Baracoa by bicycle

Thursday 14 May, 2015

While we had breakfast in the casa, our host organised bicycles for us. On our ride, we set out along the Malecón towards the stadium and stopped for a beer and a cola in a small cafeteria where a diminutive patio out front caught the fresh sea breeze we had enjoyed so much the night before.

Afterwards, we headed down one of the main streets of Baracoa and then took a right-hand turn up a street called Paraiso. We had to dismount because the condition of the road was so bad. When the street ended, we turned right up a steep slope. At the top of the hill there were signs to a museum that was tucked away at the end of a laneway between some houses. We paid the entrance fee plus an additional fee for a guide. He explained that he spoke only Spanish. We said that didn’t matter so long as he spoke slowly.

The museum is housed in a cave which was once a burial site for the Taino, the indigenous people of Cuba. Exhibits were mounted in cases that were affixed to the wall of the cave, or in recesses behind sheets of perspex. There were several artefacts from various pre-Columbian societies, but most of the exhibits related to the Taino civilisation. They included tools that were used to obtain and cook food, a couple of chairs, jewellery, and stones used in burials. The cave itself contained some interesting limestone formations and some petroglyphs (i.e. rock formations that had been fashioned to resemble human or animal forms). The most striking artefacts were the idols. We had seen these reproduced in some contemporary artwork and murals around Baracoa.

We climbed a narrow staircase to an upper chamber where there were a couple of skeletons set out in the foetal position. After some more climbing we arrived at a precipitous balcony with sweeping views of Baracoa and nearby hills and beaches.

On the way out of the museum, we inspected the last few exhibits on the first level. One was a tall idol. I tried to shade it with my hat so that Susie could photograph it without the full glare of the noonday sun. Clare immediately spotted a visual gag, and urged me to put the hat on the idol. The joke was irresistible and the photo was taken. This gave Clare the giggles for at least an hour.

We collected the bicycles from where we left them between the houses below, and made our way across town and out along the road to Moa for 10 km. It was as hot as blazes out in the full sun. At length we detected an unmistakable aroma beckoning us on. This emanated from a chocolate factory that was opened by Che Guevara in April 1963. We stopped outside in the shade of a large tree, trying to picture El Commandante holding forth of the virtues of cocoa.

At the Rancho Doa we locked the bikes to a sign and entered a fenced-off compound where two coach loads of tourists were corralled. We occupied a small cabaña near the waterfront. The set menu began with an entree that tasted much like pea and ham soup. It was served in a half-cylindrical bowl made of bamboo. The main course was a buffet consisting of a sucking pig on a spit with salad, yams, rice, and a sauce on the side. The meat was perfectly cooked. Susie ordered a mojito that was served in a ruby grapefruit. It was so strong that she had to order an orange juice to dilute it. Desert was a gelatinous coconut cream with tropical fruits including guava, pineapple, and custard apple.

As we were leaving, I noticed there was no air in the back tire of my bike. We had no pump or repair kit. Someone called out to a man who walked us to a nearby house where a young mechanic checked the tube for punctures. There weren’t any. We gave him five CUCs for his trouble. This was probably a scam, but we were not fazed by it. We enjoyed sitting around in the back yard with the chooks, watching the young mechanic take the inner tube out, test it the way my father taught me, and put it back into the tyre. The scams we got caught in were fairly gentle: you usually get to choose how much you are willing to pay to get out of them.

When we arrived back at the casa we locked the bikes to the rail on the front porch and went inside for a cold shower, but the water ran out, so Susie and Clare took a nap instead. Since we had not been able to buy any drinking water on the way into town, our host, Wyldie, ventured out and managed to purchase a few large bottles from a hotel.

Later, we went to a hotel in town to check for messages online. Just before we reached the hotel, a musical racket burst out of one the side streets and we were suddenly surrounded by scores of people chanting and playing musical instruments. It was a procession of supporters of the Barcelona football team.

Barcelona fans in Baracoa

After checking our email, we wandered the streets looking for somewhere to have a light meal and a drink. We stumbled on a restaurant on the third floor terrace where a three-piece mariachi band was playing. As always, the music was a delight. We ordered one plate of beans and coconut sauce and a plate of plain white rice. The beans were to die for and the food was perfect quantity for three. When the band passed round the hat, we purchased a CD.

Baracoa street scene (viva Ray Charles!)

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