It showed up the next day in the form of a 5’6 man with dark features, calling himself, Alfredo. He was exactly what I needed. He worked for the city of Havana as a recreational director. He could read, write, and speak English. At times, he conducted bicycle tours around the city and his country. And knew how to hustle. Thank you, Lord!
When I explained the Tour and showed the map of the route, Alfredo’s eyes lit up. No one, foreign or Cuban, had ever done a Tour of this size and magnitude. It would be a first, and it would make him famous. He wanted in, only there was one slight problem. Si, he could temporally leave work, but he would not be paid his $10 monthly Wage for lost time. Could I, perhaps, reimburse him? I think so.
I met CNN’s Lucia Newman and her crew to film the interview at the city’s infamous Hotel National. The piece was titled, ”Captain America arrives in Cuba,” and showed me in all my red, white and blue glory streaking through the streets of Havana.
By the second day of the Tour, I was already seeped in controversy when my teammate and I arrived in Guantanamo. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos of the area by the local authorities, because the Cuban government had a military post keeping a constant vigil at their enemy, the American Base. Alfredo gave a little tidbit when he mentioned that my government pays Castro $50,000 a year as rent to occupy the base, but Fidel never cashes the check because of principle. When the lease is up, he plans on throwing out the American military. Guess you can’t exactly be sovereign if another nation is looking over your shoulder, or in your back yard.
The first week of the Tour was a roller coaster ride through the mountains. We kept along the Southern coast, with its crystal blue waters splashing along the sandy white beaches. We could cycle for miles, 30 to 40 at a time, without ever seeing another soul. To experience that kind of privacy in Paradise was unheard of to me.
Alfredo and I left the next day, hitch hiking from one truck to another. For three days and nights we rode on one bumpy road after another until we reached the Easternmost point, the tiny, coastal town of Maisi. You couldn’t get any further than where we were. We were now eight days behind my planned schedule.
We stayed in a 45 cent room for the night. At that price, I could afford to get Alfredo and I separate quarters. Food was scarce where we were, but Alfredo and I were from the streets and knew how to survive. And Cuba did have an abundance of fruit growing along the way. Plenty of sugar cane, bananas, coconuts, papaya, oranges and guava to go around. We had the bare necessities to make the journey.
Since I hadn’t put in much training time, nor was I used to the heat and humidity, I wiped out quickly. Alfredo was a cycling machine. Never wanting to rest or take in the view. He didn’t care about scenery. All he wanted to do was put in miles. The first day was 65, the second, 98. By the third day, I was down to 45 miles and wasted. I couldn’t match the pace, especially since I also had to take the time to photograph the event and record my notes at day’s end.
We began in the Sierra Maestra mountains on the 34th anniversary of president John Kennedy’s assassination. In Cuba, it’s actually a mini holiday among some of Fidel’s loyalists. By my research of the country, I knew the first week was going to be difficult. By the time we reached mid country, we would be in flat lands and could pick up the miles. By the third and last week, I would be back in shape.