Fin and MechanicO: Last Boat To Cuba

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by FinTec, Feb 27, 2021.

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  1. FinTec

    FinTec Been here awhile Supporter

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    **** NOTE: please excuse all the spelling and grammar issues in the next three posts. Due to limited internet time I have to write fast. Will return to these and fix up when can. As you were. *****

    For those who like to see the unique documents one needs on a trip, here is the driving licence I was issued in Cienfuegos. Amit said he overheard the officials say something about our licenece is special and gives us certain “powers” or capacities. No idea what it means, but as we will find out it does seem to work with the police. Man, I hope I get to be able to keep this at least.

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    Spent the day walking around Havana and I realized I was taking for granted the fact that 70%+ of the cars are from the 50’s and sooner. So going to try and get more of these as I can.

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    This guy below was obviously toting around a newly married couple. But in order to make sure you knew this, he was not just tooting the horn now and then, no, this guy had actually, from what I can tell, taped the horn button down as it was just a steady, continues, and obnoxious blare. Full Doppler effect as he drove by. And the procession of cars behind where doing a similar thing. Maybe the new bride and groom had ear plugs in? Cool car but glad it moved on…..so I thought.

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    More cars in action. Watched as this beauty roared past this taxi van, block his way, got out and then had some very choice words with the taxi driver. In the picture you can just see the driver pointing at the taxi driver. VERY fast and load Spanish spoken but no fist to cuffs. It actually seemed the taxi driver relented and all was good.

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    And of course my favorite, the 55' Chevy. This was easy for me to spot as this was my fist car back in the 80’s. And here in Cuba they are everywhere. However, one thing to note, most of these older cars are no longer running the stock gas motor. As I understand it, the vast majority have been converted to Russian or Chinese diesel engines. Sure enough, when they drove by, they sounded like a small Dodge diesel truck to me. I tried getting a picture of the engine bay, but the owners could not be found. Will try my best later in this trip to get at least one shot as I am a motor guy.

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    Then my next favorite car in Cuba, the infamous Russian Lada! These guys are everywhere in Cuba. I do not know my Lada history (please chime in if you do) but I would think these came into Cuba during the hay-day of Soviet times in Russia. But when the Sovient Union collapsed, I am guessing the import of these Lada’s also stopped? The Lada seems to be built like most 80’s car to me. Boxy and mega plastic insides. But the plastic back then was just not as good and as cross-linked as now, so it is deformed and cracked. So 80’s! Can anyone give us the history of the Lada in Cuba?

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    Owner of the Lada.


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    Lot’s of these two cylinder, two stroke “Jawa” motorcycles with a side car in Havana. They are used as MotoTaxis all over town. Just look for the oil smoke plume, and you have yourself a ride.

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    I am maybe 1.5 to 2 hours into my walk of Havana when off the distance I hear something. I think “I know that horn”, and sure enough around a corner comes the same wedding procession with the same car and the same taped down, never ending horn. So they had been at this for maybe 2 hours? When does the bride and groom say enough! If this is true, then ALL of Havana and maybe parts outside of town, are fully aware they are married. Maybe they should do this for divorces as well?

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  2. FinTec

    FinTec Been here awhile Supporter

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    Let’s look at some of the buildings of Havana. As you will see, these are some incredible structures that just ooze history and stories. However, massive neglect has paid its toll. Some are being brought back to their original condition and glory apparently with government help. Some are being held together with bailing wire and tape. And others have just been give up on and are midway to falling down. However, a book cannot be judged by its cover. Sometimes the outside looks absolutely bombed out, but you go inside and it is beautiful and even modern. My Casa Particular is a great example of this. Pictures to come.


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    This was interesting, a bunch of motorcycle cops drive by, stop, tell traffic to stop and pull over. Then this procession of trucks drives by, cops get back on their bikes and go. A moving road block. No idea what the trucks had for cargo? Hmmm, perhaps “long, pointy” things “barrowed” from Russia on way to new location? Hmmm, eh, hmmm.

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    Here a classic example of the decay occurring. This is a shot of the capitol in the background. The condition of the road and sidewalk here is representative of a lot of the sidewalks. Of note, I saw a lot of people on the side streets, walking down the middle of the road and could not understand why when there is a sidewalk there? Come to find out the locals consider using certain sidewalks as dangerous as the adjoining building is falling apart and you are at risk of concrete chucks falling on you. I started walking down the middle of streets.

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    One night I decided to go out and find some dinner. So here is the deal, food is indeed scarce in Cuba. I say this, but also note I never saw anyone hungry and everyone looked well fed. But at the end of the day, food is a challenge to get and you see lots of lines for food distribution from the government in town and cities. Then add that Cuban is currently in a Covid lock-down, lots of restaurants and bars are just closed. Bottom line, you will not starve in Cuba, but get ready to have some very limited options. Again, this is just at the time of this report.

    I start walking the streets looking for some take out. And walking, and walking….the only thing I found was a pizza shop. OK, I like pizza, let’s do this. If you are a Monty Python fan then this pizza shop reminded me of the “Cheese Shop” sketch with John Cleese and Michael Pallin. I walk up to the counter and see absolutely no pizza. Or anything that resembles food. I step back, yep, they are open. I ask the counter guy if I can get a sausage pizza. No senior we do not have. How about a pepperoni pizza? No senior, we do not have. I almost said “This is a pizza shop, right?” in my best Cleese voice. Eventually I said I’ll take what you got. He walks in back and returns with a cheese only pizza on a piece of card board. As you can see in the picture the cost was $30 CUP, or maybe $.80US. I could not complain. Or could I? By far the worst pizza ever made. At one point, I thought of trying the cardboard it came on. Lesson learned, I will not be visiting this pizza shop again.

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    I think it is important to bring up certain items that are not all smiles and hugs in a trip. I want to try to show some of the times I am not exactly in my best moment. Part of travel. Well, the first time I met my Casa hosts this was one of those moments. When I left Cienfuegos I had been basically in sensory deprivation for almost 9 days. Then I hop on my bike and bang out a 3 hour ride straight into the heart of the capitol and largest city in Cuba. As I followed my GPS to the address (thank the stars for GPS, streets and buildings are NOT clearly marked) I pull up to what the GPS says is the address, park, get off MechanicO, and just about lose my shit. All around me are people, lots of people, lots of people staring at me and speaking in a language I can’t understand. All the buildings around me come across as bombed out. The sun is dropping. I had no way of letting my hosts know I was there and I needed them to open the casa for me. The fact I am VERY far from home, with no safety net, becomes VERY clear and overwhelms me. I start standing as close to MechanicO as I can as he is the only thing that represents home to me. At the lowest point, I had a flash of jumping on MO, rip out of town, find a tree outside of town and just set-up a camp. One mantra I try to tell myself in these situations is “I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable”. If I keep saying that over and over, I can usually reel it in. Then it happened, my hosts pull up on a scooter as they had been tipped off of the "gringo with a huge motorcycle" by the neighbors. They introduce themselves, Ana and Jean. Instantly my uncomfortableness falls away as I have friends now. I had been texting with Ana since Colorado and she has been awesome. And now here she was. This is Ana and Jean.

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    The best dang hosts in Havana. Their Casa Particular is on AirB&B and is called “HavavaChic”. Here are some shots of the unit from their website. Price was $19US/night.

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    Highly recommend these guys. They are there to make it easy for you. They changed some money for me, I ordered a few meals from them (all delicious), and they even found me some Salsa lessons. There was no F’ing way I was coming to Havana and not taking a Salsa class. By the way, they call it "Casino" here and consider it better than just plain old Salsa. I was only able to take two, one hour classes but that was perfect. The main instructor was Sixto and his female assistant was Yalena. We met them at, again, what looks like a bomber out building, but inside it was beautiful with white marble floors and walls. We went upstairs where there was a big room for the lesson. Perfect.

    Sixto and Yalena

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    Sixto spoke Spanish and French. I spoke English and Bullshit. We’ll make this work. Actually Yalena spoke some English so was able to translate. Bottom line great lesson but I still need a LOT of work. Hopefull next town I can find another lesson. My nick-name in college was “twinkle toes” but funny enough not for dancing? Have some video but no way I can upload right now. Strong internet access is a HUGE challenge here.

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    2nd night finding dinner went much better. Found this place that was doing take out chicken and rice. Price came out to $3US. I ordered two dinners. Typical of a lot of the Cubans I have met, highly educated guy running the place. Knew a good amount of English and apparently was also studying Russian. Here is an attempt at a picture of their menu.

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    And a story to go with this picture later! But running out of internet time.

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    Time to leave Havana. My hosts come over to see me off. Man, they really were my guardian angles for my first few days alone in Cuba. I cannot thank them enough.

    So where was mechanic during all this? Ha, he was hanging out with his own Cuban family across the street. Ana had worked out a deal to allow me to park MO at their place. And when I say their place, I literally mean their living room. We wheeled him in that first night into their front room. There he stayed until 3 days later I come to take him out. The cost was $10US total. I gave them $15US. To have my amigo safe was priceless. Apparently the neighbors said they had a string of people from the neighborhood to come by and see el grande motocicleta at their house. He was the star of the block for three days. Only issue was he was now far better at Spanish then I. And he was being a dick about it.

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    As I am packing MO on the street a crowd started forming to watch the “launch” of such a large motorcycle. I tried to get a shot of the crowd but they were 360 degrees around me.

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    Finally road out of town heading for Vinales, West of Havana. But of course I would have my second encounter with policia in two days. Arg.
  3. Davidprej

    Davidprej Davidprej Supporter

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    Many people think the fact that only pre-1960 cars are available in Cuba has something to do with U.S. import restrictions. No, it's purely a Cuban import restriction as they didn't even allow Japanese, European, etc. imports -https://www.dw.com/en/cuba-to-lift-restrictions-on-car-imports/a-17312486

    I'm not an expert on this topic, so if I'm missing something, please correct me.
    bajaburro likes this.
  4. spuh

    spuh Long timer Supporter

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    Those Ladas were a "continuation special" of the FIAT 124 from the '60's. The Italian governments were very left leaning and supported FIAT heavily so FIAT retired that model to the Soviet Union. Lada replaced the marvellous Lampredi engines with home grown lumps which proved much more durable and field maintainable albeit less entertaining. Akin to replacing a Laverda triple with that Dutch diesel that powers today's military KLR. Or replacing a small block Chevy with a Soviet diesel. In other words, just the thing to keep 'em running during a never ending embargo. I'm impressed with the wheels on the old Detroit iron; did these get imported from some Warsaw Pact country or are they made in Cuba?

    They don't seem to show the same care for the bikes. At least that Jawa. I expect you'll find some MZs smoking up the skies too. And I do hope you'll come across some Harleyistas.

    That licence looks more like a bike document; does it license you too or do you use an international licence in Cuba?

    Looking forward to tomorrow's missive.
  5. FinTec

    FinTec Been here awhile Supporter

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    As I leave Havana I see a brother of MechanicO’s. This bike looked like it was once a pedal bike, converted to a motorcycle, then converted back to a pedal bike, then in an accident, then back to a scooter. This shot came out bad due to facing sun.

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    One thing the Cuban have over us are these excellent stop lights. They come with a count down clock. As you sit at a red light it tells you how long it has left as red. Same for yellow and green. Very cool.

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    Unfortunate no picture of this, but I had second encounter with police in Cuban. I was taking this big boulevard out of town when at a stop light a female police office comes out of her booth at the intersection and points a clip board at me and motions to pull it over. I am thinking, rather odd way to ask me out for a date, but I do like a beautiful women in uniform. And she was both. Well, not the case with the date hope. Apparently they have roads in Cuba motorcycles are not allowed on. No idea why as my motor is probably bigger than 60% of the cars on that road. She looked at all my documents and I could tell she was contemplating what do do. So played the stupid non-Spanish speaking tourista. I almost pulled out the classic ADVrider sanctioned “no fumar espanol” but did not need it. Eventually she just motioned to get out of here and take the side roads. Wish I had a picture.

    About 20 miuntes out of town I see this entrance to what looks like a beach resort. But I could see it was not operating. Time to check it out as I do enjoy some urban exploring. If I had to guess, I would say it is a Soviet era beach resort and after the collapse, it was abandoned. Here is the entrance and main building.

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    View from top floor

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    Even what looks like a go-kart track

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    But now all forgotten and crumbling. Kinda of sad to see but interesting to explore.

    Favor, can any of you guys tell me this or look it up, what is the equivelant octane in Cuba for gasoline compared to US? They has “Especial” at what they call 94 octane. And “Regular” at I think it was listed as 83 octane. I have been using Especial as much as possible. Anyone know? And here is your pricing if interested, $9CUP per liter. I think that translates to about $3/gallon depending on what you use for US dollar to CUP conversion.

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    Had an excellent ride to Vinales as I made what would have been a 3 hour ride on a highway into a 6 hour ride taking every mountain back road I could find. Here is the first spot of the mountains in front of me. So excited to get out of the flats!

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    I was trying to find some off-road and I picked what I thought might be a good one on GPS. It brought me here.
    That is a road behind MechanicO apparently. No, not doing it.

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    Found some Cuban murals

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    As I got closer to Vinales the mountains got taller and more pronounced

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    I am going to attempt to describe the conditions of the side roads here. They are just plain bad. Real bad. Probably poured back in the 80’s and then never touched again. Let me put it this way, MechanicO has what I think is a state of the art suspension: modified WP 4860 front forks at full 11.8in of travel. Tractive Extreme rear shock with a perfect spring for MO when loaded. Woodies wheels, etc. Built for battle. I needed ever inch of that travel to survive these roads. I had a few “this is going to hurt” moments as I came upon potholes that we would consider a kiddy pool if they had been filled with water. The only way the other cars on the road survive is to go about 8 mph and weave in and out of these land mines. MechanicO does not go 8 mph so there you go. Here is my best shot showing one of the main intersections I came across off the beaten path. This was one of the better ones.

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    Needed a break so pulled into this road side stand. Asked the lady if she had anything to eat suspecting the “cheese shop” scenario again. She says one word, “Pan”. OK, can see pan? She brings out a loaf of bread. That is it, not a slice, no condiments, nothing else available. I thank her and decline. I see she also has juice so I order one to go with my granola bar from the states (gold right now). So there I was sipping on a kids juice box through the tiny straw like an 8 year trying to look like the tough traveler.

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    Through out the day I hit three Covid check points. I had heard rumor that the Vinales valley was locked down but figured I would go for it. Two of the check points just asked me a few questions and let me though. One did turn me around as it was a little back road into a small town. OK.

    This one let me through after they checked my temeperture and asked my age. WTF?

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    This one just said I need to turn around. Yes ma'am.

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    But as luck would have it, I rolled into Vinales right when I told the hosts I would be there, about 4pm. And this place, and people, are amazing.
  6. ROAD DAMAGE

    ROAD DAMAGE Long timer Supporter

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    GREAT STUFF Fin !!!! :thumb
    Loving it .................................. THANK YOU!
  7. Pete_Tallahassee

    Pete_Tallahassee Grampy Supporter

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    Thanks for the effort Fin. Very educational.
  8. Hill Climber

    Hill Climber Long timer

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    I'm following 3 Cuba RR's and I have to say, Cuba is an Adventure!! The unknowns and uncertainties are what makes stories for the ages! If you ever get a chance to purchase some jam, you'll be set for the next time you'e offered "pan" for take-out.
  9. WeazyBuddha

    WeazyBuddha Carbon-Based Humanoid

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    Re: Viñales

    There is a documentary on Amazon called Campesino about that way of life in that town. It's really good. Might want to check it out when you are back in the states. One of the characters is Juan who works at the museum. The film follows an amateur photographer named Carl who has been travelling to Viñales for 15 years and has known Juan all those years.
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  10. mpusms

    mpusms Been here awhile Supporter

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    Perfect attitude “I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable”. Curious how you’re finding the casa particulares, would they be willing to allow pics w/out masks? You’re close to my dads side of the family Pinar Del Río. Try “guarapo” (sugar cane juice) if you can. Best of luck thx for update and pics.
  11. Graniteone

    Graniteone 3,2,1...Beer me! Supporter

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    Good stuff Fin! Wish I was there with you. Looking forward to more.
  12. RhinoVonHawkrider

    RhinoVonHawkrider Long timer

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    Some years back in Car & Driver magazine a writer was describing flying over Afghanistan during USSR occupation and seeing large fires every so often, he suspected the following;

    Lada's had rear ended Ford Pintos...I still laugh at this.

    Stay safe Fin
    Red J and glittleman like this.
  13. Bobbrecken

    Bobbrecken Been here awhile

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    Ladas were upscale as
    it was the Yugo that said you had hit rock bottom.
  14. yamalama

    yamalama wet coaster

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    awesome adventure.
    thanks for the insightful commentary.
  15. Ozyscott

    Ozyscott n00b

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    Looks like you are having a great time, great interview. Keep it going. Wish I could be there with you.
  16. squadraquota

    squadraquota mostly harmless

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    those Lada factories were huge...if you add the fiat and lada production volumes, this is one of the most produced cars in history.
    Never knew there was a diesel klr. What do you mean by Dutch? Is that an expression in US English? Anyway there is a Dutch diesel powered bike, the Track. Actually a Smart (Mercedes) engine, with KTM 990 forks and a beemer rear end. Only the cvt transmission is Dutch…
    You could argue it’s kind of Cuban engineering to create something like that...:D


    Great adventure you are having Fin, tnx for taking us along!
  17. chilejack

    chilejack Viajero Viejo

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    squadraquota likes this.
  18. PukaWai

    PukaWai Long timer

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    Great report, keep it coming! Would have thought that uploading pictures would have been too much for local internet.
    Had no idea it was so difficult to find food there. Aren't there any coconut trees around?

    Could not find anything on Cuban octane ratings. AFAIK, for numbers posted on pumps, there are only two systems: RON as used in Europe (and the rest of the world), and of course the oddball US system and there is no "formula" for conversion. But you can find tables listing equivalent numbers for commonly found gas:

    USA Europe
    87 = 91
    89 = 93
    91 = 95
    93 = 98

    I would guess they are using the US system as under the European system 83 would be impossibly low.
    Adjust the valve timing some and it might even run without spark plugs:D
    Surcease likes this.
  19. Surcease

    Surcease Fng

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    Your last few posts where a slice of fried gold. I'm really enjoying your perspective and report style.
  20. dano619

    dano619 Long timer Supporter

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    This is good stuff Fin!! Thanks!!