Chicago Tribune

Cuban revolutions: Biking the island's back roads on a trip through time

VINALES, Cuba - "In Cuba, the plan is that few things will go according to plan.

"It's essential that you arrive with an open heart, a curious mind and a supreme level of flexibility.

"Expect the unexpected ... it's all part of the adventure!"

These nuggets of wisdom - skeptics might call them warnings - were in the pre-departure packet that arrived in the mail a few weeks before my December bike trip in Cuba.

My husband and I, both avid fans of two-wheel travel, signed up for our cycling vacation before the Cuba situation started taking telenovela-like twists involving so-called sonic attacks, a State Department warning, confusing new travel restrictions and a hurricane named Irma.

"Are you sure you want to go?" my mom asked on more than one occasion.

The answer: absolutely.

Like many Americans, I'd long been fascinated by this forbidden tourist fruit, the largest of the Caribbean islands in both size and population. Isolated and enigmatic, Cuba had always commanded an air of being disproportionately foreign for a place so close to Florida, about as far away from Key West as Chicago is to Milwaukee. I wanted to see it for myself, to make sense of a hodgepodge of nouns I'd tacked on to Cuba like sticky notes over the course of a lifetime, from Castro, communism and Elian Gonzalez to cigars, mojitos and old American cars.

An opportunity to scratch this itch came when California-based active travel company Backroads expanded its Cuban offerings to include a new bike trip.

My imaginary tattoo says cycling

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