Once again, pandemonium broke loose. The press was having a field day, and politicians were jumping on the bandwagon to “get tough with Castro.” By now, I was a seasoned pro. My lessons came the hard way, and I backed off from doing the Tour. We just had to wait another year.
During the waiting period, I devoted time to familiarizing myself with Cuba and it’s culture and the route that would be taken, as well as the usual speaking engagements and autograph sessions for some of my sponsors.
The best time to do the Tour would be during the winter months. Cuba would be a comfortable 90 degrees, as opposed to the sweltering heat and humidity of their summers. The time frame picked would be November-December, 1997.
I spoke with Phyllis one last time before heading off to Canada, where I’d catch a connecting flight to Havana. She wished me luck. “This is so exciting,” she squealed with delight. “I can’t wait to see what kind of coverage we get in the States.”
The only major American media on the Caribbean Island was CNN who would be covering the Tour de Cuba in both countries. During the other Tours, CNN had given me some great exposure, so I was pleased they would be on hand for this event.
I arrived in Havana in mid November to a warm evening. A driver and an official from the Ministry of Sport were waiting to take me to the hotel they had reserved. Since Fidel legalized our currency in 1993, everything in Havana must be paid for in US Dollars by the tourists. But as soon as I could get out to the country, I was free to use their pesos. And, at 23 to 1, the $1000 I brought along would go a long way.
I figured the Tour would take three weeks to complete. I gave myself double that in case something should go wrong. It did, almost as soon as I arrived.
One of the top officers from the Ministry of Sport announced that in order to do the Tour properly, he would need $5000. Up to this point in all our negotiations during the last year, a price was never given no matter how many times I would ask. I just had to do my own research and figure it out. In a developing nation, I knew what I could do this Tour and have plenty left over for creature comforts.
The cards were thrown down. What was I going to do? I protested. The men from the Ministry of Sport shrugged their shoulders. I showed them what I had. They suggested I return in the spring. The press coverage was already out. No way was I going to return to the united States with my tail between my legs. They got up and left. I prayed. ”Lord, I need a miracle, ‘cause returning home is not an option.”