March 19 2015
Moped to Chiverico (Chee-ver-eeko). Along the winding Route 20 West from the resort, the tarmac reflects the afternoon sun’s heat. On one side, dry farmland reaches out to the sea. On the other, tiny homes, some of weathered mahaogany boards and Indian-style thatched palm roofs seperate the view from the Sierras to the North. The wind at our back helps my first time on a moped – ever. The instruction consisted of how to turn it on and off, and where the gas goes; they gave me a litre to start and told me I had to fill it up in town, 20 minutes away. Three minutes into the trip I notice my speedometer doesn’t work.
Along the road I pass locals on horses, horse and carts, bicycles, and on foot. Cars are sparse. Cubans wait every kilometer or so at the side of the road for “local taxis’, large diesel trucks or old pickups, and stand in them peering out their slit windows or sit on tailgates and sides unrestricted by safety. Occasionaly a truck stops ahead unloading its human cargo and spewing diesel, or worse, a mixture of gas and diesel that smells like kerosene and chokes my throat. I am learning to use my mirrors as the trucks have loud agrressive horns. Lynda hangs on tightly.
The sea closes in on the winding road now, around bends that reveal the stunning coastline: rocky inlets, small bays, and green seas. The Sierras loom closer, occasionally touching the road, their heavy rocks dotting the gravel road side.
I spot the gas station in Chiverico, not easy to see from the road. We turn in. The street is jagged stone with dips and holes and we come to a bumpy stop. I need the attendant to put down the kickstand. Four litres and a few pesos and, struggling to turn around, we’re back over the rocky path towards the centre of town.
Chiverico’s main street is a hundred yards from the sea. On the North side the small bright-white stucco buildings reveal a bank, a cinema, and an office of the communist party, with several restaurants like Mariposa (butterfly) – found in all towns. On the South side there is a public square and a bar, cafe, and food-stands that accept the CUC peso – the tourist dollar. Cuba is a country of two currencies. The CUC (locals call it ‘Kook’) is connected to the American dollar value and used by tourists. The national currency is what Cubans use. Their peso is worth a fraction of the CUC peso – something like 15 to 1.
Local taxis in Chiverico are horse-drawn carts with benches. They costs one national peso. There doesn´t appear to be regular stops and they fill the street, weaving in and out of pedestrians and trucks alike. Tourists aren’t regular in Cheverico. It’s not high season and we are stared at – local entertainment. It takes minutes to go through the main street and out of town so we turn back, take a left turn, and enter the back streets. The tiny houses sit on dirt roads, or worse, the rocky, bumpy streets when there are streets. We drive slowly, weaving side to side and balance uneasily. A youth is getting a haircut in a barber chair in the open air out front of a house. Children in school uniforms are everywhere. Locals sweep dropped leaves from their dirt yards. A larger street is busy with truck taxis and we pass the school letting out. Around a corner we discover concrete apartment blocks. These Russian-era fortresses are in all the larger towns and cities. Most have some kind of decorative form, wasted though in their obstruction of the landscape – they stick out coldly. We spend minutes here and circle back to the main road. That is Cheverico.
Back on the highway East, we laugh at the pigs, goats, chickens, and the dogs that cross in front – amusing and trecherous. The pigs look wild but locals call them ‘shiny’ pigs. There are two kinds of pigs in Cuba: shiny pigs, and Canadian pigs, the pink ones that are imported for tourists. There are Canadian and Cuban chickens too. Local animals are free range and without hormones. The animals are let out to roam the countryside in the morning and gathered by the farmers at night. I can’t figure out how you would know your shiny pig from your neighbour’s.
Picking up speed the wind presses against me. Air conditioning. I don’t tell Lynda but I get the bike up to full throttle on the straight-aways. I have a Monkeys song in my head. It seems appropriate – from one of those fun 60’s movies. The film I think has them riding mopeds…I don’t know the words – just the hook… “I’m a believer.”