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trouble in paradise

I strike out for Cayo Jutias, an island off the north-west coast accessible by a causeway, with high expectations. I have a copy of Lonely Planet’s Cycling Cuba and the beaches of Cayo Jutias are described in it as wild and pristine.

As I cross the causeway towards the island, thunder rumbles around me and a huge storm front hovers over head. I take the first turn off I can onto the beach and my immediate impression is favourable. Only a few people are visible in the distance, at the other end of the beach. Being – however reluctantly – of Australian origin, I am always vaguely affronted by the idea of having to share a beach with anyone at all.

Eventually I emerge from the sea and set about trying to find a suitable place to camp and, more importantly, something to eat but the sky opens and rain pours down. In an instant I am soaking wet and a stiff wind combines to make me quite chilly* so eventually I strip off again and return to the water, which is comfortably warm, under these circumstances, at around 32 degrees.

Thunderstorm skies. Moments later the cloud drops its burden of water and drenches me and my belongings completely.

As the rain eases a little, I decide to go on my way as it is getting quite late in the day. I return to the paved road and can see buildings and cars less than a kilometre away but things go suddenly awry. I am not really aware of any mishap before I find myself sliding down the road on the palms of my hands. As I come to a halt, I glance, first, at my hands and, second, at my bike which is some distance behind me. Both palms have deep gashes, with the left hand in a considerably worse state than the right, but the bike and my belongings appear unscathed. As I study my wounds I remember that, in my efforts to travel light in Cuba, I have left my first aid kit in Mexico; I have carried the damn thing over mountains for 16 000 kilometres without incident and now, when I finally need it, is not here.

I pick up the bike and gauge the depth of the water-filled pot hole the front wheel was swallowed up by with my foot – it’s deep – and, in reasonable pain, I make my way towards the buildings down the road.

The restaurant is full of people sheltering from the rain. I manoeuver my bike as best I can towards the verandah and display my bleeding hands to the a couple of bus drivers standing by the entrance. One looks queasily away but the other one hurriedly directs me to the bar where I again demonstrate, without the need for any words, my problem. A member of the staff rushes me to the dive centre where a man with a large bottle of iodine splashes it liberally over the wounds.

Once treated I return to the verandah restaurant and sit shivering in my wet clothes. A loud group of young drunken Americans stumble about trying to organise themselves to get back on their tour bus. I strike up a conversation with an Italian couple as gradually the crowd things.

I am very hungry but the restaurant has, apparently already closed. I explain to the men behind the bar counting the days takings that I was intending to camp here and have nothing of substance with me to eat. The security man takes pity on my plight and offers me a plate of chicken, rice and beans for 4 CUC. I realise later that he has probably sold me his own dinner.

Ouch! That hurts.

Once fed, I feel considerably better although I am still in pain and the site of my injuries make doing anything much quite problematic. The two security guards responsible for the area hover around me but their intentions seem more sleazy than solicitous. Eventually, as the day tourists disappear one by one, I go to change into some dry clothes. I am relieved when I return to the bar to find a couple sitting at one of the table, and delighted when I spy their matching handle bar bags.

“Cyclists?”

“Yes!”

“Are you staying the night?”

“Yes.”

We pitch our tents on the sand amongst the white plastic lounges and piles of litter left by the day tourists. As a the sun sets a family of pigs appears trotting down the beach and clouds of mosquitoes and sand-flies swarm around us along with the increasingly drunk security guards. We are somewhat unimpressed with our tropical seaside idyll and after a brief shared meal of tinned tuna, avocado and bread we take refuge in our tents.

Tropical sunset. Who believes that pictures don't lie? Looks like paradise, doesn't it, but there are clouds of sand-flies and mosquitoes to contend with, not to mention a team of sleazy security guards to fend off.

Dawn also looks good...

... until it reveals the litter left by yesterday's beach lovers. A family of pigs appears to function as the only beach cleaning device.

* This is the only time I am remotely cold in a month of travelling in Cuba.

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