Cuba: A Land of Promises and Problems

Cuba: A Land of Promises and Problems

Only 10 minutes after giving the safety briefing, my motorcycle slipped on a piece of greasy road and I fell. Another 10 minutes after our guide told us the rain was gone for the day and we didn’t need rain gear, we were in a monsoon.

Near the end of the day, one of our riders was going 75 mph when he ran into a turkey vulture.

This was the first day of a planned eight-day ride around Cuba on rented BMW F 700 GS motorcycles. I had organized a group of six riders and one passenger, led by an able Cuban guide and followed by a chase vehicle carrying our luggage, spare tires and wheels, and—most importantly—gasoline.

Our plan was to make a 1,000-mile circle around central and western Cuba, taking in the gorgeous countryside alongside the cities of Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Remedios, Varadero, and Viñales. I’d visited Cuba in 2000 with my wife and two daughters and again in 2019, leading a Havana-based tour of Cuba’s vintage car culture.

I’d loved the people, the food, the music, the architecture, and the history.

I knew that the COVID pandemic and the continuing American embargo on the country had helped drive the economy down and that the Cuban people were experiencing serious difficulties. Indeed, we had come prepared to help.

Each of the riders had brought along supplies to distribute to people we met along the way. For the parents, we’d brought toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, Band-Aids, vitamins, powdered milk, and more. For the kids, we’d packed deflated soccer balls, yo-yos, and other toys.

The Miserables

I was still not prepared for the economic devastation. In Old Havana, the centuries-old part of the city with the highest concentration of tourists, I encountered beggars, panhandlers, shoeless children asking for money, and starving dogs and cats—none of which I’d seen on my earlier visits.

Motorcycle & Gear

BMW F 700 GS

Helmet: Bell MX-9 Adventure
Jacket & Pants: REV’IT! Cayenne 2
Boots: TCX Drifter WP
Gloves: REV’IT! Sand 4

On every block were touts calling: “Hey mister, where you from? You want change money, Cuban cigar, taxi, rum…”

To my astonishment, I was approached by a uniformed army officer and later a uniformed policeman. Both asked me to give them some money to buy food for their families.