On the long smooth wooden table on the upper deck, breakfast had already been laid out in spectacular fashion, as I curled my leg over the bench and found a space next to Lisa.
I scanned the table for an empty coffee cup amongst the bowls of scrambled eggs, plates of cold meats and cheeses and two huge bowls of fresh chopped fruits that lay scattered across the table.
A quick scan of the faces confirmed the buzz of excitement that I could feel building in the group.
Across the way, a dozen boats and yachts bobbed in the water, each one tugging at its moorings. An hour later and we began pulling back the salty tarpaulins wrapping the bikes. With the rope harnesses still in place, we wheeled each bike to the dock side of the ship, attached the winch and hoisted each one up and over the side to the waiting pier. At the far end of the pier a pierce whistle was our cue to roll each bike to the Aduanna (customs) offices, where we began the paperwork to temporarily import each bike. Inside the small Aduanna office we took turns filling out a simple form, which was then copied six times, by hand, and handed over along with 10 CUC ($10) per bike. With the paper work done for each bike, we followed the youngest officer outside to photograph each bike and make a note of the VIN number.
Lisa and I smiled as the male officials swaggered around in their khaki uniforms, while the female officers adjusted their fishnet stockings, which they wore under their khaki short skirts. We cleared the four bikes in under two-hours and with a nod of approval from El Jefe, we rolled the bikes 10 meters past the office and into a tiny parking area.
Today was going to be a long one.
By 11:00am we were on the bikes and rolling through Cienfuegos and heading to the central offices (Cuban DMV). Paul, had been through this process on his last visit to Cuba in 2016, which made finding the offices a breeze. (DMV Office GPS: N22 08.654 W80 25.930)
I swear, the four of us rolling through town turned every head on the street. Paul had warned us just how much staring we would pick up, but I’ll confess it’s been a while since we’ve had this much open-mouthed attention.
At the offices, fifty plus locals were already outside, waiting their turn to do whatever they were there to do. With easily the best Spanish amongst us, we nominated Egle to head inside and sweet talk the officials into pushing us to the front of the line. Within 30 minutes we rolled the bikes around the back and into a small compound where each bike was to be inspected and VIN and engine number recorded, before we were issued our Cuban registration plates and a Cuban driving license.
OK, now for anyone reading this and thinking about travelling, here is a huge ‘heads-up’. The engine number on the F800GS is an absolute bitch to find and even harder to get to and read. I eventually found it on the lower left side of the motor and imprinted into the paint, directly behind the lower front exhaust manifold.
Bearing in mind, that in Cuba, the officials scratch a pencil over the engine number, before placing a piece of sticky tape over it and then lifting it from the engine. The graphite sticks to the tape, and the tape is then applied to your paperwork. Low-teach and simple right?
Even after unbolting Touratech engine guards, the official finally gave up trying to record the number and simply wrote down that it was un-recordable.
By 12:00pm we were done and bolting our shiny new Cuban plates were bolted to our bikes. Then the wait began.
Now bearing in mind that at this point, “all” the paperwork that needs to be completed, is! Moreover, before we’d headed out to roll the bikes into the compound for inspection, the critical piece of documentation that we’re actually here to collect had already been printed and signed by each of us. So, all that we’re now waiting for is for the small document to be laminated and handed to us.
We arrived in the morning and were there at the offices untill 5pm. The process was incredibly simple and involved the completion of two straightforward forms, where we provided motorcycle information and personal info (ie. Vin number, engine number, plaque/plate details, UK/US driving licesesn detail, etc, etc). The payment for the application and process involved purchasing 'special stamps', which we bought from the captain of the Stahlratte Ship. The driving dept offices do not deal with cash, hence the requirement of the 'stamps'. We paid the equivalent of $10 CUC in stamps (two $5 stamps). For GPS location of the offices see GPS info above.
Well, that took six hours! Yep six! Hey, it was easy, everyone was super friendly and everyone, and mean everyone, was waiting for just as long as we were. It’s just one of those things and when you’ve been travelling for as long as we have, you just come to understand and expect it.
Triumphantly, and with our Cuban licences in hand, we headed back to the bikes and again followed Paul through town to a great spot, which served cold beer and kebabs. (GPS: N22 08.506 W80 27.157). We sat for an hour and chatted and ate, before apologizing to the crowd t that had gathered to stare at the bikes, that we had to leave.
Back at the ship, Lisa and Egle returned to the boat, whilst Paul and I grabbed a bucket of fresh water and set about rinsing the salt off the four bikes.
As dusk turned to night, we walked to a small roadside bar and sipped on cold beer for 10 cents each before cramming ourselves into a 1960’s built taxi and heading into town for dinner.