“Wheeeeee……”, I screamed at the top of my lungs. It wasn’t a scream of horror or fright but a scream of simple, pure liberated joy as I whizzed down another stretch of bumpy Cuban road.
In December 2015, I took the month off work and embarked on what I called a mini personal experiment - my first solo cycle touring trip, in Cuba. Why Cuba? Why solo? And why by bike? These became the standard questions. So I thought I’d share a bit about these whys in case my mini personal experiment might inspire others to embark on their own, whatever that might look like. Or even visit Cuba, before it completely changes again.
On the way to London, I went via South America and one of my stops was Brazil. I instantly fell in love – the landscape of Rio was breath-taking and the carnival festivities were sooo much fun in Salvador but it was the people that got me hooked. Their energy, their passion and their love of life. It was infectious.
I had travelled before but I'd never experienced this kind of energy and although I was an outsider, definitely a white girl with no hips when it came to dancing Brazilian style, I felt so alive… Although this might have been the mojitos and lovely Brazilians;)
Since Brazil, I’ve always had a romantic notion that this infectious approach to life didn’t only exist there and instead, would ripple across its neighbouring countries in South and Central America. I seemed to have various synchronicities with Cuba, almost like it was calling my name. So rather than question it, I decided Cuba was going to be where I’d visit next for my bigger dose of the Americas, hoping to experience something similar to what I had done in Brazil.
Little did I know that I’d find Cuba on another level to Brazil. The people are so incredibly kind and generous. Like their ‘neighbours’, they’re a passionate bunch but they have such a cheeky sense of humour that’s hard to resist. (ladies… even in smelly cycling kit, you'll get marriage proposals left, right and centre and quietly wish you'd practiced your Spanish that little bit more!) Everyone seems to stop to say hi to each other, no matter whether they’re walking or driving and no matter where in the road they are (there is also incessant horn beeping!).
The pace is well and truly ‘island time’ which can be equally frustrating and liberating. But surprisingly, I eased into it and quickly caught myself regularly humming along to the various beats that seemed to echo from most houses. And as warned, I found that majority of things in the country didn’t work as you’d expect but that everything works out, and someone always knows someone.
Despite settling on Cuba, I did try to ignore the Cuban calls for a while as I hadn't ventured off on my own for a full holiday before. I’m a fairly independent person but it was something I had kind of pushed to the back of my mind, using the standard excuses of money, waiting for Mr Right etc. That was until May 2015 when I finally bit the bullet and dipped my toe into solo travel.
I headed to Slovenia for two weeks of hiking and really enjoyed it! Solo travel lived up to everything I’d read and the feeling of freedom is truly indescribable. Only answering to yourself, being able to change the best laid plans at the last minute, relying on yourself and seeing what you’re really capable of, getting away from the daily noise and only hearing your own voice, and having the opportunity to experience things from a different perspective.
Just after I came back from Slovenia, a friend tragically passed away. Over the following months, I could feel her presence. It felt like she was reminding me that life is too short and that I could venture further afar than Slovenia on my own. She was someone full of life, energy and passion. Just like I'd witnessed in Brazil. I knew it was time to stop putting off something so achievable. And that she’d be with me every step of the way.
So the tragic reminder coupled with walking into a cafe and seeing the words ‘dare to dream’ on the wall gave me the ‘screw it, let’s do it’ motivation to book a return flight to Cuba on my own.
Why by bike?
After being introduced to the adventure community a couple of years ago, through my good friend and Adventure Queen Bee Anna McNuff, it opened my eyes even more to different ways people can explore the world… and experience life. I knew I didn't want to see Cuba the more traditional tourist way but still wanted to be able to get around fairly easily. Reading and hearing various stories of cycle touring, gave me the inspiration to settle on seeing Cuba by bike - no tour groups or anything, but solo with a bike from London.
Practical things like navigation and mechanics are definitely not my forte so I wanted to challenge myself - be self-reliant, be vulnerable, meet new people and ultimately, see if I like this whole cycle touring concept. If I did then wahoo, I could do more of it and if I didn't then I'd know that I'd given it a go and still would have had an amazing month in so many other ways.
Well, I can honestly say it surpassed all expectations! The freedom I’d experienced in Slovenia coupled with the freedom of being on a bike, and exploring a new country, was again indescribable. I now fully understood why people choose to explore the world by bike and I definitely didn’t want this to be my last trip.
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