The penultimate End to End day, so I was keen to get on with it. I was out before sun-up, my bike twinklingy under-illuminated by three-euro mini-LED lights, picked up from an Albert Heijn in Amsterdam historically, and recently rediscovered in my tool bag.
It was quite special to be sliding silently through the quiet edge of town, past wooden villas with veranda lights still on, a few people inside blearily making breakfast, or standing around outside waiting for buses or lifts.
By the time I was back on the Carretera Central it was light. I whizzed along, enjoying the imperative and the decisiveness and clarity of it all: San Juan tonight; La Fe – my End to End Endpoint – tomorrow.
I stopped for refrescos here and there and had a nice hamburguesa at a stall where the owner clearly had the right skills for the new economy: she was smiley, quick serving, chatty with the regulars, multitasking, and in good-natured control. I hurtled to, and through (pic), and past, the biggish town of Pinar del Río, chatting briefly with a local cyclist who is a fan of Bradley Wiggins.
This was tobacco country. The farms and villages and houses, worn but comfy-looking like old pairs of shoes, made a picturesque background for easy cycling: friendly and green, quiet but not empty.
I got to San Juan y Martinez (pic) by half ten, too early really, but I didn’t fancy another 50km to Sandino in the afternoon heat. And time isn’t an issue: my flight back home is a fortnight away. So – after a false start with a guy who tried to cycle me way out of town to ‘his’ casa – I got myself a ‘Cubans-only’ room through a man I met at the ice cream stall.
It was a grim shabby box with no toilet paper, and I was gently fleeced for the foreigners’ rate of $20 (Cubans would pay 20 pesos). But it was the literal price to pay for staying off the beaten track, it was big enough for me and my bike, it was right in the centre of town (pic), had very welcome aircon, and there was a just-about-lockable door.
Beyond two colourfully colonnaded shopping streets (pic), San Juan was short of selfie opportunities. But it was an amiable enough backwoods Cuban town with plenty of peso stalls catering for the locals out on their evening stroll, and for hungry, thirsty, budget-conscious cycle-tourists. I was able to spin the evening out with fresh fruit juices, pizzas, pork rolls and milk shakes.
Now and then I would get approached by a tout, who would get shooed away by a local, who would then apologise to me and insist Cubans are not all like that, but it was amusing rather than threatening.
By gum, though, I’ll be pleased to get to La Fe tomorrow.
Miles today: 48
Miles since Baracoa: 1084