The Bikepacking Experience
Discovering Cuba though Bikepacking
The nice weather is here! The cooler temperatures are starting to let off and with the warmth we are reminded that summer is just around the corner. With the sun shining, we surprise ourselves of daydreaming about the vacations to come. There is certainly no lack of inspiration out there with Instagram, Youtube, and the likes showing off exotic sceneries in far-off lands. Although inspiring, these adventures may seem very far from our own reality and often times, out of reach. However, whether it be discovering distant horizons or your very own backyard (often forgotten), it’s a lot easier than you might think and the best way I have found to do so, is on my bike.
My most recent outing was a bikepacking trip in the wonderful region of Viñales, in Cuba. This bikepacking that we hear more and more about, is a mix between traditional cyclotouring and mountain biking. It’s the ideal way of travelling differently and getting off the beaten path.
Cuba has sort of been imposed on me by an invitation to a wedding in Havana. I must admit that I was heading there with a bit of reticence and a whole lot of preconceived ideas. For me, Cuba evoked images of all-inclusive resorts filled with western tourists. With only 10 days and a wedding to attend, my boyfriend and I decided nonetheless to head over there with our bikes. Little piece of advice, the length of the trip doesn’t really matter. Whether it be for a weekend jaunt or a multi-month epic, it’s always possible to create an itinerary that fits the bill.
VINALES AT A GLANCE
The Viñales region is surprisingly stunning. Its vistas, decorated with tall mogotes and rust colored earth, diverge from the usual images that come to mind when we think of Cuba. Leaving the road behind and riding deeper into the countryside flourishing with tobacco fields, we could see cattle-drawn plows, thatched roof huts, and farmers with large brim hats firmly stuck on their heads to protect them from the hot sun. Speaking of which, the heat in these tropical destinations is not to be taken lightly. We got underway in the early morning, avoided riding during the hottest parts of the day, and made sure to stay well hydrated. Second piece of advice, bringing along some electrolyte tablets to add to your water will help you rehydrate and recuperate.
We would stay in local bed and breakfasts called “casas particulares”. It made the experience all the more enriching culturally, allowing us a closer contact with the locals. However, going out of bounds entails the possibility of getting lost. So in case of some unforeseen circumstances, we decided to bring our camping gear as well. Everything fit quite nicely into a handlebar roll, a seat bag, and a backpack of around 30 liters.
The day we spent getting to the village of Puerto Esperanza was our most difficult. The heat was stifling and we had to contend with multiple flats. The culprits were the massive thorns of the acacia tree that can be found pretty much everywhere on the island. These mishaps convinced us of going tubeless* next time around. I’m sure it would have spared us a lot of frustration. On the bright side, our stops allowed us to experience the generosity of the Cuban people, like that friendly farmer who left his field to lend us a helping hand.
A NICE MEETING
During our stay in Puerto Esperanza, we met a couple of cyclists from Vancouver. On a more traditional cyclotouring trip, they were discovering the region from the main roads. Seeing them intrigued by our journey, we invited them to ride along with us the next day. Even though these new tracks allowed them to discover the thorns of the acacia tree for themselves, it also showed them a side of Cuba they had not yet experienced, and at the same time, a new side to biking. As for us, being able to share our passion with others was very gratifying. On a side note, as our new friends learned, it’s hard to simply improvise bikepacking. Their road bikes would have needed a few tweaks to better handle the rough and unpaved tracks we brought them on.
So with the nice weather just around the corner, put a pin on a map, get out there, and seek out your adventure. It’s easier than you might think. A little Internet search will help you with those first pedal strokes towards bikepacking. A good starting point is the excellent website: Bikepacking.com
Enjoy the ride!
Noémie Martin, passionate rider & PEPPERMINT ambassador
*A tire with a liquid sealant inside allowing for no tube. It has the advantages of minimizing puncture risks and of being lighter.