Today I travelled back in time to March 2011 and my cycling tour of Cuba. For me this really was the trip of a lifetime and I enjoyed every last second of it. As soon as I pressed the ‘confirm’ button on my keyboard to complete the booking I knew it would be fabulous but it turned out to be better than I could ever have imagined it to be.
Cuba is a place bathed in sunshine and awash with the most soulful and evocative music and dance. Its people are so friendly, warm and relaxed despite the many hardships they have to endure and they are so proud of their history and culture. The scenery is beautiful, the food is unusual and the cocktails are mind blowing.
Also, the group of people that I travelled there with were such excellent company. Friendly, funny and inspirational experienced travellers brought together in a unique camaraderie based on the challenges of trying to cope with gruelling cycling, dodgy hotel plumbing, lashings of Havana rum and attempts to Salsa. On that magical island I felt at home with every single one of them and each will have a place in my memory for as long as I am able to swallow a mojito.
I’ve always thought it a bit corny and pretentious when people have said that they went away on holiday and ‘found themselves’ but during my days in Cuba I began to understand. The ‘culture shock’ and the friendships changed me and my approach to life. I had always loved travelling but this was where it really kicked off. I had fourteen days of eighteen-hour-a-day pure adventure, fun and totally new experiences in a far away land. I doubt if I have ever been in my element more than I was during those two weeks. It took the combination of a wonderful island and a wonderful group of people to make me feel that way though. I knew I would never be able to reproduce those special moments and that incredible sense of delving into the unknown and loving it, but I knew I had to try. Travelling moved up a notch from being a love to an obsession.
I kept a journal while I was there. All my travelling companions, our marvellous local guide and the support vehicle drivers wrote in it. Every entry a highly amusing one, and every entry in terrible hand writing, but every entry a precious reminder of those people who provided me with such enormous inspiration and pleasure. Since then my journal has been one of my most treasured possessions, but now even more so.
Mark the Ipswich Town supporter, photocopier engineer, part time policeman, teetotaller, charity fund raiser, bollocks talker, Keith Chegwin fan and seasoned traveller was the first person to write in that book.
This morning I discovered that he died on 19th January whilst away on a trip to Finland.
I’ve just read again what he wrote for me and it still makes me laugh, despite the sadness that has overwhelmed me today.
Thank you Mark for what you have given me to enrich my life. I’m desperately sorry that your own was cut so short. I’ll always remember you mate.
Mark with Andrea looking sultry in the cigar factory
in a village near Majagua, Cuba.