Our Director Cycles The Cuba Challenge For Rosemere Cancer Foundation
Cummins Mellor Group Managing Director, Michelle Mellor along with friends Jacky Godfrey, Christine Humberstone, Andrea Pinder and Philippa McDowell cycled 360K across Cuba from the 15th to the 26th October 2015 in aid of Rosemere Cancer Foundation and raised a massive £13,000!
Before the gruelling cycle Michelle and the girls held a Cuban themed ball at Gibbon Bridge in Chipping, Lancashire on Saturday 10th October to help raise funds for the event. Over 100 guests attended to show their support, including some of the Personnel Checks team. Guests bought raffle tickets and placed their bids for fabulous auction prizes, which included a 4 day cruise on a yacht in Mallorca.
The night was a huge success with a Cuban themed band playing into the early hours as well as plenty of cocktails consumed throughout!
Gibbon Bridge provided the perfect venue and were very generous in their support for Rosemere, the food and drinks were superb as was the service! Going Dutch Florist in Nelson did an amazing job donating all the table centre pieces providing fabulous exotic flowers for the evening.
The week after, the girls set off on their journey across Cuba.
Read Michelle’s diary log below:
Day 1: Havana
Arrived in the torrential rain after a 9 hr flight, very tired as its 19.40 in Havana but I have been awake for almost 20hrs!
Checked in at hotel- Occidental Miramar (it's so busy- the 500 bed-roomed hotel is completely full) and changed our sterling to the Cuban currency, Pesos. Setting my alarm
for 6 am as it’s an early start for a bike fitting after breakfast, then our first days cycling begins.
It's 33 degrees and very humid. Even after just arriving, I can tell it is going to be the most remarkable place to visit. This trip is one of those occasions when I just know that travel wi
ll truly broaden the mind!
Day 2: Havana to Bay of Pigs
An early morning departure for Guama where we are fitted with our very heavy mountain bikes!! We meet our guide, Eric and bike mechanic, Sylvester, as well as the doctor, Diana.
On route to Playa Giron - or better known as The Bay of Pigs- (the Cubans do not like to use this name). Really interesting to see the museum dedicated to the invasion in 1962
when the CIA backed attempt to topple Fidel Castros revolutionary government met with strong resistance and was very successful. This dusty little village was the focus of the world for a few days and it's hard to imagine!
On route to the hotel we stop for lunch and a swim in the bay at Punta Perdiz, many take the opportunity to jump into the warm waters after lunch of rice, beans, fish and fruit!
Cycling along a very long flat road to the coast at Cienfuegos where we rest our weary heads for the night. Before doing so we have time to celebrate Jacky's birthday with a few beers and dancing. The hotel is hot and humid with a pool but we don't swim, just some very dodgy dancing!
Day 3: Cienfuegos to Hanabinilla
Today we started ascending to the Escambray mountains, leaving behind the Bay of Cienfuegos, beautiful scenery but quite a tough cycle with undulations and short, sharp hills.
We cycle through small farming villages, sugar cane fields, citrus and Mango orchards. A big challenge at the end of the day, a 7km climb into the mountains which was hard but worthwhile. By far the hardest day.
A pool and cocktail was waiting for us at the hotel with a well-earned dinner. I have to say, it's been a long time since I sat round a pool which had chickens and dogs walking around it!!
We are seeing lots of Cubans and the culture, it's beautiful and clearly an interesting country. If severe poverty is measured on factors like hunger, lack of housing and basic health care, Cuba cannot be considered a poor country.
Most people seem to think that Cubans are actually poorer than they are- they are happy, smiley and keen to meet with you. Cuba is a socialist country that does not conform to the international conception of a democracy (even though - contrary to popular belief - it does have its own version of elections).
Day 4: Hanabinilla to Trinidad
We retrace our cycle from yesterday descending back towards Cumanayagua, the route
again is undulating and next to the coastline finishing with a 30K flat cycle along the Caribbean coastline- it's beautiful and we stop just
Tonight's stay is at a beach hotel, a welcome treat. I am quite surprised at how busy all the hotels are- tourism seems to be booming in Cuba- even in the outback and off the beaten track. The people we have met on the cycle are great company and have really bonded. Really enjoying the cycle and seeing Cuba in all its glory.before Trinidad.
I am seeing that Cubans, whilst definitely poor by North American and Western European standards, are not the poorest in the world!
This is all provided in Cuba:
- A basic rationing system that provides every single citizen with enough food to survive on (but admittedly not enough to feast or get fat on)
- Heavily subsidized basic living expenses such as cheap to almost free housing, electricity and water
- Free health care
- Free education
Day 5: Trinidad to Sancti Spiritus
Our day starts with a short transfer by bus to Trinidad, a really interesting town and one-of-a-kind, a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement. A perfect example of the beauty of Cuba's oldest and most enchanting outdoor museum.
Trinidad was founded in 1514, and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Many of its most striking buildings, including the Museo Histórico Municipal and the Museo de Arquitectura Trinitaria, are situated around Trinidad’s central public square, Plaza Mayor. We enjoyed listening to Cuban music in the square and seeing houses dating back to the 18th century- a real gem of a place and worthwhile visiting.
Another cycling day through many undulations- a long day 80K in total and quite tough but very manageable- looking forward to resting our legs tonight in yet another busy hotel!
Day 6: Sancti Spiritus to Santa Clara
Our final day sees us share the road with local traffic, there are plenty of 1950’s cars, horse traps, soviet tractors and bicycles. 82km mostly flat cycling sees us enter the Che Guevara Mausoleum in the pouring rain.
Che Guevara was an Argentinean-born, Cuban revolutionary leader who became a left-wing hero. In 1955 he met Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Guevara joined Castro's '26th July Movement' and played a key role in the eventual success of its guerrilla war against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
There I buy my husband, Richard, a souvenir tee-shirt before boarding the bus to Varedero for our celebration dinner. Varedero is a beautiful beach resort which I fear will soon be another Caribbean playground- beautiful beaches and water. We have a free morning to relax here before our bus transfer back to Havana Old Town.
I am reminded by a fellow cyclist to listen to Christy Moore's Compenaro soundtrack http://youtu.be/zjB3lOPJsVQ which seems a very fitting end to a wonderful experience. An amazing trip with amazing people and to share with my four friends will be a wonderful memory in years to come.
I have grown to love and accept that Cuba is Cuba and not Canada, UK or Italy. Cuba cements that the world is a varied place, and that there are other ways to live and make a country go around than what most people are used to.
Whilst I have been taken aback with what, on the face of it, looks like very poor living conditions, I leave here with a solid conscience that the simple fact that we have travelled there makes a huge impact on Cuba's economy. A contribution that is already being spread out into every corner of the country through all the above-mentioned government initiatives (food, housing, school, hospitals). Heading here knowing that the trip-purchase itself is doing Cubans good, is very worthwhile.
Whilst I was tempted to take and give money, goods and presents to the people of Cuba, it is a much better feeling to know I resisted, as I now know that the greatest gift you can give when visiting is respect and friendship, and that is what 'real' Cubans are interested in.
It shall be interesting to see how the country changes over the next few years as tourists are expected to rise further now relations ease between the historically distant US and President Obama. He recently announced the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana, more than 50 years after the United States and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations.
These highlights are a must to see before it changes!!
For more information on Rosemere Cancer Foundation or to donate, visit their website.