210 kilometres of experience

On the 30th of January, I stand at the railing of the Thor. It’s our last night here for the next weeks as tomorrow we will start our tour through Cuba. Some hours ago, we brought our bikes on land with the help of the local diving school and their speedboat and did some last check-ups and reparations. I am really excited as I am looking forward to our bike trip. In front of us lies a 210 kilometre long journey through a completely different country with an impressive culture.

At first, I cannot really believe it: after more or less three months at sea, for the first time we are doing a real sport. For me it is a nice feeling, a feeling of new experience and adventure. Plus, it is a little bit special that two police officers are accompanying us the whole time on motor bikes while we are riding the bikes. Later I learn that the Cubans are really interested in giving us a feeling of safety in their country. We are also followed by a bus, which takes our luggage and the few people who aren’t able to ride a bike with us. Our tour, planned by the ICAP (an official organization which connects countries and people with Cuba), starts in Maria La Gorda and leads us through Sandino to Pinar del Rio. Here we stay for a few days and visit the “Federico Engels School” (which you can read about in Liv’s blog). Afterwards, we go on and leave the flat region of Cuba to continue with our bikes to the beautiful valley of Viñales, where we explore the extraordinary landscape of the mogotes, a kind of limestone landscape created by erosion and a UNESCO world heritage site, with its typical tobacco farms.  Here we also spend a few days, before we ride back to Pinar del Rio and the school.

But what is riding our bikes over these days like? While we are cycling over the roads of Cuba, which are not always the best for our bikes because of the holes in them, we have interesting conversations with the other KUSis. As we change our partners every one or two hours, I know many more interesting stories and details about the others after the tour than I did before. From my bike, I can see Cuba in a very intensive way. I feel the sun, this special heat and the dust on my face. I smell the ocean air, a little bit salty and dry. I enjoy this amazing view over the wide and open landscape. I feel the holes in the ground under my wheels and the fresh air around my face.

Riding a bike through Cuba is riding through another culture. The everyday life in Cuba is really different from our German way of life. To better understand all these differences, we talk about the things we have seen or heard every evening. For me, these short reflection sessions are really helpful to bring all the interesting and sometimes confusing impressions into context. So I learn that while for me my bike is just a means of transportation, for a Cuban it is so much more. Of course, they use it to get from one place to another, too. But one bike in Cuba is comparable to a one-year-salary if you sell it. That means that one family can live from one bike for a whole year, which is also the reason why we donate our bikes to the Cubans after the tour. They will be given to the “héroes del trabajo” (“heroes of work“), which means really diligent students.

A week ago, I am standing again at the railing of our ship. My bike is now in Pinar del Rio, helping a Cuban to manage their everyday life. I’m looking back to two weeks of adventure and many new experiences, and I realize what an extraordinary opportunity exploring Cuba by bike was to get a deeper view into this fascinating country.