Let’s go get muddy…backroads of Cuba

It was a simple thing, ride from Antigua, GTA to Isla Mujeres, MX get on the Stahlratte and sail to Cuba (again) and find some unique locations to ride – primarily dirt. Sounds easy when I put it in one sentence, the reality was a little different.

The ride and border crossing back into MX were simple enough, albeit very very long as border officials seemed to want to do everything by the book as we were the only traffic that day. A quick stop at the border into Belize (but not entering) was where we canceled our TVIP’s as it is genuinely a PITA to do it in the Cancun area we were told. Turns out it would have been simple, more on that later.

Then a day later a ride to Playa del Carmen where a friend had told us he had a 2 bed apartment for us to use for however long we wanted prior to sailing, we opted for around 10 days, Egle had 32 articles to write for numerous worldwide publications, no mean feat and she completed it with a day to spare.

A few days after canceling the TVIP’s I get one refund, not two. I send an email to the Banjercito and find out that they thought there was fraudulent activity because both bikes were paid on one card but titled in different names…seems to me this is how any couple would do their paperwork, obviously not.

We were told to go to Cancun to prove our identity.

Within an hour of getting this news from Banjercito, we get an email from the Stahlratte telling us we need to get Cuban visas as there are only a few people going it ‘would be easier’ to do it beforehand, we are given the location of the Cuban Consulate in Cancun. We figure we would kill two birds with one stone and plan an 80km ride north the following morning.

Firstly the Consulate – who knows how long that could take and we can’t enter Cuba without a visa. At the Consulate we aren’t allowed in, we tell the guy at the gate what we are doing – motos/ ship/ sail/ Cuba etc. He tells us to go to a travel agent, we explain again motos/ ship/ sail/ Cuba etc. with the emphasis on MOTOS!!! Again he said, travel agent but this time adds ‘dive shop’ then corrects himself ‘divermex’ and tells us he will bring the actual consulate out to speak with us.

We think, good maybe he’ll understand better, he tells us the exact same thing and also adds the Consulate is for visas for aid or education NOT for tourism, are we screwed and have to cancel Cuba we wonder. As he is closing the gate he says “divermex, very easy, speak English shop”…slam!!!

Luckily I had a phone connection in Mexico so we google Divermex, Cancun (21.156023, -86.823380) and it’s less than 2km away, we ride over and it is a travel agent, we go in and ask “Cuba visa?” in a doubting voice, they say “yes, take a seat, its $20 or $400pesos”.

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They speak perfect English and once we have visas in hand we tell them about the TVIP problem wondering if they could make a few phone calls on our behalf, they cannot do enough to help, finding all the info we need and the various places we are supposed to go, hopefully.

Needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned, some 4 hours later we are no further ahead and we’ve been to half a dozen offices and spoken to dozens of people, and now understanding that canceling the TVIP here would have been a nightmare.

Right up to the point when someone tells us to go to another office to speak with a certain lady whose name has been mentioned a few times, we ride off back to where we’d been before a few times just a 5.5km from where we’ll need to catch the ferry to Isla Mujeres, but this time to a different office on the left side of the street that the guys on the other side didn’t know existed, 50 meters away!

We ask for her and she is behind a Banjercito desk we tell her about not getting two refunds, she checks her system and calls Banjercito CDMX and confirms the refund is processed but refuses to give us proof. All we get is ‘trust me’ the refund will be in your account in about a month!

She then asks why we didn’t do it there instead?

This will save you a lot of time and effort if you are headed to Cuba and have a TVIP and need a visa, there is an office about 5.5 km from the IM ferry terminal 21.190452, -86.807307. Its small details like this that as a rider make life easy but as a non-rider just sending an email thinking how difficult can it be

OK back to P de C and Egle gets back to writing completes the 32 articles and we leave fully packed headed for Isla Mujeres still with no TVIP refund…and meet Simon and Lisa at the ferry dock.

Bikes get loaded and the 45-minute crossing is marginally rough but rough enough for Lisa’s bike to fall over and luckily for her, her pannier saves the gas tank getting punctured on a sharp corner of the ferry just a few mm away

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an overnight in IM and a last look at MX at what my eyes after more than a few beers told me was in focus…oh well, most of the time MX was a blur anyway

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then it’s off to Cuba leaving Isla Mujeres in our wake

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In conversation we find that Banjercito thought S&L were also committing fraud so they only received one refund as well, Egle and Lisa aren’t happy with the Banjercito service and show elegant dissatisfaction, I stole Simons photo and put my watermark on it as well :jack

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Rough seas, strong tailwinds, lots of vomit, minimal amounts of food eaten by anyone and we arrive in Cuba a day ahead of schedule as we averaged over 11 knots virtually the whole way and the Stahlrattess top speed ever is 12.6…a communal sigh of relief was heard from everyone aboard as we sailed into Cienfuegos harbor and we welcomed to Cuba

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The next day the basics of importation begin, same as before all listed in this RR 2 years ago, so go back and find that if you are going. It’s easy it just takes a day to complete,

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once done, I show everyone where my favorite bar is in Cienfuegos and we try and blend in…:lol3

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the following day we roll out of Cienfuegos headed north…but not to Havana just yet, I just wanted to get this – “same spot, different bike” shot

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here’s what all that looked like as movie…

 

There was one objective for Cuba this time around after having ridden around 4500km last time on primarily paved roads – this time find more dirt, lots more dirt.

Escaping Cienfuegos we headed north/ west and decided the tip of the island would be a good starting point for our ride all the way to Santiago 3 weeks later.

I picked a random small village on the map roughly halfway to the tip of the island where it seemed there was a lot of Casa Particulars, it was called Las Terrazas it turned out to be a German-dominated place and had the feel of a holiday camp, we couldn’t wait to leave, this wasn’t ‘real Cuba’, I saw nothing worthy of a photo.

The following day I had found a loop to the end of the island and coming back to stay in Viñales, let the fun begin…

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I got a lot of ideas for dirt tracks from google earth literally looking for red dirt and narrow tracks that lead somewhere, further up the country there is a lot of sand, mud and bull-dust mix, and some heavy rain and its not fun to ride in ’cause you don’t how the bike will react from second to second. Remember no graded roads per se so the surface changes as there is no solid base

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At the end of the land, you kind of expect something…anything, what we saw was basically nothing except fires bring in the swamps and mangroves in the distance

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we turned around and point our front wheels towards Viñales

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It was a nice feeling having been in this area before and knowing where to go, and knowing people. @ONandOFF had sent me a few connections in Viñales area but first I wanted to stop in say hello to the owner of a casa I used before who’s son was motorcycle crazy. We were received with amazed eyes and huge hugs. They had an opening and I couldn’t say no, they were so happy to see us.

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it was great just to sit there and watch the world roll by 50’s style

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At night parts of the main street are closed down to traffic and restaurants spread their tables out and salsa bands play, this is tourist Cuba, we enjoyed it but we were looking forward to the next day more

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you could spend weeks if not months riding in this area, in less than 1km from the gas station were on dirt roads

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This area is Mil Cumbres and the dirt in places is red RED

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I found a track that ‘appeared’ to go exactly where we wanted, but narrowed every 100 meters until eventually, we were at a gate for a deserted flora foundation

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Try another track…

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then another…

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then another….and we bumped into another local rider, he was coming to visit his ox, nothing more, but kind of amazed we would be all the way out here for ‘fun’, less than 1km the track ended again at a farm

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we reroute down multiple tracks and each just ends, sometimes at a locked gate and other times at a wall of trees.

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We have no option but to cut back to a paved road for a few km and have some snacks and look for another way

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we get back on the dirt and use some of the farmer’s tracks between sugar canes to navigate the previously unpassable areas

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Eventually hitting pavement again late afternoon around Artemisa with new designer red rims from a great days red dirt riding, as the sun was dropping we arrived at the outskirts of Havana

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Ep19 looking for dirt…

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