This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much
heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shepherding bikes to Cuba - my project is rolling!

In my hometown of Huntsville, Ontario, biking is a popular activity for about half the year – spring, summer and fall. The rest of the time, it's a bit of a challenge. Only the heartiest sorts keep their self-propelled machines on the road during the winter here, which typically extends from late October or early November into March or April. It's hard to find the proper snow tires for bicycles.

I know of only one guy, in fact, who is a regular winter biker and, by most yardsticks, he's irregular. At this point in his unconventional life, a car is simply not an option. He began biking year-round out off necessity but, before long, it became more of a personal badge of honor. Now, I think it's closer to a habit, if not an obsession. But, this friend is exceptional. He's hard-core. He bikes in any weather, as long as the snow isn't ridiculously deep or the roads aren't impossibly icy.

In Cuba, my second home (as regular visitors to Club Amigo Marea del Portillo are encouraged to consider it), biking year-round is comparatively easy. Okay, there can be some pretty nasty spells of rain and mud but that comprises a much smaller portion of the year than snow-ridden winter does here. There, biking is the most common, reliable mode of transportation. It may not be essential to survival but having a bicycle at one's disposal makes life much easier; I would classify it closer to necessity than luxury. For that reason, I've been taking bikes with me to Cuba whenever possible.

During my earliest visits to this modest resort in the Granma region, on Cuba's more sparsely populated southern shore, I observed other tourists transporting bikes. I learned that it was frequently done, usually without a hitch, and I saw how important bikes were for the local people. So, I decided to take one too. My plan was to use the bike while I was there and, then, leave it with a friend.

That inaugural trip-with-bike holiday proved to be more of an adventure than I'd anticipated due to my box o' bike being absconded with upon arrival at the Manzanillo de Cuba airport. (I now use the buddy system; when I have to disappear into the bathroom, I have a friend watch for my bike to appear, lest it vanish while I'm preoccupied.) Here's a link to my previous post about that first bike's little side-trip. All's well that ends well. That bike is now living with some friends in Pilon, a small town just down the road from Marea del Portillo. I visit them often and, if I need to use a bike, I know one will always be available to me at this home.

Bikes are usually available for use by guests at the resort but the supply is limited. So, when I organize groups of people to travel there with me, as I now do each April and October, we try to take a supply of bikes with us. This provides more bicycles for my friends and I to use during our holiday and, when we go home to Canada, these bikes go to homes in Cuba. I consider this my bike project.

Through Sunwing, which operates the Club Amigo Marea del Portillo and Farallon del Caribe resort, a bike can be shipped to Cuba for $30, as part of a passenger's checked luggage. However, the rule is one bike per person and that person must be physically capable of lugging an unwieldy 20-kg bike box around the airport. Thus, being "bike shepherds," as I call them, is not for everyone. Some people support this project by being "bike sponsors" – contributing $30 to cover the shipping cost – and others help by donating bikes. Many of these "bike donors" are not interested in going to Cuba; they just want their old bikes to go to a good cause instead of the dump.

Including that first trial-run bike, my friends and I have now taken a dozen bikes to Cuba. All of them have been freely given to me, so I am happy to freely pass them on to people who need them. It's wonderful to see the genuine smiles of appreciation when someone receives a bicycle. I know this simple endeavor is making a difference for these families.

If you want to be part of my bike project, you can sponsor a bike by using the "Donate" button at the right side of this blog. It is linked to a PayPal account. Sponsorship is $30 CDN but I would ask you, please, to kick in a few extra dollars to cover the PayPal service fees. Since I am not part of a registered charity, I can't offer tax receipts, but I can provide photos of some recent bike recipients.

Wilfredo was pleased with a sturdy CCM mtn. bike.
Farmer Juan-Luis holds his mtn. bike and a solar light.
Pirolo and his family will all benefit from having a reliable cruiser bike.
Chacho is comfortable enough with his masculinity to ride a pink bike.


Kocha has been told more than once that he looks like Eddie Murphy.


  1. It is cool to see these bikes in their new homes. I spent a fair bit of time fixing them up this summer and, while oiling a chain or pumping up a tire, often imagined the people who would receive them. The pictures of the happy bike riders make it all the more worthwhile.

  2. Thanks, SBR, a.k.a. Cuba bike project guru! Thanks for your unfailing support. ~ J.

  3. Leony Castillo CastilloDecember 20, 2011 at 2:49 PM

    Jenny, thank you for the support they provide to the people your cycles Pilon. Thanks for such a noble gesture. I hope one day that you and I can go biking together, sites of this beautiful geography.

    Your friend Leony.

  4. Gracias, Leony! I appreciate your support for this and other projects. Yes, I want to do more biking and see more of Cuba's beautiful sites. Maybe it will be possible in April...we'll see! ~ J.