Hotel Habana Libre, Sunday, April 10, 2005, 11:10 am
After picking up the bicycle on Thursday, I finally took my first ride on Friday afternoon through the beautiful residential area of Vedado. We had had a tropical downpour in the early afternoon, so the streets were a bit wet and it was about 4 pm or so by the time I got out. Of course, by that time, rush hour traffic had already started and there were thousands of people in the street, waiting for buses. The bicycle was a pretty new mountain bike, but it seems that all the gears and derailleurs were totally screwed up and I constantly had problems with the chain. 2 of the 3 chainrings in the front didn”t work at all and I had a pretty hard time getting along with the bike.
But even more so than the technical difficulties, the stares I got from all the locals were a really unnerving experience, especially since there were so many people in the street. You don’t see too many modern bicycles on the street, and even fewer are ridden by women. Of course the guys whistle at you at every turn, which, as I am told, is totally part of the culture and not a threatening gesture. Nevertheless, I did feel rather unnverved with this experience.
Bicycles in general are basic means of transportation here, not recreational vehicles. And considering that even a very basic new bike at maybe $100 or so is worth 5, 6 or even 10 months of state salary, it’s not surprising that they tell you never to let the bicycle out of your sight. And riding through the streets I almost felt as if I was surrounded by a group of lions that were ready to pounce to capture their prey.
So as a result I decided, I’d rather not attract that much attention to myself and I decided to hand the bike back to the owner. The last thing I wanted is for the bicycle to get stolen, so I decided I’ll wing it with regular transportation options and do more walking, getting some exercise at the same time.
A “camello”: a ride for 300+ people.
In the evening my friend Pedro and I decided to catch the “GuaGua” again and we took a “Camello” (a very large bus with 2 humps, pulled by a truck engine) from around the Capitolio to the other side of Havana Bay to the old fortress of “El Morro” which was built in th 16th century. The Camello was so full that one of my feet couldn’t touch the ground and the hydraulic doors coulnd’t close because people were hanging out the door. Certainly an experience…..
Every day at 9 pm they have a ceremony at the fortress where they have a few men dressed up in old (colonial?) uniforms and they shoot off 2 cannon balls across the bay to commemorate La Habana’s military past. El Morro and Las Cabanas is an interesting area with a museum and numerous stores selling tourist merchandise. After the ceremony we caught another, much less overstuffed, GuaGua back to the western side of La Habana and we had another very affordable dinner in the Barrio Chino.
This time my intestinal system was okay and I caught a good night’s sleep to rest up for the weekend.