I really can't single out one inspirational moment, so I've identified 10 reasons why this trip will live in my memory for a long, long time and why I would recommend this trip to anyone reading this review.
1. Exodus made everything so easy. As a first time group holiday traveller, I was unsure what to expect but the support from Exodus staff, the quality of the Trip Notes and the joining instructions, the help with additional extras like airport hotel/parking made this so so easy. I will never use any other company for the many more trips I now plan to take.
2. Cuba - wow, what a fascinating country to visit. Full of contradiction, full of authenticity, full of inspiration and warmth, full of beauty and of history and full of fun and laughter. The scenery was beautiful, the climate warm and pleasant for cycling. I can't recommend Cuba enough - go now before it gets spolit by westernisation in the future.
3. Cycling - I've never experienced such pleasurable cycling. The roads are a joy to cycle in as there is so little traffic on much of the roads this trip uses. What traffic there is respects cyclists and is quite content to stay behind the riders and only overtake when it is very safe to do so. Even then, they give you a wide birth and you never feel at risk like you do in the UK much of the time. The weather was great, the scenery stunning, the amount of cycling generally ok if a little light (for me) on day 1 and day 4. The level is mostly 'easy' with occasional 'moderate' patches such as the final 8k uphill climb on day 5. The bus was never far away if anyone wanted to take a rest, so have no fear about joining this trip if you are concerned about your ability to keep up. This really is accessible to all who have a reasonable base fitness.
4. Food - I read much about Cuba being a 'poor' culinary experience. Nonsense! Sure, if you're expecting nouvel cuisine or gastronomic delights and michelin standards then you will probably be disappointed. But the food was in the main very tasty, plentiful, nutricious and satisfying. Exactly what you want when cycling in my opinion. My only quibble would be the lack of option for vegetarians since most meals had simple chicken or beef to go with the rice, beans and potatoes.
5. Fellow Travellers - what can I say about my fellow travellers? As this was my first group holiday, I was a little apprehensive that I would be joining lots of couples or big groups travelling together. I also feared my fitness would be short of the group's, or that I would be the 'old man' of the group. I needn't have feared. This trip seems to attract people of all ages, from 20s/30s right through to a gentleman in his 70s who was more than able to keep pace. There were couples, there were solo travellers, there were cyclists and there were non-cyclists. It really was a mixed group. What everyone had in common was that they were fun people to be with. I never for one moment felt alone, and the trip was undoubtedly made so amazing by the people I had the pleasure of being with.
6. The Trip Leader - Tony was a great trip leader. Excellent English, great knowledge of Cuba, warm and friendly, sensitive to the level of the group and their needs, supportive and helpful at all times, Tony did a lot to make this trip feel safe, well organised, fun and interesting. I particularly liked the way Tony listened to what the group wanted to do on the last night in Havana, and rather than insisting that the whole group did the same thing, he supported everyone's desire to make the most of the last night and do thier own thing in old havana. Given that many didn't have extra nights to explore, this was definitely very welcome by most of the group.
7. The Music - I've never listened much to Cuban music, and I'm not much of a dancer. But I was overwhelmed by the stunning music in Cuba. From street music in and around squares and next restaurants to the huge array of restaurants, bars and clubs where music is the soul of the place. Highlights included having a performance by Son Malibran while the group had dinner in Trinidad, a group so engaging and fun that they had us joining them as honorary band members for a song. Then there was the Legendarios del Guajirito show in Havana which seems to be associated to the Buena Vista Social Club, sharing many of the same musicians. Stunning show, stunning music and just impossible not to get off your feet and dance. I can count on one hand the number of times I've danced in the last 10 years, and that night was the best of them without a doubt.
8. The logistical support - Our bus was always close by and always there in case anyone needed a rest, some water, some fruit or to get sun screen or anything else off the bus. We had a great technical support man who was quickly able to deal with the very few issues we had; punctures, chains coming off, severed pedal. At times, he was also able to lend a hand 'pushing' flaggers up the 'undulations', very welcome by those who were close to getting on the bus on the hills but really didn't want to.
9. Trinidad and the Casa Particular - Trinidad is such a fun and authentic place to spend a couple of nights. The personal owners of the Casa could not have been more welcoming, could not have done more to make our stay in their home fun and memorable. I would always choose a Casa for future Cuban trips. The atmosphere on the streets was one of fun - not the faintest undercurrent of tension or trouble, just masses of people happy to dance, laugh, chat, engage and welcome us into their town. Everywhere there were vintage cars, delightful little stalls and shops, music coming from yet another bar / club / restaurant. Fantastic place.
10. The fire eating, glass treading, salsa teaching mad-man who provided the brooding, mysterious entertainment in the hotel at Yuguanabo. Turns out he's also the egg chef at breakfast the next day. Great fun!