Pavement or Glory? 15 river crossings and Cubas steepest dirt road

Leaving the sanctity of ‘our beach house’ we head back out and hit the dirt, almost immediately riding thru a plantain plantation

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This guy working the ox was super friendly but you have to feel for him as a worker in the middle of nowhere, he is about as far as you can be from Havana he’s probably earning around $15 a month. As the rest of Cuba is slowly finding out how to make money and a definite middle class is rising will he be doing this for the rest of his life completely unaware of the changes that are happening?

A few miles later we pass the first village, small but original could this be where he lives?

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On the South Coast, it is impossible to ride dirt all the way along because there is something really big right in the way

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Once past the base and Santiago the road improves, not in quality but in scenery

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A few miles later the pavement is gone, the sea has taken the land back and you get to ride one of the most stunning beachfront tracks imaginable

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we ride for the remainder of the day and end up in a little settlement called Pilon, chatting with the man that owns the house he is intrigued which way we plan to ride to get back to Santiago to meet the Stahlratte in 3 days.

I explain we have two choices from him, to carry on west then north and head to Manzanillo then Bayamo then Santiago on mostly paved roads or my preferred route to backtrack east a few km’s and hit the dirt road thru the National park.

He sat there amazed that I even knew that road existed and that it could take us to Bayamo. ***If you look on google maps it doesn’t show until you click to satellite view then it shows up.

He smiled, “you probably don’t know that nobody uses that road anymore, it has river crossings and gets remote…but it’d be fun on those bikes unless it rains tonight.”

It rained all night long, torrential rain!

We got up in the morning, he asked “pavement or glory?’

Glory!!!

We set off, the sky was blue and it had been for hours, humidity was close to 100%, a few km in we rounded a corner to see a hill that was steep, nothing difficult but it looked like a farmer had laid new dirt all the way up the hill and it was deep soup.

I ran at with speed and got to the top, albeit just, with the back wheel slipping and sliding everywhere, this photo does it no justice at all taken with a point and shoot, you can just make out my rear wheel sinking and I was only about 5% of the way up the hill

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the good part was around the corner…

I tell Egle over the intercom when she gets around the corner to WOT it and hold on, she comes roaring by me at speed shouting “this is going to be a fun day”

A few km later we have our first river crossing, no issues, the next corner is another river crossing, I run thru it ok, a few meters from crossing Egle hit a boulder and goes down, we rescue the bike and then empty our boots of water. As we are doing the torrential rain starts but luckily in a few minutes its over. We look at each other, not like it was really a question we nod at each other and carry on.

Less than a km later we have our next river crossing, but this one isn’t a crossing, in the photo, I would be riding toward you (you can see my exit tracks) and the entry starts around the corner about 50 meters so let’s call it a river road. It’s not more than a foot deep at any point but because of the rain its silt and the bike is sinking, she is giving me a push in spots where I sink and I plow thru to the other side.

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We both walk back for her bike and she gets thru, but not 50 meters further and we have to cross the river again so I tell he to keep riding first, she motors thru but on exit, her rear wheel sinks a little and she throttles it and the clutch fails. I help her push the bike out to a flat spot, go and get mine.

We find shade from the now blistering sun and lay the bike on its side, I grab my tool bag from my bike and open it. Egle is there with the camera taking a few shots when all she can hear me saying is “fuck, fuck, FUCK!”

She thinks initially somehow I hurt myself grabbing my tools…its worse than that!

When I was in Camaguey doing the last clutch plate fix in a hurry to get out of the garage/ sauna I’d left half my tools there, and the good half, the ones I needed to open up the side case.

If you know a right side of a DR you need sockets to get at a couple of the bolts that are set deep, all I have left is closed end wrenches. I can do a clutch swap on a DR in about 15 minutes and be riding again, not this time, two hours later I am still trying to get the last bolt out.

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I do a little origami with a wrench to finally make it fit and i’m in, hoping for a similar situation as before and a quick scuff and put it all back together

NOPE!!!

This is what I find

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for those of you not familiar with the inside of a clutch pack, the plate on the left is a friction plate, its supposed to look like the one next to it, but all the friction material is gone, chunks of it are all over the open side of the motor…I say today’s favorite word – FUCK!

I try a little magic and button it up and hope for the best.

There was a small shack a ways back Egle goes to speak to the people, hopefully.

She returns as I’m putting the bike back on its wheels. She asked their opinion to carry on or to go back, the lady in the shack tells her to carry on. “She said there are two very small water crossings a little uphill and then its pavement and lots and lots of downhill to Bayamo.

Then the sky goes black and torrential rain starts, this time it’s not going to stop anytime soon

We swap bikes so I can ‘feel’ the clutch and we ride and it’s working, not great, but working, if I get to third it all seems good and no slipping, I ride a little crazy and we round a corner and here is the first river crossing, its small we race thru.

A few hundred meters and another, again we race thru it…cool now where’s this little hill?

Another corner another river crossing, we assure each other over the intercom “maybe she meant three not two”. Another corner another river crossing, this happens a lot we lose count but think we went thru another 13 river crossings all shallow so no real issues, but river crossings none the less.

Rounding the next corner there is the hill, and it is huge, I WOT the bike and leave Egle in the distance, it gets steeper and steeper I have to drop gears as I’m losing speed, I can feel the clutch slipping a little, then more and more, I’m in second and the engine just races as I slow to a stop…its done

I don’t know if it was 100 degrees or more, but it sure as hell was close to 100% humidity as I sat there on Egle’s bike looking up a crazy steep hill. I got off and got on my bike and rode up it for a few km, when I stopped the bike with just the front brake the bike started sliding backward, it was steep, actually steeper than I thought.

Screw it go a little further, I was on concrete and rode it until it ended, then I hit brown, not red dirt and rode another km or so, the hill kept going but I turned back. I slowed and turned my bike around at the last corner where I could see hers and walked down.

We fired the bike up, put it in gear and used what remnants were left of the clutch with me on the controls walking on the left and Egle pushing from behind moved in upward around 100 meters then we both nearly had a heart attack.

We had left Pilon around 9.30, at a guess, it was around midday, scorching sun beating down, I think we would have preferred rain.

Rinse and repeat the above scenario dozens of times until we got her bike from that ribbon of concrete to where the dirt started. We estimate we pushed her bike around 7km uphill. The dirt wasn’t the end it was just the end of the steepest part.

Was this the steepest hill in Cuba, I honestly think it was. We had spent a few weeks in Taxco, Mexico a few months before and both of us could only remember one hill as steep as this, so if you’ve been to Taxco you’ll get it. By the time we reached the flat ground at the top, it was after 6 pm (IIRC) it had taken us 8 hours to go a little less than 18km.

Thru the whole ordeal, we had taken just ONE PHOTO…this with a p&s, at this point we might have been 1/10th of the way up.

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At the top we looked down into the valley where we’d been that morning, now we realized why it took so long to get his high, there was no way a straight road could be made in these hills, the road had been spiraling these hills

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I always carry a tow strap, I pulled it out and so it began, hoping it wouldn’t be the longest DR to DR tow in history! We knew there was as a settlement in about 20km or so and we knew it was mostly up and down but no major gradients, we set off…slowly.

This is where the tow began heading to Bayamo, the hotel was somewhere between the 25 and 50 markers

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We reached the small settlement just as the sun was setting, normally people would be running at you to help you find a Casa Particular…nothing. We flagged down an empty taxi to ask if there were Casa’s here or maybe a hotel? We explained our situation and hoped for some Cuban kindness.

What we were told is Bayamo was around 70-80km away, too far, but there was a Hotel in about 10-15km, he offered to put Egle’s bike in the back of his taxi for $20. This wasn’t the hospitable Cuba we knew, we declined and I towed her into the oncoming darkness. The rain began to fall, and it came down like a monsoon, we just laughed, could this day get any worse.

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Eventually, we found the hotel after asking a few locals in the darkness if we were close, the place that didn’t exist on our maps.

We didn’t like the idea of a Hotel, could it be for rich tourists, would it be way out of our price range? We asked the guy behind the check-in desk not for a room but if there was a Casa close by, I think we were delirious and dehydrated, we looked like shit and probably didn’t smell too good either.

He was so nice, he smiled, “Casas are expensive, why don’t you stay here I can give you a villa for $20″…we smiled for the first time since 10 am. Then he asked, “would you like me to keep the restaurant open for you?”

“Yes please!”

“You have to go now because it closes in 5 minutes, I will call and tell them you are coming and to stay open.”

“Can we shower and change first?”

“No!” he smiled, “it’s Ok.”

We walked up to the restaurant after leaving all our gear in the lobby, there were a few people in there, we sat as far away as we could. We got the menu and looked at each other and smiled again. We were in a 5-star hotel for Cubans, not for tourists. We drank beer lots of beer, ate a lot really good food and got a bill for $3…why had we been staying Casas if we could have done this, why hadn’t anybody told us.

We finished and went back to the lobby, the hotel manager had called a friend who could take Egle and her bike to Bayamo where there was a train station with regular service to Santiago where the Stahlratte was waiting for us to arrive in 48 hours.

A tractor pulled up, a brand new tractor with a trailer, he told us, “no problem 50CUC ($50) to Bayamo.” We knew it was around 70km away it seemed a little excessive, we tried to bargain a little he wouldn’t budge. This part of Cuba understood capitalism for sure.

We refused and went to our room. Waking in the morning to clear blue skies and a nice flat good condition road to Bayamo. The tractor driver passed us and waved, his tractor was full, but no trailer attached.

By the time we arrived in Bayamo, it was around noon we’d passed thru little villages who residents were familiar with being in a tractor-pulled trailer

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and being threatened with death unless they were Socialist

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While the tractors were making real money doubling up as taxis, other not so well off farmers were still using ox in rice fields in knee deep in water

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In the middle of Bayamo is the train station, I waited with the bikes and a gathering crowd, Egle went inside. 5 minutes later she appeared shaking her head, “there’s supposed to be a train in one hour to Santiago and we can put the bike on it.”

I respond, “great, why are you shaking your head.”

“No, a second guy came up as I was being told this and said that trains been canceled.”

“So when’s the next one?”

“Tomorrow, but…”

“Tomorrow’s good, what’s the but?”

“It hasn’t been confirmed if they ‘want’ to run it!”

“Who’s they?”

“Havana.”

“Now what do we do?” She asked me

“Plan B!”

“What’s plan B?”

“Don’t know never thought I’d need one…give me a minute.”

 

 

2 Comments

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  1. Wow! What a trip! Awesome article and photos! Hills, river crossing, and clutches!

    Like

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