While Havana is seeing an influx of travelers, the island's rural areas remain virtually untouched by outsiders. Curious about the backcountry, Daniel Golden, the founder of technical cycling and sportswear brand Search and State, grabbed a few friends and headed south for a biking tour.
So, what brought you to Cuba?
Cuba has been a place of mystery and intrigue for me for a long time, so when the opportunity came up to explore the backcountry with a few friends and do some Search and State product testing, it was easy to say yes.
What was the best tip you got before you left?
My friend who was also going said, "be understanding of the fact that resources will be limited." That was true indeed, but going in knowing I might struggle a bit took some of the edge off. And, it meant a few extra energy bars went in my pack.
How did you get there?
JetBlue flies to Camaguey, a great jumping-off point for getting out of the city and into the bush. It was quite easy. After that things got trickier — we had to consider bike logistics and find people to facilitate getting us to our starting point. A good taxi driver is key, and some Spanish was definitely necessary. We downloaded maps and satellite images for the backcountry, which at times was desolate and disorienting.
We rode 50-75 miles per day on some beautiful but challenging roads. There was definitely some bush-whacking in order for us to connect to better paths. After Camaguey, we rode south of Florida to San Geronimo to San Antonio to Baragua to Venezuela to Santa Rosa and then north to Sancti Dispiritus and took some spontaneous detours in between. We camped in San Antonio and in any other field we found along the way.
What did you know by the last day that you wish you had known on the first?
To bring a water purifier and an extra water bottle in my pack. Resources were scarce and clean water is a constant necessity when riding 50- miles per day in the Caribbean.
This was especially great:
Meeting the locals was a highlight for sure. They were welcoming, curious, and very surprised to see us. We had a great time mixing things up with the people we met.
But this wasn't:
A few less mosquitos at sunset would have been nice, but otherwise I had no real complaints. It is truly an exceptional experience to be in the remote areas of Cuba.
This was touristy and worth it:
We were pretty much the only tourists around for days. It's still Cuba, and this was not Havana. Now is the time to go.
What's the local speciality?
The contagious Cuban spirit. Music is everywhere, all day and all night. They are vibrant people.
Speed round of favorites
1. Meal: By far, a home-cooked meal from a family in Baragua — just rice, beans, and egg. We came into town busted and they took us in and cooked. It was so good.
2. Neighborhoods to explore? Camaguey and Sancti di Spiritus were the only real towns we visited and both are worth a trip for the architecture, colors, and locals.
3. Thing you did: San Antonio was barely a town, but they had a Saturday night fiesta that rivaled any I have seen in terms of intensity and sheer joy. Those people know how to party.
One place you didn't get to visit, but wanted to:
If I'd had more time, I would have ridden across the entire country. There are mountain ranges and jungles I didn't have time to see. You need about a month to ride the entire island.
Lots of them. Cuba as a whole is surprising. I was surprised by how amazing the people were and how beautiful the countryside is. I was definitely surprised by the limited resources, but we managed without too many problems.
You can't stop thinking about:
The backroads and the people. And that party in San Antonio.
An Instagram moment:
There were many, but any shots of the locals out doing their thing is worth sharing.
What's the #1 tip you'd give a friend who wanted to go?
If you are going to the backcountry, bring a water purifier. And make sure to explore and talk to the locals. They are awesome. The whole place is awesome.