Thursday, May 30, 2013

Leon, Mexico

Thursday, May 30, 2012

It seems very strange to have been away from the Rambles for over a month. As I promised, I did in fact go off the grid while in Cuba.  The last week, since I have landed in Mexico at Isla Mujures, has been busy and this is my first real chance to catch up.  Seeing how my baby sister has a birthday tomorrow, this post will be my gift to her.  Many happy returns Joey.  Get that Spyder shined up for some riding this summer...

While I was off the grid, my first son has got himself engaged, and he is beginning to gain some flying hours with the helicopter outfit he works for in Yellowknife.  My sons keep adding daughters to the family: how lucky can a guy be?     Speaking of luck, my procrastination at finding Mexican insurance nearly jinxed my trip big time:  I tried to land some insurance in CanCun to no avail, and promised myself that I would get some in Mexico City.  Thanks to my friend Uli, who taught me how to change addresses to GPS coordinates, I managed to ride Blondy into the heart of Mexico City, and in the neighbourhood of the BMW shop.  However, I was off a couple of blocks, and there were many one way streets. By chance, I spotted the BMW logo as I was cruising up a street, in the right lane.  Aha, I said to myself, there it is...and turned right into the front end of a car abreast of me in the left lane.  Both Blondy and I went for a spin.  My life, as I knew it, flashed before my eyes as I struggled to turn her off and get her out of traffic.  The lady driver was screaming at me, and I can only guess how pissed off and scared she was.  We got Blondy into the driveway of the moto shop, and I waited for the tirade which I probably deserved. My shoulder checking was too little, and too late, obviously.  I began to find out just how lucky I really am, as I talked to the Mexican lady.  First of all, her English was much better than my Spanish..secondly, she was an insurance adjuster.  (Crap, I thought to myself)..I admited to her that I didn't have insurance.  We examined her car, and she had taken a substantial hit in the right front fender as she bowled us over.  Without out too much crying on my part, we negotiaed an agreement whereby she would have a friend assess the damages, and I would pay her cash.  I was very lucky that she was fair and honest, and willing to do the right thing, which was to not involve the Policia...Within a day, with the help of my friends Pedro and Jacob who I rode with in Chile, we had closed that deal, and Blondy was getting some first class spa treatment and new shoes at the best BMW dealership in the whole of Latin America, in my view.  My luck continued this morning, as I prepared to leave Mexico City.  The poor cab driver took 2 and one half hours to find the shop, and I was pretty anxious about how in hell I was going to navigate through this megapolis without another bashup or worse.  Thanks again to Mr. Garmin, I was seeing the edge of Mexico City within an hour, and on my way north to Quererto and Leon.  Good luck or good kharma, I am happy to be away from that traffic and mayhem....

After I went off the grid, I kept a diary of sorts, and of course shot many pictures.  I will attempt to recreate the trip from Jamaica to Cuba, as well as my time on the Island:

Monday, April 22






We arrived at Santiago de Cuba, which is a port on the southern end of Cuba after a somewhat more mellow run from Jamaica.  There was less sea-sickness on most people's parts, and the sailing was enjoyable as well.

When we arrived, there was relatively quick service by the Aduna at the dock, and the quarantine flag was soon down.  We were not finished, however, and the next 6 hours involved some very thorough searching of everybody's gear, as well as the boat itself.   The Cuban authorities brought dogs onboard to sniff for explosives and for cannibals and cocaine.




 Blondy getting the twice over.   She left all of her coco tea in Peru...I think..


  Unfortunately, one ignorant backpacker chose to ignore the captain's warning about the Cubans' views on drugs, and he ended up paying a fine of $200.00 for three grass seeds.  I think that he was very lucky, and could have ended up in the slammer..now I am sure every time the Stahlratte anchors with backpackers and bikers in Cuba, the captain can expect to lose a full day with a stem to stern search of the whole boat, as a result of this dumb move.  Needless to say, the bikes were not going to get authorized on the first day, after this incident..

Tuesday, April 22 Santiago de Cuba

Early the next morning, the moto people rode the 5 or so kilometers from the marina to the main part of town, and eventually we found the Aduna de Santiago de Cuba, which is a big blue building on the left hand side of the main drag.   We encountered our first incident of a "helper" in Cuba ripping us off.  We had to move between the Aduna building and another building on the other side of town in order to get our bikes plated and inspected.  We had to buy sellos, or stamps, at the National Bank in town, as the Aduna would not accept cash for the fees.


Werner and Claudia are happy to be on their bikes again...


The Stahlratte docked at the marina in Santiago de Cuba
Getting the bikes prepped for our ride of Cuba...



We have found the Aduna, and now the paperwork begins....


 Werner, under the close eye of the Aduna, is fixing his $40  temporary import sticker to his pannier...

Aside from the ripoff by the "helper", the process for the first day went fairly smoothly.  It was clear that the Cubans had not done this importation through this port before, and they were very methodical and meticulous about the process.  By the end of the first day, all of the riders had their bikes imported.    The one downside was that the authorities demanded that all of the riders turn in their GPS systems.  The captain was given all of them, and charged with keeping them onboard the boat.  I grumbled to myself about this ruling, but clearly this was a rule of the country.

We had got up early in order to get to the one bank which sold the necessary stamps in order to fulfill the next stage of the bureaucratic process of becoming legal riders in Cuba.  Once the stamps were in hand, most of the rest of the day was spent waiting and dealing with the process of having the bikes inspected and getting our Cuban licenses.  Again, the personnel were not too sure on the correct procedures, and apparently the computers, who had a habit of going down frequently, did not like the program which they were trying to use to import the bikes.  It was an exercise in patience, and perhaps a reminder to us all of the efficiency that we take for granted in our home countries.

Second day in Cuba...

Morning breakfast at the casa paticular..


Wow: a bipane buzzed the town...this is going to be interesting...


Early morning java....

Now there is a sticker: this should not be too hard to find....
 Some of you are old enough to know a Chevy when you see it...




"See?  It's right here"......
 The vehicle inspection process involved all sorts of cars and trucks.  Some beauties were being brought in for plates...



 Original six cylinder....



 Hurry up and wait was the order of the day....
 Gene is meditating...
 An old Chevy in great shape....

Blondy gets her Cuban tags....

Finally ready to roll....


Gene and Nedda out of the gate...



Werner, Claudia and I headed out after our bikes were plated.  We headed in an easterly direction from Santiago de Cuba, towards Guantanamo. We only rode about 150 kilometers or so in total, so not a big ride by any extent.  We were stopped once by the police for a paper check.  I had a clear sense that these guys did not want their picture taken.  My first impression of riding in Cuba, was that there did not seem to be a lot of vehicles.
We were going to stop at a state run camping facility, but after investigation, we found out that there wasn't any water, hot or cold, for the showers.  We headed on an found a nice casa particular run by a doctor who had spent time in Angola.  Each of our rooms cost us 25 CUC, which is the Cuban Convertible, and equivalent to the American dollar, don't you know.

Full Moon in Guantanamo
 Really great young peoples singing group.  They were excellent and did a great job of "Guantanamara."






April 25 Wednesday
We headed further east from Guantanamo, and Claudia soon had a flat, which turned out to be the result of a staple.   Werner had it fixed in no time, and he had some help from the locals.








Some police stopped, and again the declined any photos, although they just wanted to chew the fat and check out the bikes.

We soon left the eastern coastal road and headed north at Playa de Cajobaba and travelled over 100 km. to Baracoa.  This was a very interesting ride, with lots of twisties as we gained altitude to the height of land.






 We had an interesting experience with a tout following us around Baracoa on his moto, with a sign.  The woman at the state run campsite, where we had left, had phoned ahead, and this guy had a sign written up with "Tania" a fake name that Claudia had given the women because of the poor facilities at the campsite. After finding a casa particular,




 we wandered around Baracoa and found a young fellow who made us some calcamoneas, or stickers.  This young fellow was very skillful, and in short order he had made up two stickers for us.  Little did we know that they would end up being the best stickers for all of the Cuban trip.






Werner is eyeballing this guys' Hack set up....




Which leads to a trade of bikes.  The Cuban dropped Werners' bike....





But Werner managed to keep the Hack upright.   The whole neighbourhood had a great laugh...





 One of many East German bikes we were to see.  All of them were 20 or more years old..

 This fellow fixes flats.   He told me that people make their own bike tires out of old truck tires...
 Home made bike tire..
















This area is where Christopher Columbus landed.  In the local church they have what is purported to be the cross that he raised when he arrived here in 1492.


Unfortunately the local indigenous people were tagged as "Indians" because Chris did not really know where he was.  This local Indian was burned at the stake by the Spaniards, effectively wiping out all of the local Pre-Columbian tribes on Cuba.


Hatuey was burned at the stake by the Spaniards.  He was purportedly told that if he converted to Christianity, he would be spared

  To which he replied: " And live in a world with Christians like you?  I would rather live in Hell."