Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Hiking Marea del Portillo

We enjoyed hiking Marea del Portillo. Hiking took us places we could not go on bikes. It also provided a welcome change of pace.

The first day, we set off down the beach towards Marea. We followed a path along the shore, scrambling over and under low hanging branches along the way. It took a couple hours to make our way into town and back returning on the main road. It was fun exploring on foot. 

The second day, my husband joined a volleyball game on the beach. He had fond memories from trips to Mexico years ago and had been looking forward to playing. Within the first five minutes, he made a great shot, but landed badly with his big toe bent under his foot. That was the end of beach volleyball. It was almost the end of ALL activity.

His toe was bruised and swollen. It hurt to flex while walking. Even with a large band-aid providing support, he spent a couple weeks limping. It still fatigues easily and aches. Fortunately, biking was fine because bicycle shoes kept his toe immobile while pedaling.

His toe healed enough to resume more normal walking within a couple weeks. We joined some friends to help carry their donations to a family living on a farm not too far away. We set off following the lane behind our hotel. This lane provided a shady shortcut to the bridge on the main road cutting half a km off our route through the main entrance.
At the bridge, we crossed over following another side road to the West. On this road, we passed a water pumping station and fields of crops before stopping at this little house.
It was a simple farm house for a family of four. This man was very friendly and happy to receive donations. He made coffee for us. His wife usually made the coffee, but she was in Pilon visiting the doctor.
 
 
One of the advertised hotel excursions involved riding a horse to a nearby reservoir and waterfall. Our friends told us the reservoir was located further down the road from the farmhouse we had visited. 

Following their directions, my husband found the reservoir on his bike, but not the waterfall. We decided to explore the area more thoroughly another day on foot. His toe was feeling much better by then.  


RESERVOIR

One afternoon, we set out towards the reservoir each carrying one bottle of water. We followed the shortcut to the main road taking the road on the other side of the bridge. At the end of this road, we turned right crossing an open space passing fenced gardens and houses.  
As we got closer, we could see the huge earthen dam from the reservoir.
My husband suggested we follow the path up the mountain to the far side of the dam. It looked like this might be the horse trail leading to the waterfall.
We passed bee hives at the base of the trail. There was a man selling honey nearby. Cuban honey is delicious. We should have bought some.
This trail was relatively steep and challenging with loose dirt and stones. Sandals were not the best choice. We were soon short of breath and sweating buckets as we climbed high above the dam.
Eventually we came to a rickety stick bridge - very cool.
After hiking for 1.5 hours, we had reached the far side of the reservoir without finding the waterfall. The view was gorgeous. As it was getting late, we turned back. The waterfall would have to wait for another day.
The hike down was challenging in a different way. We slid in our sandals on loose rocks and dirt barely managing to stay upright.
Back on firm ground, I pet a puppy while his owner bathed a horse.
Another Cuban traffic jam on our way back to the hotel. 

Hiking in Cuba is almost as much fun as biking. This three-hour 'epic' hike was exhausting. We drank all our water, our feet were killing and our legs were tired. We had a great time even if we didn't find the waterfall.


WATERFALL

We talked to a few people who had visited the waterfall before discovering our mistake. It was to the left of the reservoir up this path and much closer than we thought.
My husband had actually seen and dismissed this waterfall when he rode his bike to the dam. He was expecting something bigger. Still, the waterfall was pretty and worth seeing.
    
A fresh water pond forms at the top of the waterfall.
 On our way back, we admired dogs finding a comfy place to sleep.
 It was late in the day with children playing happily outside.
This horse and cart was parked outside the house where coffee was prepared for us.
It took about 1.5 hours to walk to the waterfall and back. Alternatively, you could ride a horse and rest your feet.

I love that there are so many interesting things to see on hikes in Cuba.


WILD BEACH

On one of the cooler days, we hiked over the hill behind the Farallon to the wild beach. Another guest showed us the way following the path beside the tennis courts. It is a steep path with lots of thorn bushes to catch at my wrap, but not too challenging or too far. 

It took about 30 minutes of steady walking hiking to reach the wild beach. The path came out at this log. To find our way back, we marked the spot before exploring from one end of the beach to the other. 
 
 
 
 
These days I prefer taking only photos of collected beach treasures.
There is a nice view from the top of the hill.
 
 
Back at the Farallon, we examined the stone wall behind the hotel. It's a great place to find iguanas soaking up the sun.

We heard you can walk around the point at low tide without having to climb over the hill. We also heard there is a great coral reef around the point. Perhaps, we'll take our snorkel gear next time

This was an easy hike. It took a couple hours to walk from the Marea to the Farallon then over the hill to the wild beach and back. 



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Monday, 14 March 2016

Biking Marea del Portillo

Biking from Club Amigo Marea del Portillo in Cuba is limited to routes East and West along the coast as you run into the Sierra Maestra mountain range on routes North. The roads are poorly maintained and very rough with pot holes and broken pavement. We love riding these roads. They are quiet with so many interesting things to see. 

Our favourite route was East to the South Coast Road. Over our four-week stay in Cuba, we rode East nine times, West towards Pilon five times and North only once on the Bayamo Road up the mountain.

In 27 days, I rode 15 times covering 570 km total. My husband rode 17 times covering ~600 km. Our longest ride was 70 km to El Macho.

SOUTH COAST ROAD

From the hotel, we would ride 8 km passing two small villages Marea and Mota to reach the spectacular views of the South Coast Road. We never got bored riding this road. 

The furthest we made it was 35 km away from our hotel to a town called El Macho. It was challenging crossing two mountain passes on the way out and again on the way back. We rode for five hours without food. I was exhausted and hungry by the time we got in at 3 p.m.

Usually we would turn around at the 16 km mark avoiding the first mountain pass (1.5 km climb up to 11% grade). Every time I rode that hill, I had to walk a bit to catch my breath.
We stopped at a road-side store to check it out. Prices are posted in pesos monedo nacional (MN). One convertible peso (CUC$) equals $25 MN. 
This is the view from the top of the long, steep climb ~18 km from our hotel. It's a challenging climb up to 11% grade, but worth the effort.
El Macho is located past this crooked bridge. It was crooked when we rode this route six years ago damaged in a hurricane.
We greeted school children returning home for lunch.
At El Macho, we walked down to a rocky beach. Serge another guest at our hotel accompanied us on the ride to El Macho. Interestingly, he rode a Devinci the same bike I had last year.
From this angle, the bridge looks even more crooked. Traffic is light on this road because buses cannot cross. 
The ride back offers similar, yet different views of the route.
 
Cows, horses, goats, sheep and pigs roam freely in Cuba.
On Valentine's Day, we rode out to meet the Canbicuba Tour who were riding from Chivirico to our hotel (~90 km). 

Along the way, we stopped and chatted with a Dutch couple sitting in the shade. They were touring Cuba on bikes loaded with gear. While we chatted, two more Dutch tourists on bikes came along. I am super impressed with self-supported cycle tourists. 

The extra weight makes biking more difficult. I can't get my head around the logistics of finding accommodation, food and clean water when you're hot and tired. I also can't imagine traveling with only what fits on a bike. Most people who do this seem to be from Holland or Germany. We met one family from Canada (The Bicycling Family) who are touring with their 11-yr old son and 8-yr old daughter - all on bikes. It doesn't appeal to me, but I can't help being impressed.
We met Fred, the first CanBiCuba rider ~24 km out, so turned back to ride with him to the hotel. By the time we showered and changed, the rest of the riders had arrived. They were waiting for their bus to take them to Manzanillo next. Since they had a couple hours to wait, we brought them beer and stood chatting, When we dropped off our bag of donations for the Las Tunas Cycling Club, we asked if somebody could take a photo for us when the donation was delivered. 

I handed out my card listing my email and blog name, surprised and flattered to be recognized as "The Crochet Lady". I had forgotten about being contacted months ago by somebody who had read my post from our CanBiCuba Tour last year. Based on my post and answers to their questions, they had booked the tour along with a group of friends. This group was filled with Americans and six Bike Fridays. How cool is that?

WEST TO PILON

We also liked to ride West towards Pilon a largish town ~13 km from our hotel. 

Club Amigo Punta Piedra is just 5 km from our hotel. Guests at Punta Piedra could eat and drink at our hotel for free, but the service was not reciprocated. We stopped by to check out their beach. Next year, we plan to return with our snorkel gear to swim to the reef offshore. 

The Mirador Restaurant is 10 km West of our hotel. It is located 1.5 km off the main road up on a hill with a spectacular view. We went once to take a look and another time for lunch. Watch for this sign post. 
Turn right and continue up hill. Carry on past the steps. Turn right up the lane to the restaurant. Lunch was delicious and only CUC$5 including tip.
  
 
This dog really wanted to join us for lunch, but she stayed outside.
Pilon is only 3 km down the road from the Mirador. We would turn left at the gas station and ride down the main road to the town square beside the bus station. It was a good place to rest in the shade.
The first time we rode to Pilon, we looked for Celia S├ínchez's house. Last year, when we visited it had been closed. While my husband took photos inside, I was happy to play with an adorable tiny puppy on the porch.
 
 
 
This abandoned Sugar Mill Tower in town is a great landmark. You can see it for miles. If we ever got lost, we looked for the tower.
All towns in Cuba have play parks for children. This park appealed to us with its rustic charm.
 
  
 
 
We liked the look of this pretty church in Pilon.
This apartment building was bleak looking. Up close it looked even worse.
On our second trip to Pilon, we decided to ride out to the end of the peninsula to the West. We rode down the main street, past the town square turning right at the end of the road heading out of town into wide open farm land. We were surprised to find an ostrich farm. When we stopped, the ostriches ran over to see us. I was happy these big birds were fenced and not free-range like most animals in Cuba.
Further down the road, we took the left fork assuming it would lead to the peninsula. It was a quiet easy route ~10 km from town to reach the end. We saw three Cubans. They had parked their cart and left their horse to graze while they fished.
 
Another day we explored the right fork on the road past Pilon. We ended up getting lost following unmarked roads through ranchland. Eventually we headed towards the old sugar mill tower, a familar landmark, until we made our way back to town.
 
 
  

THE BAYAMO ROAD

We rode our bikes up the Bayamo Road all the way to the top only once. This road is located on the East side of the cemetery in Marea. It is 6 km from our hotel to the top. We could ride as far as the horse corral, but the last ~2 kms are extremely difficult at 20%+ grade. We walked pushing our bikes on this section with temperatures reaching 36 Celsius. My husband rode two short bursts on the steep bit, but couldn't keep going.

The Bayamo Road is visible from our hotel - that white line going up.
 Turn left past the cemetery in Marea.
It's uphill almost from the start.
I made it as far as the horse corral before I had to walk.
 The horses we had passed near the bottom soon passed us.
 
 The dirt changed to cement. It was all steep at 20%+ grades.
 
 
 
 It was exhausting, but the views made this route worth the extra effort.
Pushing my bike that far on such a steep climb irritated my shoulders making it painful to swim. If I was to do this climb again, I would hike. At 12 km, it qualifies as an 'epic' hike.


WHAT TO RIDE

This year I rode the bike my husband had last year - a titanium mountain bike with compact gearing. My husband rode a new carbon fiber cross bike. These bikes are relatively light, rugged and fun to ride. They are not the sort of bikes that can be donated or left in Cuba.

Some people buy inexpensive bikes on Kijiji, take them in cardboard bike boxes and ride them for the duration of their stay giving them away before they leave. Cubans rely on bicycles to get around and truly appreciate any donations.

Some people who repeatedly visit the same area make Cuban 'friends' who will take care of their bikes, so they can use them whenever they visit. We met a few people who were doing this successfully. We also heard stories of people who had tried this, but found their bikes had disappeared when they returned.

We also met a Canadian who visits this resort about five times a year. He bought a horse he leaves with a Cuban family. He has it available to ride every time he visits. His horse has babies every year. The Cuban family taking care of his horse keeps the babies.
We liked when he tied his horse to a tree on the beach outside our cabana. The baby was not tied, but followed its mama everywhere.
It seems like a good arrangement, if you prefer horses to bikes.

We loved Biking Marea del Portillo on good bikes, so we'll probably take the same ones next year. My husband has gotten really good at packing our bikes for travel.



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