...

We are on our way up to Fort St John tomorrow and will soon be working on a slide show. We are planning to show it this Thursday evening. The details are still in progress, so keep watching for updates.

We got a great big convoy, aint she a beautiful sight...

We had this and every other trucker song in our heads as we rattled over the last leg of our journey with the convoy of Tajik transport tucks.

With low energy from being sick and only a few days left, we decided that we had to start hitching. The first day out of Khorog, our bikes got a nice ride in the back of a highway crew's dump truck for about 100 rattly kilometers. That night we stayed in a little roadside hotel and woke up to a parking lot full of trucks. In the morning, I started asking about rides to Dushanbe. Their loads were all tagged so they couldn't open them to load bikes, but they were more than willing to take us anyway and ended up cramming all of our dirty gear in the cabs. With our bikes and bobs in four different trucks, we made sure that we had our money, passports and plane tickets on us in case we never saw that gear again. We hopped in with 'John Rambo' and 'Morog' to start the adventure. We were told that it would take 15 hours to Dushanbe. The 550 kilometers ended up taking a total of 32 hours and was an adventure and a cultural experience to say the least!

We had a lot of laughs with this group and as we got to know them, soon came up with a list of nicknames. I wont go into detail about them, but use your imagination... They included John Rambo or Joey from friends, The Prophets, Lola, Che Guevara (the Tajik version), and Ole Dad. It was great to watch their interactions, they are just like family and are constantly bantering back and forth and laughing. We often weren't really sure if they were arguing or just talking, but these loud discussions would often end with boyish handshakes, high fives or fake punches.

The road quality is probably best described as treacherous. It's hard to believe that a road connecting two of the country's major cities could be a single lane boulder field for most of the distance. We clung to the edge of a cliff as we wound our way along the Panj river that is the boarder between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. We would stop to throw freshly fallen boulders off of the road while carefully watching above for anymore that might be falling down. Around corners, we would honk to let traffic know that we were coming. When we could meet another big truck, one of us would back up to a slightly wider section, fold the mirrors in and hold our breath as the other would inch by. When Christine and I were sure that we were going to go tumbling over the cliff at any moment, she asked to get out and our driver Morog burst out laughing saying, "Normal! Normal!"

It might be because of the rough road, the quality of the tires, or the fact that our bad luck seems to be contagious these days, but we had THREE flat tires on our truck alone! Each time, the whole convoy would stop to help with the process. It went like this: put rocks under the tires so the truck can't roll, put on 'work clothes,' take a chew of raw tobacco, jack up the axle with the flat, remove the tire, pry the tire off the rim, use random tools (different every time) to chisel the tube off of the rim, pull out the tube and toss it over the bank, clean the rim and cover it with dirt, put the new tube in, start the air flow, smash the pieces of the rim back together and put the tire back on, wash your hands and face, change clothes, remove the rocks from the tires and get on the road (not that you were ever off of it in the first place- the whole time you are watching for other vehicles passing by). This is even more interesting in the dark and when all of these steps have been completed only to find that the tire itself is blown and will have to be replaced. At this point the tools start to fly and we do our best to decipher the Tajik cuss words...

We were very amused with the level of personal care that our driver displayed. After a flat he would have us pour water for him as he washed with soap (not so common in this here). He would change his entire outfit, fix his hair and get back into the truck to spray Hogo (not Hugo, Hogo) cologne and to finish the process, he would spend five minutes moisturizing his hands. Who knew a Tajik trucker could be so concerned with his look? He also often sprayed air fresher everywhere, leaving us coughing and gasping for air. The dash and the floor were wiped when we were waiting for others and everything was always neat and tidy. When you live in your truck, it's nice to keep it clean.

And live it it we did! At two am and another 165 kilometers to Dushanbe, we stopped for sleep at a truck stop. We were on asphalt at that point so it seemed crazy to be stopping so close to our destination, but what we didn't realize was that the road would soon go back to single lane dirt and would be another eight hours the following day. We were happy to sleep in the seats and let the Morog have the bed but he insisted that we take it. Not feeling like arguing all night we gave in and Chris and I shared a two and a half foot wide bed - yet another bonding experience! Five hours later we were back on the road, listening to our favorite four song Russian cassette tape.

We arrived in Dushanbe with some great memories and a better understanding of Tajik culture. Despite the fact that we had to turn down a few marriage proposals, this was a safe and amusing way wrap up our trip.