Cuba-Sailing to Fidel
Lisa gently nudging elbow in my ribs was the signal that it was time to get up. Outside the heavy curtains of the room, it was still dark but warm outside.
With teeth cleaned and water splashed on our faces, we packed the last of our toiletries, and crammed our wash gear into our bags. Everything else we’d either loaded onto the bikes last night or left by the front door.
As I loaded the last bags onto the bikes and pulled the luggage straps tight, Lisa poured boiling water into the French press of fresh coffee. Outside beetles and bugs serenaded a new day.
One last check, confirmed we’d charged the SENA’s, packed all that we’d needed to and stuffed last minute items into the water bags on the back of the bikes.
The bikes felt heavy as we lifted them from their side stands. Down by the electric gates of the house the dog’s barked a warning and we pulled out slowly so as not to wake Javier and Hortencia.
At the top of the gravel track, we turned right onto the main road and quickly u-turned to head north on the new asphalt road that would run us all the way into Cancun. A quick scan of the GPS confirmed it was 5:08am.
“Shit…I’m tired” I murmured to Lisa over the intercom. I’d managed to finish the video for Overland Expo at 1:00am last night, before hitting send and heading to bed.
With our dark visors lifted, the dusty dark warm air stung our eyes as we picked up speed past Playa Del Carmen, where we found 6th gear and our cruising speed.
An hour and 20 minutes later and on the outskirts of Cancun, the sun was slowly rising. The city was waking, as we pulled into the last gas station before Punta Sam, where we’d board the ferry for Isla Mujeres. The young female gas attendant giggled as she struggled to lift the fuel pump high enough to reach the fuel filler neck of my tall GS. The bikes took 658 pesos of gas and were now full.
2.3 miles later and we pulled through a set of worn painted gates and into the large but empty parking bay of Punta Sam. Up ahead Egle (from Lithuania) and Paul (from the UK) were already parked up; their DR 650’s looking every bit adventure ready, with over sized Safaris tanks up front and Mosko Motos Soft bags on the back.
Parked up, we hugged and kissed our hello’s and set about the gentle process of getting to know the travel companions that we’d be spending the next 4-5 days with. Almost right off the bat, we knew we liked this pair. They were no nonsense people who were riding for themselves and less interested in who they impressed. Ten minutes later and we were laughing and joking like old friends.
Twenty feet away, a small dirty window creaked open and a cash register rang, announcing that the ticket office had opened. The ticket cost for a rider and bike was 205 pesos…bargain!
It was a warm wait of 2-hours before the chugging diesel engine of the ferry drifted back into the port. We’d missed the earlier ferry by minutes.
A waive, a yell, and a whistle told us that it was time to board. At the bottom of the asphalt pier we carefully bounced over the green oily surface of the worn deck and parked up where directed. The bikes wobbled as the ferry engine engaged and the ferry pulled out to sea. Up on the second deck we chatted with Egle and Paul, casting a concerned eye towards the bikes, which were now swaying worryingly as the ferry hit larger waves.
“you’re going to have to head down” said Paul. “Uh, too late” he yelled as I headed down the stairs.
“What?” I blurted. “yeah, it’s gone over”, came the answer. “Shit, you’re kidding?” “NOPE!”
Lisa bike was lying on its side and crammed up against the hard side-deck of the ferry. Paul had followed me down and was already looking for a hand-hold as I began lifting the bike. My feet were ankle deep in a mix seawater and oil, as we righted the F800; it was like lifting a bike on an ice rink.
45 minutes later and the huge metal gang-way of the ferry, smacked the dock and we rolled onto Isla Mujeres. In town, we parked up just one kilometer later.
“Hello, hello” announced Ludwig, the Captain of the Stahlratt, who’d been waiting for us to arrive. His huge genuine grin was reassuring the set the tone for the day.
It was now roasting, as we undid the luggage straps and pulled the bags from the bikes. Anna, the second in command, was already loading them onto a small wooden trolley, which she then wheeled to the end of the wooden pier and into a waiting dingy, manned by Carl. The Stahlratt was moored 30 minutes outside of port and the dingy was the fastest way of getting our gear on board.
With Anna loading our gear, Ludwig, (or Lulu to his friends) had taken our passports over to the immigration kiosk to get the four of us stamped out of Mexico and to hand in our immigration cards. Well, three of them at least! I’d looked for 30 minutes but my immigration card, that I’d checked last night was tucked in my passport, was now gone. You can imagine the mouthful that I got from Lisa. The new immigration card that I needed to fill out cost me 510 pesos; what a waste of money!
An hour later and we were done and all in need of liquid.
The Stahlratt was due to dock at 12:00pm. It was only 10:30am and we needed to wait until dark before we began to winch the bikes onto the ship.
Back at the small café at the beach end of the pier we sipped on cold Limonadé natural and munched on fish tacos for breakfast. Between eating, laughing, joking and discovering that the four of us, all share a wonderfully dark and inappropriate sense of humour the day had flown by.
In shorts and t-shirts we walked the white sand beach of the Island and took in the last Mexican sunset that we’ll all see for while. As we watched the neon turquoise water of the ocean turn mauve, we slurped on Magnum ice creams and took as many photos as possible.
Back at the dock and Ludwig was waiving his arm from the far end of the pier. One at a time we wheeled our bikes through the centre of the café that we’d spent the day at and to the end of the pier and up to the side of the now docked Stahlaratt. The white painted and rusting hull of the ship dwarfed the pier and it’s huge mast’s towered into the dark sky. “This is bloody fantastic” I whispered to Lisa as we did our best to remember the moment and take it all in.
On the pier, it was reassuring to watch Anna, expertly lace and knot the rope around my bike’s frame; a process that she’d clearly done a hundred times before. Seconds later my GS was air born and flying through the air, hoisted up by the winch and placed gently on deck without fuss. An hour later and all four bikes were on board, each one then covered in two large tarpaulins and lashed firmly to the side of the ship.
In the hull of the ship, we each chose our berths, and stowed our panniers and gear. Up in the kitchen and Paul (20 years old) and Carl (18 years old) were already cutting and prepping the ingredients for dinner.
The ship gently moved and strained against it’s moorings as we all sat in the low roofed room in the back of the ship for dinner. Antoine from France and his girlfriend Annese from japan were the only other guests. As I looked around at the faces of clients and crew, it was only now beginning to sink in that we were really doing this! We’re sailing to Cuba to start the next leg of our journey. As I watched and listened, a wave of excitement crashed over me…fucking brilliant!