Pedalling furiously just to retain my position towards the rear of the group, the sun cream (Ambre Solaire SPF30) was infusing with the copious beads of sweat streaming from my forehead and running into my already stinging eyes. The scorching Caribbean rays were beating down relentlessly. I was seriously beginning to question my sanity.
I am no fitness fanatic. Rather, I am a sleep-deprived shadow of my former self with two-year old twins who constantly demand attention and are frequently nocturnal. I am pushing 40. I should not be punishing myself like this.
Fast forward two hours (90 minutes for the rest of the group) – I am floating in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea with a mojito being expertly mixed a stone’s throw away – life is once again very good.
My eleven years at Exodus have taught me to choose my precious holidays carefully. The nine-day Cuban Highlights Ride has all the ingredients I need for the perfect break from the intensity of parenting and pressures of office golf.
Any holiday that includes some gentle cycling, swimming, drinking, relaxation, history and music with a twist of unique culture demands my attention. Cuba provides all of these ingredients in large measure, just like the Havana Club rum being poured throughout the island.
We cycle along quiet country roads, through vast valleys of sugar cane and acres of banana plantations with the dazzling sun shimmering off an inviting Caribbean Sea. For slackers like me these are hard yards but the punishment is well worth it as the rewards are huge.
I have seldom come across a town as vibrant as Trinidad. In the evening live music permeates the balmy air and the expert dancers don their lavishly garish costumes leaving little to the imagination.
It’s a shorts and t-shirt order but do I want a mojito or Cuba Libre?
We sit on concrete terraced steps squashed in amongst the throng of happily mingling locals and tourists listening to the salsa beats, watching the lithe dancers strut their stylish stuff, mesmerised by their natural rhythm.
It’s a heady, intoxicating mix that infiltrates the early hours for those with the stamina either in the drinking or dancing stakes.
But I digress.
Cycling between The Bay of Pigs and Cienfuegos, a stunning 20km stretch that hugs the coastline, we encounter a truly bizarre sight – hundreds of freshly splattered red crabs in the road for around 5km. Forget the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 – this was the Road to Cienfuegos Crab Invasion!
Apparently, each spring thousands of red crabs invade this stretch of coastline to lay their eggs in the sea. Though, for me, it was a truly unexpected sight. Sadly, I have to report it looked like the vast majority did not make it from the forest to the sea – crushed by tyre tread: lorry, car or bike.
The lack of commercialism on the island is as refreshing as the ubiquitousmojitos. Cubans have a joy for life that defies the government’s Communist ideals. Financial hardships and rationing has forced Cubans to be resourceful and has fostered an entrepreneurial spirit in many.
Don’t worry – the food is much better than many guidebooks would have you believe. A particular highlight was an evening meal at a Paladar (private restaurant) in a family’s cosy home in Trinidad.
Black beans and rice (Platillo Moros y Cristianos), slow roasted pork, a variety of salads and soups were lovingly delivered to the table, which for our group of 14 took up most of the house. The star of the show however, was the fresh lobster and assorted seafood dishes that kept coming and coming.
My only regret was the absence on the menu of any freshly splattered red crab!
Exodus’ Dan Jackson dodges a sea of red crabs on his cycling holiday in Cuba!