Off the Tourist Trail in Cuba

It’s been like this for the past 56 years, you think the first time you see Havana’s Linea Street: a wide thoroughfare lined with crowded buses, construction trucks and art deco buildings cracking in various shades of sherbet. Old Chevy Bel Airs, Studebakers, and Pontiacs clatter by. The air is hot and thick with exhaust, and yet you could stand there all day, soaking in the hustle-bustle of a bygone era. But the weight of bike-gear donations on your back reminds you that you didn’t come here just to stare at a crumbling, forgotten world.

Sweating in spandex, my husband and I, along with four Cuban cyclists, were bound for a rural village 25 miles west of the city to aid a struggling youth racing club. It was part of a semi-improvised plan to venture off the tourist checklist, take the carriage-and-horseshit-covered road less traveled, and maybe make a difference. A widespread lack of Internet in Cuba made it more difficult than usual for a conscious traveler to know who to trust and what to expect from a country still largely cloaked in mystery and communism.

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