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Götz Göppert is at it again. This time in Cuba with Laura, Louise et al, on classic Harleys. He sent this trip report: learning suicide shifting, finding deserted beaches and experiencing the Rolling Stones in Havana.
After a long flight we finally walk on Cuban ground. It’s 11PM and we are tired but we still have to pick up our luggage and go through customs and immigration. Everything takes ages but the immigration officer is so friendly that we take it as a good omen for our trip. The first friendly immigration officer we have ever met.
The six of us pile in to two Lada taxis to our first “casa particular”, the Cuban version of a Bed & Breakfast. It will be three in the morning before we fall into our beds. The next morning, a lady and some old American cruiser with a diesel engine brings us to Fernando, our bike-rental guy, who lives one block off the ocean in a suburban Havana neighbourhood ccht53(at)yahoo.com , +53.582.47.02)
Our Harleys are lined up in the street. The oldest, a pink Knucklehead from 1941, the newest, a red Panhead from 1950. All but the Panhead have a tank shift (or suicide shift) and a foot clutch. We will need to learn how ride these vintage beauties.
Laura and Petra get used to their bikes quickly. Catherine, Louise and Noe need more time as it’s very different from riding a modern bike. Instead of taking off on our tour right away, we decide that it’ll be safer to do a day trip with Fernando and our mechanics, Servando and Oishi, who will ride with us on our whole trip. We set off for a great restaurant on the water, about 90 minutes away.
It feels like an adventure riding our Harley Davidsons in Havana traffic circa 1950--there are hardly any modern cars around. Old Dodges, Chevys and Chryslers are all around us in different states of restoration and repair. It’s just amazing. It’s hot and it feels great.
The road to Viñales, Cuba
On Wednesday we hit the road to Viñales, Cuba. Not totally used to the foot clutch yet, we take our time through the mountains and enjoy the ride. Our luggage is on the back and in the Knucklehead servo-car and as we ride, we imagine ourselves already sipping cold Pina Coladas, in some vintage rocking chair, on the terrace of an old colonial mansion.
But when we arrive in Viñales we have trouble finding a place to stay because we didn’t make any reservations. The Cuban people are great though. You approach them with a problem and they find instant solutions: we end up in a little family home where we spend two nights.
Thursday, we ride down to Cayo Jutias (a mangrove-covered key situated approximately 65km northwest of Viñales), a great beach spot with palm trees, white sand and a little restaurant that serves very good food and cold drinks. It’s very close to paradise.
Rolling Stones's Free Concert in Havana
It’s Friday, March 25th, 2016 and we want to see the Rolling Stones’ first free concert in Havana so we leave early. On our way we have some mechanical issues with the bikes but in Cuba help is never far and nearly anything can and will be repaired because spare parts are just not available.
The epic open air concert in Ciudad Deportiva, is amazing. the Stones rock for over two hours and we share the great lawn with 500,000 people dancing, singing you can’t always get what you want with Mick Jagger. What a magic moment for us and for the Cuban people. It feels like the beginning of a new era.
Saturday morning is spent in Havana with its great old buildings. The city is beautiful even though there are tourist everywhere. We are trying to buy tampons but in vain. Tampons are non-existent in Cuba like a lot of other things that are normal to our every day lives.
At 3:00PM the Harleys are repaired and we leave Havana in the direction of Playa Larga. But Noe has a puncture. The boys repair the tire on the side of the road and we arrive in complete darkness with only half the lights on the bikes working at Play Larga: a little fishing village.
In the morning we find out that all the fishing is done by row boat. Engines don't exist as the regime is scared of people leaving the island for the USA. Here life hasn’t changed since the revolution.
Off we ride towards Trinidad et Cienfuegos. We spend the night in a beautiful spot right on the ocean and our hosts serve us fresh fish right on the water.
On Monday, we visit Trinidad, classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Again it feels like being back in time. Loaded horses walk the cobblestone streets, the buildings are generally in great shape and music is being played everywhere. With Oshi and Servando we are having a great time and go for a ride in the mountains to swim in a warm river with a cave.
From here we head on to Santa Clara and then to Playa del Este (between Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo Bay detention camp) where another day is spent on a lonesome white beach.
Havana for our Voodoo Experience
Now we have to head back to Havana for our Voodoo experience. We organized a Santeria session with our future Godfather Miguel. Quite an experience for all of us. There where 12 chickens, some doves and a lamb that are meant to be sacrificed during our introduction to the Santaria religion.
Very different for each of us, Catherine and Noe where seriously scared after their session of “truth reading” and blood drinking and they where still not assured when we arrived back home two days later. For the rest of us the Santaria Voodoo was very interesting but not to be taken to seriously, more like a show similar other religious rites.
Cuba is a unique place. People are very poor, horses and carriages are means of transportation, personal cars hardly exists and talking to the friendly population they all dream of a free economy or emigrating to the USA. It was definitely worth the trip especially on Fernando’s vintage Harley Davidsons!
For rentals contact Fernando at ccht53(at)yahoo.com , +53.582.47.02.