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crossing cuba

When I finally drag myself away from the cooling waters of San Juan my next real destination is the Bahia de Conchinos, the infamous Bay of Pigs, but reaching the bay means heading east back through Havana and then crossing Cuba from the north coast to the south coast of the island. I don’t really want to spend the night in Havana so I aim to get to the other side of the city and hope that I can find somewhere suitable – preferably on a beach – to camp.

I reach the west side of Havana at about 5.30pm and there have clearly been recent heavy rains. The roads are awash with water and before long I am drenched by spray from passing traffic and my own wheels. The smell is vile.

I cross the bay on the ferry to Casablanca and start casing for a place to camp but it is not until it is almost completely dark that I find a suitable thicket of trees beside a road paralleling the freeway east of Havana. I put up my tent, strip off my stinking cloths and munch a few crackers and museli bars before falling asleep to the un-soothing music of freeway traffic.

I wake to find a disturbing infestation of wood lice in every crack and crevice of all my belongs. My hat, particularly, is full of them.

Poor little piggy! Beach-side cuisine: roast pork rolls are one of Cuban street food's better offerings.

A giant millipede - this thing is about 20 centimetres long. I spot it when I stop on the highway to buy some mangos from a house by the side of the road.

I ride along the coast to Vadadero, a tourist beach resort precinct that seems just too similar to Cancun for me to actually enter and continue riding towards Cardernas.

I find myself for a second night camped within metres of the freeway and this time there are no sheltering trees. There is only a dripping pipeline – radiating heat, that runs beside the road, to hide behind. I stop when it is dark and pitch my tent in the rain with mosquitoes whining thirstily around me. Car headlights play across my tent as I munch on dry crackers and museli bars. This is the camping low-light of my Cuba trip.

A day of riding on a tedious highway can be redeemed in an instant by ten minutes of glorious evening light. A double rainbow arches over the road and everything is transformed.

The following morning I swing away from the north coast and start to ride south across sugar cane fields and citrus orchards.

Riding across Cuba's flat agricultural centre I came across a wierd area criss-crossed by a regular gridwork of roads. Apartment blocks, apparently unused, are regularly placed on the grid. I stopped by for a closer look at this one and a woman caretaker instantly appears. She gives me some cold water but I can't glean adequately from her what the buildings are for or who, if anyone - apart from her, lives here.

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