A travel moment in Cuba

The film Motorcycle Diaries got me dreaming ....... South America ...... the open road. But the continent is massive and I’ve never ridden a motorbike. Think Che; think Cuba. Motor-biking in Cuba! From Santiago in the East to Pinar del Rio in the West is approximately 800 miles. All I need is to enrol on a motorcycle-training course…sorted.

Visions of me in leathers straddling a Harley are short lived. I soon discover:

a) you can’t hire motorbikes in Cuba

b) it's a hot country

Undeterred I plump for the next best thing.....a moped.....and a sarong. The road rolls along, wide and empty. Makeshift stalls and ramshackle dwellings dot its fringes. ‘Buenos Dias’, ‘Hola’. A smile. A wave. I ease off the throttle; the Suzuki’s tinny whine softens to a purr. ‘Buenos Dias’, ‘Hola’. I smile. I wave.

‘Cola por favor’.

A girl in lemon hands me a bottle with a straw. Outside four old men are playing dominoes in the shade of a palm tree. ‘Buenos Dias’, a nod, a wave, a touch of a sombrero.

‘The old man with the goatee pours the Gringa a rum. Clickety clack. She responds with aplomb to her partners lead. Clackety click. They manoeuvre, outmanoeuvre Raul and Humberto. The Gringa slams down her final tile, triumphant.

‘El Mar’ I enquire pointing at the dirt track ahead. ‘Si’ says the old man with the goatee, ‘Boca de Sama’

The track is dry, dusty, bumpy. An old man driving an ox-cart; a boy on a bicycle; a muchacho on horseback; a gringa on a 50cc moped. A wave, a smile, ‘Buenos Dias’. ‘Hola’. 20 kmph is optimum. It’s slow enough to absorb my surroundings but fast enough to wave to people without falling off.

I park up on a rocky promontory at the mouth of the Sama. Seawater gushes and gurgles in the blowhole below propelling coconut shells skywards. Caridad joins me bearing fruit from her garden as a handsome diver emerges from the sea with a speared fish. He has one leg. ‘Shot himself when he was 16’ explains Caridad ‘to avoid military service and being parted from his lover’.

The Gringa employs her sarong as a tourniquet. A purple pustule forms where the bullet entered. Miguel’s eyes seek reassurance. The Gringa looks away. Experience tells her this is more than a flesh wound’.

‘Did they marry’. ‘Si…. and he's been married 3 times since’.

Back down the bumpy, dusty track, past the shuttered refreshment stall, along the empty, wide, rolling road; in the distance a figure in green fatigues.

The Gringa opens the throttle. With Jose riding pillion she veers northwards. A band of comrades are marching on the Capital; change is in the air. ‘Viva Cuba. Viva la revolucion’.

I glance behind. The figure of a young conscript diminishes. On the horizon lies my starting point, the village of Guardalavaca. My intended traverse of the island has shrunk into a jaunt around Holguin province.
So much for the best laid plans!

K Collis

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