In my most recent travels, I further put into practice flying “without a net” so to speak. In the case of Cuba, this translates (no pun intended) to “without a map”. While I was able to get basic maps for the areas that I visited, they were somewhat outdated, and did not marry up with many of the landmarks that I had researched. This led to a fair amount of “directions by brail”.
On one of most harrowing adventures (I use that term loosely) I decided to take a bike ride to one of the bigger beaches outside of Trinidad, Playa Acon. It was apparently not the prettiest, nor the biggest in the area, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I could get there by bike only a measly 12 kilometers outside of town.
Having created a bit of a tradition around biking in new places, I was thrilled to find out (based on my stellar internet research) that I could do this in Cuba as well. I was told in Havana this would be much too dangerous with all the narrow streets and traffic, so by the time I got to Trinidad, it was high on the list of priorities. You know, behind things like: lay on the beach, read a book, and drink fruity drinks.
All psyched to get my bike on, I realized very quickly my first hurdle. Finding a bike. While it may seem like a small thing, in Cuba these basic errands can present multi layered puzzles that test reason and sanity very quickly. As I relayed my very pressing problem to my casita manager in my best Spanglish, she said “no te preocupas!”. (don’t worry!) Her friend had a bike that I could use for only 4 CUC (equivalent of 4 American dollars) for the day. Problem solved, and a fantastic endorsement of making myself understood in another language. I am totally bilingual!
Upon first glance of the bike, I was not alarmed. It was a basic cruiser style; a little dated, but there was a cushioned seat. How hard can It be to ride 10 miles to the beach?
In the Cuba I had come to know, yet again, no map. But my casita managers were happy to lend me a hand with directions. “It’s easy, you just go straight to the end of the road, turn right, then turn left at the light, then cross the tracks and you will get right to the beach!” All of this in Spanish mind you, no worries! (I am bilingual remember?)
As I started riding the quaint, dated cruiser, my first problem became clear. The seat was kind of uncomfortable, but this was only a 40-minute ride. Then the second quickly reared its head, some steady inclines creeping up on me, hmmm this is little taxing. Then the third, “is this the right way?” I thought to myself. Was that right or left at the light? Should I go straight or follow the turn in the road?
As I was making my way out of town, I felt like I was going the right way, I had followed all of the directions correctly so far, when I saw a sign to a beach called La Boca that I had read about. It was supposed to be a bit of a locals “scene” and was only a few miles out of town. I didn’t want to miss it. But if I followed the sign, I would be going in the opposite way of the directions I had been given. Hmmm, what to do?
While I would have like to have taken the road less traveled, I was too nervous to depend solely on my subpar internal navigational skills. That’s a lot like the mouse trusting the cat, if you know what I mean.
As I made my way down the road, I was about to continue straight along, thinking I was in good stead when I had circumvented the almost wrong turn to La Boca beach, until I saw a group of people riding bikes, going another direction. Wisely I decided to inquire about if I was going the right way. Luckily, I quickly realized that I was about the pass the tracks that I was told to cross. (did I mention I am totally bilingual!?!) Phew! Okay, now on the right road for sure, I decided to keep time with my fellow compatriots to ensure I would get to my destination.
About 20 minutes or so into my trip, my seat was getting that much more irritating. I followed the others while we then joined a horse drawn carriage carrying several girls and blasting salsa music, for a split second I thought I should ask them for a ride, surely I could fit my bike somewhere in there. Later, I would understand how fortuitous this thought was. For a few minutes I could get my mind off of the uncomfortable seat and the heaviness that was setting in on my legs, dismissing my lack of gear shifts. After all, I was free, riding a bike in Cuba, how adventurous of me!
We wound up at a fork in the road, to the right was La Boca, and to the left Playa Acon. Both equidistant at about 5 kilometers. This was great, I would still get to see La Boca, and then circle back to Playa Acon. How long could it take? The sun was in full force and the heat was starting to kick in, but the water was a deep inviting blue, and 2.3 miles really didn’t seem that far. My fellow bikers along with the carriage turned to the left, and I went to the right. So enthralled with the scenery, I dismissed all of the other bikers who were coming toward me, as I looked around, not one other person was traveling in my direction.
About halfway there I saw the error of my ways; my ass hurt, my back was burning, and the no gears thing was kind of bullshit. I contemplated just going back toward Playa Acon, but I was so close, and frankly, I was going to need a rest before attempting the 8 kilometers back in the other direction. As I finally came upon La Boca, it was quiet. Too quiet. The beautiful blue sea turned kind of putrid brown sewage color, and there was nothing in town but a couple of local families and an ice cream shack. This is what I had doubled my biking efforts for? This was the local hot spot? What I realized is they must have meant that literally.
Feeling on the verge of collapse, I parked my bike and sat down, and contemplated the very long ride to Playa Acon. As I took a sip of my water, drenched in sweat, I thought about how heavy my pack felt. Did I really need this silly book and my iPad? This would have been a really good time for a front basket on a bike. “I wonder if I could have gotten that for an extra CUC?” I thought.
Finally coming to terms with the error of my ways, I looked back down the long straight, gravel road and reaffirmed my adventurous spirit. I was going to make it to Playa Acon and write about it dammit!
As I rode back to the fork in the road, I was reassured when I saw some buildings in the distance. Each of the 4.6 miles back toward my destination felt victorious as the road started a steady incline. As my legs grew heavier, the slight wind on my face brought relief, and now facing the sun gave much needed respite to my tender back. Feeling the weight of my bag, I failed to notice the burns that were accruing on my legs. “Look ma, no sunscreen!” oooopps!
There it was a sign for parking off of Playa Acon, I had finally made it to my destination!
What was to take 40 minutes, took over 2 hours, but I had made it, and my first thought was,
“THIS is the ugly beach?” It was a stunning strip of beach with blue jeweled waters, lounge chairs and most importantly, Pina Coladas. I claimed my reward for my adventure, in the form of a tasty beverage. I had pushed past my boundaries once again. I have braved the heat, my beat up cruiser with no gears and no padding, sans map, and made it to the prettiest, ugly beach I had ever seen.
As I nestled into my lounge chair with my book, taking in the scenery, and my burnt legs, I drifted to a peaceful place. My next thought, “I wonder if I can get a taxi back to town?”