Wednesday, June 24, 2015

La Marea to Niquiero - and Almost Seeing the Desembarque de Granma

From La Marea I had two options. I could go west and north to a place called Media Luna or I could go west and south to a town called Niquiero. Either choice I had to travel west over a mountain range that I heard was a bit of a challenge. I had been riding quite a bit and my legs and butt were feeling the pain. I decided that I would try to catch a camion (truck) over the mountain, then decide which way to go.

So I rode about 10km to the next town called Pilon to try to catch a ride. At the intersection of the main street and the highway I waited with a number of other people for a passing ride. We waited... and waited... and waited. A crowd was starting to form which was not good for me. Whenever there is a crowd waiting for a ride the line usually breaks down and the rule becomes whoever can run and hop on the truck first gets the ride. With me, my bag and my bicycle I did not stand as good of a chance. The only advantage that I has was that I was an extranjero (foreigner). And drivers like to give rides to foreigners because they can charge them more. Every once in a while a truck or car would pass by, but they were all full and rarely would they stop and pick up people. They were either packed full or they were not traveling far. A number of people and I had been waiting for about 3 hours and we were starting to get to know each other. Suffering together breeds unity. Luckily it was a cloudy day so it was not too hot. I look at difficulties as learning experiences. In a weird way I like to observe how different people react to difficult circumstances. Some people stick it out, some give up, some turn on others, some bond and some get creative. After noon, I could tell that some people were getting discouraged because fewer and fewer trucks were passing by. I noticed that some trucks were coming from the town center full of people. I decided that I would try to ride to the town center to catch a ride. At the central plaza I was able to secure a taxi that would take me wherever I wanted to go. We passed by the intersection of the main street and highway we I has previously been waiting and I offered a ride to two ladies that had been waiting all morning by the road. I let them know that I had already negotiated with the driver and that I would pay for the ride. Off to Niquiero we went. We crossed over the mountain. It actually did not look to be all that steep nor difficult to ride. The taxi dropped us off at the bus terminal in Niquiero. I then unpacked my bicycle and rode through town. 
I ended up finding the Hitel Niquiero at the intersection of the two main streets. The nightly rate seemed reasonable at 21cuc. I was just planning to stay one night. I settled into the hotel, showered then went out to find food.
I found a cafeteria that served cerdo ala plancha con congri (grilled pork with rice and beans). If you like pork, you'll love Cuba. If you do not, you may not.
After my meal I decide to take a stroll along the main street. Along the way I met these two gentlemen... Mr. Bilbalboa and Alfonso.
Mr. Bilbalboa had a little candy stand set up on the porch of his house. As I was walking down the street I saw a couple of people stopping by his stand. I decided to check it out. I was examining the different goodies and inquired what were some of the sweets. He explained he had chocolate, fudge, caramelo, suckers and some large cookie like items he called polveronies (little dust). He handed me a polveronie and said, "Pruebalo" (try it). I have a rule when traveling... to never take someone's generousity for granted. So I accepted the cookie and ate it. I liked it. I told Mr. Bilbalboa that the Chinese make a similar cookie and we call it an almond cookie. In fact the only difference that I could distinguish between the two was that an almond cookie typically has a sliver of almond on top. The texture and flavor was almost exactly the same. Mr. Bilbalboa asked me to sit and chat a while and offered me a chair. We talked about a number of things. 
His neighbor across the street came over for a visit. Alfonso looked like a tough guy, but really he was a gentile man. He had some type of throat operation which left him breathing through a whole in his trachea and unable to speak. But he was able to communicate very well with just hand and face guestures. He joined in on the conversation. 

Alfonso was handy at making things. When we started talking about bicycles, Mr. Bilbalboa shared with me that Alfonso makes some of the best bicycle tires in the city, right in his house. There has always been a shortage of good bicycle parts in Cuba, so resourceful people have learn to make all kind of things. 
Mr. Bilbalboa asked me if I was planning to visit Playa Colorado. I asked if it was a nice white sand beach. He said no, it is where Fidel and Che landed the Granma ship when they started the revolution. Wow, I has read about the site, but I did not know that I was nearby. Mr. Bilbalboa said that it was about 15km down the road. I made a quick calculation 15 there + 15 back = 30 km or about 3 hours of riding. It was 4:15pm. I had about 3:30 hours before sunset. I said that I wanted to go. Mr. Bilbalboa said that it is far and that I should go the next day. Well, I was planning to head north the next day. So I went. The road was long straight flat and mostly asphalt.
I was traveling through farmland with corn on one side...
And sugar cane on the other side.
Along the way there were a number of signs marking "Desembarco de Granma" (Disembarking of the Granma)
After 15km I finally reached the national park. It was 5:30pm and I was the only person at the site. Me and the caretaker.
There was a little museum that told the story and displayed this map of the route the revolutionaries took. 
This marker indicated the landing point on land.
To see the actual landing point I had to travel down this long and narrow pathway that stretched 1km through mangroves to reach the waters edge. The pathway was somewhat overgrown with scrubs and there were hundreds of little crabs crawling across the path. As I rode my bicycle I could hear the crunching of the crabs under my tires.
At the end of the path was a collapsing pier. At one time there was a platform, but it was completely destroyed. 
This is the mangrove area at which the revolutionaries landed.
They waded through muck for six hours to reach land. I joked with the caretaker of the park that they should have chosen a nice white sand beach down the coast. He kind of smiled.  
This marker indicates the house of the first local they met that provided them assistance.
This is a site where there was supposed to be a replica of the Granma boat. Unlucky me, I was told that it was being restored. In total I bikes 32km to see the site of the Granma. Well, almost see the site.
I returned back to Niquiero and had a pork chop dinner. I dropped by Mr. Bilbalboa's house to share that I had completed the journey. He was pretty amazed. I also shared some crackers that I had purchased earlier as a gift in return for the cookie he shared with me.  We talked for a while. Then I returned to my hotel and slept really well. It had been a long day. 

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