Running over 600 miles from east to west the island of Cuba is the largest in the Caribbean basin. We arrived on the north eastern coast at Puerto de Vita which was over 400 miles from Havana where most tourists arrive and tend to stay. We were only the 22nd boat to arrive at Puerto de Vita this year and were one of the first American vessels to dock at the port. The eastern area of Cuba encompasses a diverse geographic region from flat fields of sugar cane to mountains rising up to over 6000 feet. The persistent trade winds are forced up these mountains where the air cools and condenses ultimately falling as rain. This rainfall has resulted in creating dense tropical forests and lush valleys where locals grow a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.
Our plan was to keep the boat in the marina the entire time and explore the country by car and bicycle. So after checking-in and exchanging money the next course of action was directed towards transportation. There were several possibilities available; taxis (1950’s cars, horse drawn carriages and tricycles), buses or a rental car. A few of our friends ventured out to nearby sights by taxi and had a great time. Our plan was to rent a car to see as much as possible in a week. When I exchanged money at the resort I had inquired at the “car rental desk” about the cost of a rental car. I was politely informed of all the possible options from a basic small car for $45/day to $150/day for a 9 passenger van. Great, we decided to travel with two friends from another boat splitting the car rental cost and gas expenses. When I returned the following day by bike to rent a car I was informed by the same polite employee that there was only one car available at an $80/day rate. Apparently they rarely have more than one car available at any one time and I was lucky to even be offered one (several of our friends would discover that no cars were available for the first week we were in Cuba).
Having spent the first few days exploring by bicycle I was familiar with the traffic encountered on the roads. There was a hierarchy to yielding like I’ve never experienced in the 25+ countries I’ve visited. The most cycling friendly countries I’ve had the pleasure of riding in were Portugal and New Zealand. However in both those countries the predominate mode of transportation encountered on the roads were cars, this was not the situation in Cuba. Privately owned cars in Cuba were rare, the predominate forms of transportation were horse drawn carriages, buses, bicycles and walking. Horse drawn carriages and walkers had the first rights to the road, followed by bicycles then buses, trucks and cars. Traveling in a car, bus or truck would require the operator to change lanes to pass a cyclist or horse carriage and if the lane wasn’t clear they would slow down and remain behind until the oncoming lane was clear. Suffice to say traffic jams even in the cities during rush hour took on an entirely different meaning than in the states.