by Melanie Gallant
A couple of months ago I biked 350 kilometres under the Cuban sun, cutting straight across the island from the Atlantic to the Caribbean coast.
The trip was organized by Charity Challenge – a company that organizes fundraising travel adventures for registered charities.
I rode to raise funds for Oxfam Canada, and also plan on using multimedia material I collected during the trip to raise awareness and support further fundraising for the amazing work happening in the country.
Oxfam has been working in Cuba since 1993, in partnership with local organizations. It has made an important contribution in urban agriculture, community economic development, violence against women, and risk reduction and humanitarian response.
From Havana to Trinidad
The Cuban Revolution Bike Ride began in the capital of Havana and ended in Trinidad, passing through Matazans, Cienfuegos and Hanabanilla.
The trip brought together a lawyer, a filmmaker, a physicist, a writer and a couple of civil servants. Also joining us were a homeopathic doctor and personal trainer who often pair up on travel challenges in order to raise funds for charities. Thanks to them, we also had a personal massage therapist in the group who gladly helped ease the pain of excruciatingly sore muscles – for an extra donation to Oxfam. Please note, nothing can be done for the part of you that is the sorest. Well, the padded seat helped, a bit.
The Cuban guides kept us well fed – apart from one absolutely horrific buffet on the first day – and most importantly, kept us safe on the roads. This included, but was not limited to, stopping to change a flat tire at the drop of a dime and finding strategically located spots when one of us needed to go before the next bathroom break.
The fumes made me cough when I passed large American Chevys and Buicks from before the revolution, and my gaze lingered as I rode by beautiful buildings fighting against time – some winning, some having lost the battle quite a while ago. We saw beautiful rolling hills, seaside vistas and lots of farmers tending their fields and riding horses and carriages. We also saw lots of bikers –foreigners, easily identifiable because they wore helmets and fancy bike gear, and Cubans. Because most Cubans have no car and public transportation is difficult, the bicycle often becomes the best way to get around.
That brings me to the highlight of my trip.
We had been biking for six hours already, and it’s 32 degrees out. It was the last day of the challenge, and we had a gigantic hill to go up in order to reach Trinidad – our final destination. The guides said that was the hardest part of the entire challenge. About half way through the hill I started losing steam and wondered if I should get off my bike and hop on the charity challenge bus that followed at a distance.
Then I heard someone riding up behind me, and felt a hand give me a gentle push on the back. I turned around and saw a smiling, older Cuban gentleman. He was riding an old, worn out bicycle that matched his sandals. “My friend, you can do it if I help you,” he said. “You will see, I am strong and I bike this hill every day. Are you from Canada? I have friends in Montreal. They come to Cuba every year. How do you like Cuba?” We chatted for several minutes and before I knew it, I was up the hill.
Oxfam in Cuba
This moment is my favorite because it reminds me that more than the beaches, dancing, rum and cigars, the warmth of Cuba is found in its people.
That’s why I believe in Oxfam’s work in Cuba, and wanted to support it. Oxfam brings people together against poverty and inequality – through innovative and sustainable local development initiatives that support women’s rights.
So I proudly say: “I survived the Cuban Revolution Ride – and supported Oxfam!”
Melanie Gallant is Oxfam Canada’s Media Relations officer
The Cuban Revolution bike ride from Havana to Trinidad, organized by Charity Challenge, took place from March 21st to March 29th, 2014, and raised funds for Oxfam’s work in Cuba. If you would like to support this work, go to: www.oxfam.ca/donate
For more information and to support Oxfam’s work in Cuba, go to: