“De nada, de nada”
by Donald

I have just returned from my week-long family vacation in Cuba, having transported and left four bikes there – three racing bikes for Bikes for Cuba and one of my own bikes for a Cuban health care worker. The easy part was landing at the airport, getting to the hotel by tour bus, and handing the three bikes to the women from the Banes youth racing club. The hard part was the ride on my own bike over the hills south of the resort a few days later!

Lift Off!

Though my two kids are only ten and eight years old, we were each able to transport a bike from Toronto to Holguin. Jeff Reid from Bikes for Cuba met us at the Sunwing departure desk at Pearson Airport (at 5:00am!) shook my hand in thanks, and handed me $90 cash to pay for the sporting good fee from the airline. Jeff said with the three bikes we were transporting made it over 20 used bikes brought to Cuba by goodwill tourists so far, in just 12 months.

Bikes for Cuba’s Jeff Reid

I paid the $30.00 for my mountain bike. The ticket agent took our suitcases, weighed the bike boxes (20 kilos max) and tagged them for transport. We were then pointed to the special baggage counter, where we unloaded the boxes from the baggage cart and placed them in a supersized x-ray machine. Despite the pumps, tools, racing shirts and spare tires inside each box, the x-ray attendant didn’t flinch and wished the four of us a good flight.

Our Arrival

This was of course the most “nervy” step for us, arriving in this beautiful country known for secret police and intense border checks – but any butterflies were completely unfounded. We passed through Cuba’s soviet-style passport and face check, then another search and x-ray of our carry-on bags. Mostly unknown to Canadian travellers is the fact that Cuba is on constant high alert for terrorist attacks from the US. American funded terrorists have caused the death of over 3000 Cubans and tens of thousands of swine over the past 50 years. Just smile like the sweet, innocent, peace-loving Canadian you are, and everything will be just fine – and please ignore the missiles pointed at your plane as you land, and the frequent sounds of take offs and landings of MIG fighter jets. They are just Cuban national security measures in action.

As we waited for our bags (our second suitcase was full of baseball mitts, Lego, grade school supplies, toothpaste and Tshirts) we could see through spaces in the wall they were x-raying and examining suitcase #2 with interest. Suitcase #1 came out first, then two bike boxes. As soon as I touched the bike boxes a Cuban man in a brown uniform approached me with a baggage carriage, elbowing me out of the way insisting that he do the heavy lifting. Moments later the other two bike boxes arrived and he loaded those two on too. A passing experienced Canadian traveller – knowing that Canadian tourists always bring lots of “swag” – said to me: “Boy, you must have a lot of friends in Cuba!” Not wanting to let on about anything, I replied “No, we’re here for a family cycling trip.”

Mitzi and her friends took three bikes with them on holiday to Cuba

The last suitcase arrived (still locked tight) and we placed it with the other bag on a second cart. I went with the bikes through the last checkpoint exiting the terminal. My wife behind me reported that one Cuban guard with rubber gloves put his hands on our suitcase full of friendship swag, squeezed it, and looked at the other Cuban guard inquisitively (who must have come out from the special x-ray room). The other said one word to him: “food”. This must be code for “swag for Cuban amigos” because he lifted his hands off the bag and waved my wife through. Again, absolutely no interest in the bikes.

On the Bus

In the parking lot, Sunwing reps directed us to the right tour bus to the resort. The bus driver asked me to put the bikes to the side and wait for all the bags (and baby strollers of all shapes and sizes) to be loaded first. The Sunwing rep explained that if the bus bay was full I would have to make arrangements for a taxi to transport the boxes to the resort. This would have cost me about $50 (which Bikes for Cuba would have undoubtedly reimbursed me 2/3rds) but in the end there was lots of space, as the four bikes fit easily one on top of another underneath. As the bay doors were closed, I hopped on the bus, and we were on our way – past the mandatory view of the Holguin memorial to Che Guevara – and along the 50 kilometres of smooth road to Playa Pesquero near Guardalavaca.

The Avillas picking up the bikes with the help of a friend and a truck

At the Hotel

Hotel staff greeted the bus, and very quickly took each passenger and their baggage to their respective rooms after check in. We loaded the four boxes on a golf cart and were driven to our room. Along the way I explained to the driver that one bike was for me to ride, and the other three were for a youth racing club in Banes. He immediately said that I should not be bothered to store them in my room, and should put them in a special room near the front desk for easy pick up. I agreed, dropped off my family, and accompanied him back to the lobby. We stored the bikes, gave me tickets to prove ownership, then drove me back to my room.

Bye Bye Racing Bikes

As soon as I got back to the room, the phone rang. The operator ask me if I was “Donald with the bikes for Banes”. Saying yes, she explained that a man had called and would call back to arrange pick up the next day. Surely enough about half an hour later he called back, and in perfect English said that Ms. Avilla and her cousin would be there at 10am the next morning to get the bikes. How will I recognize them? I asked. He replied “Well they are both very beautiful”. I said “That doesn’t help me, all Cuban women (and men) are beautiful!” He reassured me saying “They’ll be wearing cycling apparel.”

All loaded and ready to go!

The next morning around 9:30am the phone rang, and the operator said Ms. Avilla was there for the bikes. I went to the storage, got the bikes, and their driver helped me load them onto the Toyota pick-up. I took a few photos, and gave them as well my 10lbs of Lego for the “youths” (forgetfully thinking they could play with it during the winter when there was no cycling!). I also had two new racing shirts from a friend’s cancer research fundraiser, and a cell phone that I no longer used. What the heck, I handed them the empty suitcase too, figuring the club could use it to travel to races.

They thanked me very much, to which I responded “de nada, de nada” and “Viva Cuba! – Viva Canada! – Viva Jeff Reid” and waved good bye as they drove out through the gates of the resort. Time for a tasty Cuban espresso and an nice big Cuban cigar for my troubles! But really, it was nothing.

Donald Wiedman
Toronto, ON

Bye bye racing bikes, off on the road to Banes

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