Military intervention, Xmas & the lighthouse at San Antonio
This evening has been another fantastic evening with a Cuban family in their home. Each of the Casas that we are now staying in have to be approved – otherwise… In trouble again.
The adventure continues… We have now swung inland and hit Las Tunas for the night. The vegetation has changed from tropical coastal to Bushveld type. All around us are plains of grasslands with massive herds of cattle. Unfortunately one can’t buy beef, this is solely reserved for the Cubans’ once a month rations.
The inland route has brought more heat as we do not get the cooling of the coastal breeze. The towns are further apart so water has become a major problem. We find the odd well, but when we drink it we get the finger wag, no, no, you can’t drink that. You then run off down the road waiting to see what effect the water is going to have on you.
Andy and I were lying resting under a tree trying to escape the heat when a woman herding goat type sheep called us and invited us into her home. Humble, clean and cool. The next thing she dished us up each massive plate of Cuban braised red beans with a jug of water. In a matter of minutes we have devoured the plates of food like two hungry stray dogs much to the delight of our host… And the run continues.
The military intervention in our run had a bad bearing on it for Peter, the crew member, as well as us on the road, finding a spot to sleep sometimes meant an hours drive. Its been a 140 km round trip by car to find an official place to sleep. We are now heading back to the point where we ended yesterday. Its a crazy situation, but we have no choice or we are in the dwang big time.. When we finally got to our sleep spot last night we had to wait 4 hours for something to eat and after 55 km of running you can imagine how we felt.
I still don’t really have a feel of this place. On my other journeys one could engage with the communities anywhere along the road and take rural village routes. Here you have to stick to a corridor and if you venture out of it you are treated with suspicion and bound to pick up problems.
We are now consuming 5 litres of fluid a day on the road, just kilometre after kilometre of nothing. The only thing one sees are vultures spiralling above you and massive trucks heading down on you at manic speeds. This is one of the worst stretches of road that I have ever run.
“Loco” means “you are mad” in Spanish. The heat has picked up and yesterday afternoon running the suicide hours, 12 -2 locals driving past were spinning their fingers round their ears shouting “loco loco” as they drove past. It was a crazy hot day and to top it we had a circle of vultures slowly following us overhead gliding in the heat spirals waiting for us to drop. On a day like today our thoughts are with all the rainbow nation. Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba.
The heat is keeping us honest. Today our shoes are leaving tread marks in the tar, but I feel we are getting used to it. Head down and just push through the running sets. We are close to hitting a 2 oceans distance each day hovering on the 56km mark each day.
The hospitality is just blossoming each day, as our understanding of the country improves. Pete has got his side totally sorted. All Andy and I have to do is keep out of trouble on the road and life will be ok. It seems that the powers that be are happy that they have got us into the groove and we are now getting friendly hoots and waves instead of the big windscreen wiper finger wag.
The trip has had a few personal high points. On the 29th my daughter, Jess, gave birth to my 3rd grandchild, Amy. Then today my daughter, Jade, turned 9. How one misses these special times, these are regrets, but I will make up the lost moments on my return. Just feeling a little – what ever you call it. Miss you little crazy diamonds in my life.
One is never too old, wise or well travelled to learn from an experience or encounter with another person. Last night just sitting and listening to this man. What he has been through and managed to come out the other end with pride, gratitude and thankful for the little that he has. His unwavering love for his family and his little grandson really touched me. Maybe just sit back every now and then and reflect on actually what you do have and be thankful, just appreciate. He has a simple view on life, “Smile on tomorrow”.
We have met some of the most hardcore guys ever on this trip. The Cuban cattle ranchers are a breed of their own. We got caught up in a situation where 2 ranchers were lassoing a wild bull. Andy and I were against the fence, both the ranchers now had a rope on the bull and he was now snorting up the fence to us. The one rancher threw his line jumped his horse up the bank to cut the bull off shouting “Torro Torro ” to us. He cut the bull off, turned his horse to face the bull. As it passed he bent down, picked up the rope, swung his horse again wrapping the rope onto his saddle and in one motion jerked the bulls head back stopping him in his tracks. Andy and I just looked at each other in amazement.
Drivers, yes drivers after a few days of nearly being splattered like many of the chickens we see hanging from the truck or bus grills, I must say that the Cuban drivers don’t care much for anything in their way. Sunday afternoons seem to be the worst after a long day off and copious amounts of local brew, getting behind the wheel of a truck with 180 degrees of play in the steering you don’t want to be on the road.
There is one thing that bowls Andy and I over every few kilometres in the heat, the stench of road kill. Suddenly the nauseating smell hits you from nowhere, you can’t breathe it’s so bad, then to top it off, a truck passes causing an Eddie, forcing the air into ones lungs, there is no escape you can just stagger on coughing and spluttering trying to find a patch of fresh air.
We are now slowly turning west below Havana and beginning the push to Bolondron on the North Western tip. It’s going to be a hard slog as the legs are tiring with the daily quota of over 50km but this is what we have trained for over all the months of preparation back home.
A bit of misfortune has struck. My emergency tracking device was on charge and someone has stolen it. It is actually a watch and they then obviously tried to change the time and set off the emergency distress signal. The device sends out a locator signal so we know where it was activated, and as well as this we know who was there, we are trying to get it back, but I doubt it.
Someone has also hacked my credit card from when I paid for the first night’s accommodation in Cuba for all of us through a booking site. This clown has now been spending thousands around Cuba. We have reported it and cancelled the card. We also met a Dutch couple who booked via a Cuban website for accommodation and were scammed – so beware when you travel here there is hardly internet access, but you still get ripped off.
Besides that, the music is blaring and the locals are consuming copious amounts of rum as the year end parties start to warm up. Clouds of black smoke billow from the the old Chevy’s as they trundle loads of folk to Havana to party the last few nights of the year away. The roads are now a vibrant thud of music from sunrise to sunset. I must admit it helps us grind down the distance.
Now the next challenge, one only gets a 30 day visa and have to renew it in Cuba if you want to stay longer. Ours expire on the 27th. I hope our slightly tarnished record won’t come into play with the renewals. I must say the layers of control along the way seem to be quite ok with us now that we are lets say “systemised ”
We had run over 30km and no water spots and the heat is radical. Everywhere is just grasslands and one long mega freeway, we have resorted to picking up some oranges that must of fallen off a vehicle and have been eating these to keep going, it’s only after the 40km mark that we will see Pete again. I remember picking up tomatoes in China and eating them along the road I was so hungry.
This area looks like the breadbasket for Havana, massive diverse vegetable farms being flood irrigated with thousands of wasteful liters of water being pumped into the fields. Ancient rusty bulldozers slowly labour through the mud ploughing the fields like dinosaurs slowly ambling along. Rich red fertile soil spews out the back of the plough as birds swarm in on the worms turned to the surface.
Finally Andy and I are off the freeway and have now turned due west towards the town of Guines and then it’s to the North Western tip and the end.
This area is off the beaten track and one can again see the hardship that they have to endure on a daily basis. There is nothing that is not falling down or disparately in need of maintenance that won’t happen. Once again a friendly family have taken us in, is been a long hard explaining why three of us want to share a room in our limited Spanish which is improving by the day, we have even managed to organize dinner. Don’t need to eat out of tins this evening.
Christmas in Cuba… Tonight we have been lucky and found a room in one of these farming villages, but this seems to be a community recreation centre.
We had just settled into our, lets call it, space. This was of the worst I have ever been in. A manky smelly bed, bug infested room, a toilet/bathroom with a slimy slippery floor and stagnant water with an old condom floating in it – fantastic!! We then went out to find something to eat in this dump of a place lost in time… The next thing there was an invasion of tractors. It seemed that all the farming crew in the area were arriving for a drink after work. It was some thing to see tractors every shape and size, all about 40 years old trundled in like a plague of prehistoric beasts. Within an hour and as the riders of the Mad Max machines consumed copious amounts of beer, a mountain of beer cans was left in their wake, the tractors burst back into life an in a cloud of black smoke the migration left and disappeared into nowhere just as it began as quick as they had arrived they left.
The 25th in Cuba, nothing has changed, kids going to school and normal life carries on, month, day , year, nothing changes every day seems the same and the same things happen. I have lost track of time. Its going to be interesting to see how Christmas affects life.
We decided to have a Christmas Eve dinner. An impossible task. Ending up at a village eatery, we found a bottle of the first Cuban wine we have seen. Dinner was the usual chicken, bean rice and no sauce. A little while later the ancient waitress appeared, plates in hand cigarette in mouth, bellowing out smoke like one of the local tractors. Plonks down the plates, but out of the corner of her eye she spots the wine. In a swoop takes a glass from the next table bashes it down on our table and points to the wine. Andy politely pours her some. With a firm hand she helps him to top it to the brim, gives us a toothless smile, downs the wine and disappears into the kitchen in a haze of smoke -Merry Christmas.
It was a great day, 52km a Christmas gift, being fit healthy and just enjoying the simple things in life. But all of us here missed our families, but we are here because the journey is bigger than us as individuals, it’s about making a difference and creating awareness for the little ones with clefts.
Here in Cuba things are simple. There is good news and bad news, the good news is that there is no bad news and the bad news is that there is no good news.
Last night we were in the village local dive, cheap friendly and of course the tractor invasion. When we left at dark there were still a few jockeys staggering around with bottles of nearly empty rum and their steel horses standing idle in the dark waiting to be fired up. We have spent the whole day scratching like flea infested dogs from the bed bugs. I look like a spotted Dalmatian but we keep moving… Always moving.
It looks like 2 days to go to the finish at the San Antonio point. Today I have had to take K-fenak anti-inflammatory pills to keep going, and quietly put in a 52 today. Pina del Rio is behind us, the last city and now its villages and tobacco fields to the end. Beautiful rolling hills, palms and quaint wooden homes, behind this facade who knows what lurks.
The whole journey we have been shielded from filming any local industry, making anything or even remotely filming anything other than village life and farms at a distance it’s been quite frustrating from that aspect. But then we had a lucky break, we met some guys on the road who could get us into the whole cigar making industry and film it. This is what we have been waiting for.
Down the dusty track we go, between the tobacco fields and arrive at a “shack” there are other tourists there on a so called tour, we joined in at the cigar rolling stage, every one was standing around a table under a tree. A Al Pacino looking guy was doing all the talking and his buddy at the table then explained that the plantation’s master roller was sick and he would be doing the rolling demo. There were sheds full of young women rolling them for export, this was a scam, but it was entertaining, especially when the cigars for sale came out and the further explanations on how they are unique to this area and that we must beware of. There were guys buying bags of cigars, we watched and just enjoyed the ride.
Ants, they are everywhere, but here in Cuba there’s a different type. They are everywhere tiny and nearly microscopic but don’t get bitten, its as if someone has injected hydrochloric acid into you and then a soothing hot coal as a plaster on afterwards. Then off you run burning into the sunset.
The landscape has now changed into mass swamp lands, gone are the tobacco fields and little farms. Its now volcanic rock, rugged and impossible to cross, we are now on the most Western point and the massive reserve, a closed area, but our finish point. It’s going to take some negotiations to run through here, but we are not going to take the windscreen wiper finger as a no – we are going to argue our way in even if it means meeting the local committee or whatever we have to do.
Its taken a while, but managed to avoid having to call the main guy in Havana and the local official agreed to let us run the closed area as long as he was in the car with Pete. Its now over 70km to the light house at San Antonio and we have to do this all in one go. Yesterday was 62 km to the park area, now it’s a big push to the end. Its been 28 days of solid running with no rest day, we are now close to 1400km.
After a good fee to enhance the gentleman’s life and make sure that he can have a great new year. We are on our way. Running along the ocean for the first time since the start. The best of all there are no green jeeps with blue number plates looking over your shoulder. Massive wild iguanas, wild pigs and white tail buck. Cuban country side as it was. Massive impregnable mangrove swamps on the inland side.
We have noticed over the past week there has been quite a frantic painting job happening everywhere. Bridges have been slopped with a coat of green and normal whitewash paint. All the half dilapidated factories get a passing brush and then everyone paints the front of their home, this is all for the new year celebrations, I think this island is going to go off its face tonight with all the stocking of rum that we have seen going on.
Finally the lighthouse at San Antonio is in sight, peeping over the trees ahead. One can feel the emotions bubbling up. I looked at Andy, its been a long hard slog across Cuba and we have endured a lot stuck together and pulled each other through. That what these journeys are about, friendship and ultimately that realisation that the journey is bigger than the individuals, its success will be gauged by the difference that we make. Thanks to all of you out there supporting us, we have done it.
Exhausted, sore but full of smiles, its been a solid push of an average of 50 km every day, no rest day and then today we ended by running a 72 km hard push. To you guys at Cipla: thank you for believing in us and supporting us, to all of you thanks.
Day 19 & Thanks
I have for the first time had a few minutes to sit down in a little quiet space and reflect just a little, there is going to be a lot of this over the next few days. What a journey, what an experience, but none of this would have been possible without a few solid friends standing up and taking on the challenge with me.
Andrew Stuart – you are a special friend and never ever would you give up on anything no matter what, thank you for being there in those darker moments that only we know what we had to pull through.
Peter Kirk – Alias Sneek. Thanks for taking on the challenge with us and without you we would probably still be running, you have been a real friend and giving up your time to help make this journey a success.
Getting the footage to Greg Viljoen – from “Biggerthanme” who has helped behind the scene to get the story out to all on the social media from under the steel umbrella that covers Cuba.
We spent the past few weeks running in another man’s shoes and the experience has given us insight into the Cuban life. It’s a hard life, there is not much that one can reach out to, aspire to, in many ways there is no fuel to ignite a dream. Yet there is an air of acceptance and happiness amongst the visual despair and harshness of daily life, this is the ability to look past this and live life and appreciate what you have.