During our three day stay in Trinidad, a lovely old colonial town on the south coast of Cuba, we took the advice of our Lonely Planet book and decided to rent a bike to ride to the beach. It was an easy decision once we realized we could take a taxi one-way for 8 CUC or rent two bikes for the day for 8 CUC. We decided it would be nice to get some exercise and explore the coast a bit. Not only that, but Lonely Planet described the ride as a “30 minute pleasant ride along the coast” to Playa Ancon. A no-brainer, right?
A friendly man, who roamed the streets of Trinidad recommending businesses to travellers, had hooked us up with a great place to stay, so we also got bikes from him. He led us down a few cobblestone roads to a small pastel blue-coloured home, and through the living room in the back was a small, dark dirt pit with old trail bikes to rent. We made sure the tires had air and the seats were in the right position, gave the guy our money and rode off, excited for a day at the beach.
Before we left we had asked one last time how long it was to the beach and which way to go and our trusted friend assured us it was 20 minutes on the highway, just follow the signs.
We started cruising along the streets of Trinidad at a decent pace, Tim was in the lead, when suddenly a man kicked out his foot at Tim’s bike. At first Tim thought he was trying to trip him up and angrily scowled at him, but the man did the same thing to me. When I looked down I realized our kickstands had been falling down as we went over the cobblestone bumps. Thank goodness we had Cubans looking out for us!
We rode past businesses and small homes with people sitting out front in the hot sun watching us go by and soon we were on the outskirts heading along the highway that we had come into from Havana. I quickly yelled out one last time “Donde esta la playa?” to make sure we were headed the right way and the Cubans nodded and pointed the way we were headed. We started picking up good speed, but had to keep watch of our kickstands as they kept falling down. It was a very hot day and the sun was beating down on us hard. Luckily we had taken a few downhills, which created a nice breeze for us.
After about 10 minutes of riding and passing what looked like a rocky fisherman’s beach, we decided to stop and check our Lonely Planet map to make sure we were headed the right way. After examining the map, it seemed we had gone too far and decided to head back. Usually we have a rule that we travel 5 minutes more in the direction we’re headed before we turn around, but we chose not to, so hopefully we didn’t make the wrong choice. I was certain we had missed a turn just outside of Trinidad.
Heading back into Trinidad was rough. Like I said, the sun was beating down on us as it was just past noon, the temperature was probably sitting at 38-40 degrees celsius, there were cars and trucks flying past us, and we were sweating buckets already. Those easy downhills turned into uphills on our way back, and though we are fit and had bike gears to help ease the ride, we were already getting tired.
We never saw a sign to Playa Ancon, but as we reached Trinidad, we saw a sign for “beach” with an arrow, so we started following the arrows. It took us through Trinidad to the main street separating the newer and older part of town and then turned south. It seemed promising.
Eventually we got to a road that was being paved and had to head up on the sidewalk to avoid the construction. The smell of asphalt was intoxicating. Once we got past that, it was a smooth-sailing road only that it seemed like it went on forever. At one point, I stopped Tim as I realized we hadn’t applied any sunscreen and I was not wearing my hat. We covered up a bit, drank some water, and continued down the long road. Big trucks were passing us by, making the heat intolerable and the smog suffocating. We ended up at what looked like a little town and Tim started panicking as he realized we had just rode 40 minutes down the road by this point. I calmly asked locals which way to the beach and they happily pointed down another road, so we followed.
Soon we were out in the middle of nowhere, in what looked like a wetlands area. My mind started panicking and I wondered if crocodiles lived nearby. My face and body were drenched in sweat; I cringed as I realized I looked as if I had already been to the beach. Riding along these windy, smooth roads, we saw few cars go by and I wondered exactly where we were headed. Tim was out in front, riding along, so I didn’t want to be the one to give up. I kept telling myself we would get there eventually.
But the road didn’t stop. No matter which way we looked, there was no sign of the coast. Panicking, I wondered if we had all we needed to survive if we somehow got stranded out there. Do we have enough water? Do we have shelter? Would we make it? It had been almost 2 hours at this point and I was freaking out to say the least.
Finally, we ended up at a 3-way intersection and saw taxis cruising by. We figured we had to be close. We peddled and peddled as fast and hard as we could, willing the beach to us. But it never came. We came to a turn, but up ahead we saw what looked like a beach hut, so we pushed on to that spot hoping for water and directions. We needed to know we were going the right way. After all, it had been about 2 hours at this point in the sweltering heat.
When we arrived at the hut, we discovered it was a restaurant stop of some sort, but there were only two men enjoying beers at one of the tables. Tim, frustrated with the afternoon, threw his bike down and sat on a log. I headed straight for the men sitting down and in my best Spanish, I asked them where we were on the map, which way to the beach, and how much longer it would take. Though they only slightly understood what I was saying, they were able to point on the map as to where we were and told me it was about 10 more minutes to the beach.
When Tim heard the news, he was relieved. Ten more minutes was nothing! We were finally going to get to the beach! We chose not to rest for a drink there, but rather push on, as it was now almost 3 pm and we were itching for the beach. I mean, we were drenched in our own sweat! We were exhausted! We needed it now more than ever!
Feeling a second wind (or was it a 3rd or 4th?), we got on our bikes and started pedalling, excited for our much needed reward of beach time. We took the turn we had passed earlier, but in no time at all doom started to set in. There was no end to this road. Tim and I have done enough biking in our lives to know that what was ahead was not just a 10 minute stretch. We could see far in the distance how the road curved and even further we noticed some tall buildings, most likely resorts near the beach. We were DONE.
I yelled out to Tim, “I can’t do this!” and he stopped too. He agreed it was pretty far, so we turned back about 3 minutes down the road to another little restaurant we had passed. This one was filled with a couple of taxis, and though it was nestled on a calm part of the water, we knew we had not reached our proper beach destination.
Tim was defeated. He sat on the rocks, head down, wondering how we were steered so wrong. I looked around wondering how I could save our afternoon from this insane adventure. Trying to stay positive, I looked around and figured I could ask some people for a phone to call our casa host to pick us up. He had connections, so we figured it would be no problem.
Again, trying my best Spanish, I asked some men standing nearby if they could help. They understood my broken Spanish enough to see that we were tired, so one man headed down to the road and hailed a taxi for us. What’s cool is that it was one of those really old cars, yet it was beautifully painted a baby blue and white as if not more than a day old. The taxi driver helped us put our bikes into the trunk, though I was a little worried as there was no rope to hold them or the trunk lid down. We agreed on a price (8 CUC! So much for saving!) and were finally headed to the beach. It took about 10 minutes at high speed to finally get to the beach. The taxi driver unloaded our bikes at the nearest hotel entrance, found us change and we got on our bikes to find the beach. Finally!
We rode to the nearest parking lot located right behind the beach, but as we drove past the cars a lady in a red vest hollered at Tim to stop. I got off my bike to speak with her, as Tim was way up ahead clearly focused on nothing but resting at the beach. She wanted us to pay to park our bikes! In broken Spanish (again! Learn Spanish if you travel to Cuba!), I told her our situation of how we were tired from biking and had used all of our money for the cab, but she was not empathetic. We had to pay or leave.
Tim and I decided to head down the road a bit, but not before this lady scurried us out of her parking lot as fast as possible. We headed 5 minutes down the road to the next hotel and placed our bikes against some trees so that we could finally just chill out. Not one moment later, however, a security man hollered at us that we could not park our bikes on the property unless we registered and paid for a parking spot. What the–? In all of our travels, we had never heard of paying to park a bike before!
We were finished for the second time that day. We hailed the nearest cab for another 8 CUC to head back to Trinidad. We were tired, sweaty, dirty, and defeated.
We would head to the beach tomorrow. In a cab. No questions asked.
Now as for the “30 minute pleasant ride along the coast,” that we will beg to differ.