I have been waiting for a rainy day to work on more posts. Needless to say, it’s been dry here in Georgia! Not a good thing for the farming life or for more posts from our March trip.
Last summer, someone asked us whether our farm was ‘sustainable.’ I wasn’t quite sure how to answer–sustainable monetarily? sustainable as far as producing what we need for day-to-day living? sustainable as far as environmental practices? sustainable concerning animal welfare? …so many ways to interpret that question!
The answer to any of those questions in Cuba is “yes!” The farms that we observed were small. Outside of the city, almost all homes had small gardens. All seemed to have a menagerie of animals about the property; oxen were common, but cows were not.
Late January 2016, we heard a cycling friend was putting together a trip to Cuba. His description was that ‘Cuba is different.’ Though we had never really considered visiting Cuba, we thought it would be an interesting adventure. The timing was right (early March), the weather would be warmer than Georgia, and it would be a chance to see Cuba before American tourism changed the scenery. We were also to be allowed to use “alternative transportation” (aka bicycles) on a few of the days; so that sounded like a good way to see the countryside and learn about the Cuban culture. We decided to sign-up and ended up being so glad that we did.
The trip was a people-to-people trip, planned to give us meaningful interaction with Cuban people. Our trip included a full schedule with visits to a tobacco farm, a cigar factory, Hemingway’s farm, a rum distillery, the beach, the Mural de la Prehistoria, the Vinales Valley, a cave that was one of Fidel’s hideouts during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Revolution Plaza, Old Havana, Morro Castle, an orchid garden, …..and I am sure that I am leaving something out! There was very little down-time–just a couple of afternoons. From what I have read, this is a typical schedule on people-to-people tours. Our guide, David (pronounced ‘Da-veed’), also took us to his grandmother’s home, where she was so welcoming. We only stayed long enough to meet her and some family members, but it was great! Later in the week, we stopped by the home of some of David’s relatives who lived in the country. David described their home as “humble,” but we thought it was wonderful; the setting was gorgeous and peaceful.
Rather than posting about our day-to-day adventures, I am going to focus these posts on topics related to the questions we have gotten since returning–old cars, food, farming, housing, historical/tourist sites, etc. My goal is to share some of the beauty that we encountered, so each post will include lots of pictures. Sorry that there has been such a delay in getting these posted!
At the time of our trip, only charter flights were going into Cuba from the U.S. We flew to Cancun, Mexico, met our travel group of twelve, then flew to Havana the next morning. Not only did we have the usual port-of-entry experience, we were also videotaped as we entered the airport. The airport is small, but modern. The first thing that seemed “out of the ordinary” was the parking lot. It was close to deserted!
Imagine if you put a cat in a paper bag, placed it close to your head, then tried to go to sleep. Rustling, flapping, beating…. That is what our night was like! The winds whipped the tent ALL….NIGHT…..LONG! And, we woke up to more cold temperatures. The CGY folks told us that the wind was predicted to remain fierce all day, with gusts to 50 mph. As I have said before, riding in the wind is no good. Cycle Greater Yellowstone knew that many riders were exhausted and would not want to attempt the last day in the high winds, so they arranged for transportation to Red Lodge for those wishing to forgo the day. We signed up!
We arrived in Red Lodge before our luggage, which allowed us time to walk around town and sight-see. After our luggage arrived, we loaded up our things and headed back toward Georgia. We took a cross-country route via US-14 Alternate through the Big Horn National Forest. It was a beautiful road and we recommend it if you happen to travel in that area.
After quite a bit of deliberation, we decided to ride out to the Buffalo Bill Dam. The route allowed us to ride on the old section of road below the dam that is no longer open to the public. Even though we really, really wanted to rest, we also hated to miss the opportunity to see the historic road. Long ago, this was the only route to the Yellowstone East Entrance.
The road below the dam is very steep (14% grade), but cool! The canyon walls are close together and the road hangs on the side of the canyon. The Buffalo Bill Dam, completed in 1910, provides electricity, along with water for irrigation, to the surrounding area. It was a remarkable engineering feat, particularly considering the methods used in 1910!
We woke to clear skies! No bears, but we spent a COLD night in the tent. We have good sleeping bags, but they were not enough. I ended up wrapping my feet in my down jacket, sleeping in all of my warm clothes including my beautiful orange neck gaiter/ear cover! The tent was coated in ice; the door-flap operated like a solid door. It would have been funny if we hadn’t been so darn cold.
Wow! So, today was our thirty-sixth wedding anniversary (and my youngest sister’s 50th birthday! Happy Birthday, Linda!). What did we do to celebrate? We got up BEFORE the crack of dawn to try to beat the snow predicted for Beartooth Pass. We left camp about 6:15 AM. Steve rides so much faster than I do, that we decided today we would ride separately, at our own pace. On most days, he would either ride at my pace or ride ahead and circle back. The great thing about rides like CGY is that everyone looks out for each other, so you are never really alone. Our CGY friends are the best! Plus, CGY has the best SAG (Support and Gear) ever and I am not kidding.
Cyclists were asked not to leave camp until 7:30 AM due in an effort to avoid congestion as vans carried workers to the Stillwater Mine. I LOVE a later start-time! Riders could take a longer route today, all the way to Nye, then back to Absarokee and on to Red Lodge. The ride to Nye was an out-and-back. We had heard that it was a beautiful ride and decided to do the full ride.
We stopped for a quick rest-stop in Fishtail, then headed to Nye; all uphill. There was a headwind for most of the morning which is never terribly fun. Headwinds make me have to pedal harder and I have more trouble relaxing to enjoy to surrounding beauty. We also had to contend with big, big trucks going to the mine. Thankfully, the trucks were informed of our presence and were courteous and usually gave us room on the road.
In Nye, our rest-stop was at their one-room school-house. We had the best cookies and lemonade from a sweet girl raising money for her 4-H club! The school has less than ten students and the teacher lives in a little house behind school. I cannot imagine what it would be like to teach in a school like this; it is still the frontier in this area of the country! (Notice the old merry-go-round in the school-yard.)
We arrived in Red Lodge late in the afternoon of the 15th, parked our car in long-term parking at the Red Lodge High School, and walked back to the park in the center of town where we were camping. On the way, we saw these two bucks sparing.
I am sure that you’ve wondered what happened to us! I have neglected this blog, partly trying to figure out how to write about our most recent adventure. In August, we cycled in Wyoming and Montana with Cycle Greater Yellowstone. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition organizes the tour as a fundraiser. Their mission is to protect the ecosystem surrounding Yellowstone National park to ensure its wildness for us and for future generations. They advertise the trip as “a wonderful and economical way to spend a rewarding week experiencing one of the most extraordinary landscapes on earth.” There is no question about the extraordinary landscapes, but the “rewarding”-part is what I have struggled to think about and explain.
We participated in Cycle Greater Yellowstone tour last year when it began on the western side of Yellowstone in Jackson Hole, WY. It was a hard ride, with a couple of days of really, really cold and nasty weather. The scenery was spectacular and we loved meeting the interesting people from all over the country. The ride was extremely well-organized, with great support, wonderful food, and nice overnight stops.