VIDEO ” target=”_hplink”>Michaela Guzy, on assignment to produce travel videos of our trip. Many sites are named after the Italian-borne explorer, as he landed here October 28, 1492. He first thought he had entered Asia's mainland, and was convinced that the name “Cuba,” which was what the aborigines called it, was the Indian name for Japan. Rather, it is a Taino word meaning “where fertile land is abundant.”
We drive five cool hours east to Santa Clara, the gay capital of Cuba, says José, who pays for our snacks with Cuban three dollar bills. It is also a wealthy city, which seems antithetical to the system, but money pours in from Cuban relatives in Miami, and tourism, which long ago passed sugar as the biggest generator of foreign exchange, and is making a significant difference.
Most everything is done in cash (no U.S. credit cards accepted yet), and José shares that if you see someone walking down the street hunched over from a sore back, it likely means he is rich because of the money stashed in his mattress. We park at the sprawling Hotel La Granjita, which, with its large aqua-blue pool surrounded by coconut palms and towels twisted like swans on the bungalow beds, seems like it better belongs in Cancun.
Here, beneath a canorous refrain of birdsong, we adjust and mount our steeds, Specialized Sirrus Comp Disc Carbon Hybrids with 20 gears. A banana-shaped and colored Adams Trail-a-Bike is attached to the back of mine, on which Jasper will ride. After a few spins around the parking lot we head off down the road, winding through chaotic traffic, over to Che Guevara's mausoleum. Che led the rebels in the battle of Santa Clara, a pivotal victory over Batista's army, which in turn led to the triumph of the Revolution, which in turn led to that moment in which the world was on the nuclear threshold.
It all had an aleatory beginning — when the young, privileged medical student Ernesto Guevara took a motorcycle trip through South America and was exposed to the widespread poverty, hunger and disease. He returned transformed, radicalized, compelled to change the world.
The rest is history.
Today, Cuba has weaved the rope of many small advantages: It has a literacy rate of 99.8 percent; the health system is among the world's best, and the country has a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S. And, they watch all the hot American T.V. shows, such as
Deadliest Catch, on pirated thumb drives.