Wheeling through Cuba
Wheeling through Cuba
by Cheryl Clock, QMI Agency
Crossing Cuba by bicycle takes cyclists through tiny villages, into the
mountains and down into valleys through tropical forests. CanBiCuba, a
program started by Canadian Peter Marshall takes participants beyond the
usual tourist spots in Cuba. (The Canadian Press)
Great cycling vacations
In another month, David Livett will once again dismantle his bike, pack
it into a cardboard box and take off on a flight for Cuba.
Once he arrives in the Caribbean island country, he'll meet up with a
group of cyclists who share his passion for exploring foreign
countrysides on two wheels.
Together they will spend two weeks on a tour of eastern Cuba that will
take them around the Sierra Maestra mountain range. It will be
61-year-old Livett's fourth time there with CanBiCuba, a program started
by Canadian Peter Marshall, who now calls Havana his home.
The idea is to venture beyond the usual tourist spots, to give cyclists
a more intimate and real encounter with Cuba and its people.
"You're not going there to have a glass of rum in one hand and sit on a
beach," says Livett.
"It's all about seeing how Cubans really live and meeting the real Cuban
The retired Air Canada mechanic, grew up in a small English village
where biking was his main mode of transport. Livett has cycled
throughout Ontario and Quebec, in Alaska and a couple times took off
with a friend on a bike tour of Italy.
When he moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake a few years back, he joined the St.
Catharines Cycling Club and the Niagara Freewheelers. There, he met
Peter Marshall, a 63-year-old Scottish-born guy who has been involved
with cycling clubs since he was 13.
Marshall had a knack for organizing tours. The Bay of Quinte. Georgian
Bay. Madawaska. In Cuba, he hopes the guided tours give cyclists of all
levels a more intense flavour for the land and its people. That often
means searching out beaches least visited and vistas where the tourist
is not a regular.
In an e-mail from Cuba, he writes: "The quirkiness of Cuba is something
to behold. A place you can see ox and cart on a major highway. Imagine
driving the 401 and having some guy on the shoulder selling onions."
Back in 2003, while riding in Pinar Del Rio, a western Cuban province,
he spotted a large pig strapped into the sidecar of a motorcycle "with
more rope than you'd find in a campground.
"The pig knew where it was headed and was not a happy passenger.
"Slapstick at its best, but the locals just walked on as though nothing
was going on."
During one trip, Livett met an English-speaking Cuban man who made his
living selling mango and banana slushies from a stand next to the local
park. The next day, Livett found himself in the man's house, drinking
wine and sharing stories with his family. When Livett left the following
day with his group, the man rode part of the way with them.
Last year, Livett's wife, Christa, came along. For people who don't ride
but want to see a non-resort side of Cuba, they can board a bus that
follows the same route as the cyclists.
Writes Marshall: "They meet Cubans away from hotels and beaches and are
shown the raw culture of this strange land with its way of governance,
its old cars, beautiful people and tropical sun.
"You just might see something that is beyond your ability to explain
with words alone."
This fall, Marshall is organizing a Cuba End to End Ride, where the more
seasoned cyclist will travel the island's length in two weeks.
Another part of the CanBiCuba program includes bike and equipment
donations to young cyclists from the Las Tunas province, part of a high
school cycling team. Even if they had the money to buy bikes and
equipment, there are no shops in Cuba like in Canada, writes Marshall.
St. Catharines Standard Any equipment like old racing bikes and used
equipment donated to the program is packed with the Canadian cyclists'
own bikes and delivered to Cuba. Sometimes, cyclists leave behind their
bikes after the Cuba tour.
Marshall remembers the time Canadian cyclist Steve Bauer donated his
professional team's used racing tires.
Marshall loaded them all into his pickup, then divided it amongst the
cyclists who were headed to Cuba.
Many of the kids have become national champions and national team members.
St. Catharines Standard
If you go
For more information on CanBiCuba, visit www.CanBiCuba.com.
CANOE Travel – The Caribbean – Wheeling through Cuba (13 February 2010)