Havana’s Harlistas get on the road

2nd Harley Davidson Havana to Varadero International Rally (Feb 8-11, 2013)

Cuba’s second ‘international’ Harley Davidson Rally (Encuentro Harlista!) took place from Feb 8-11, 2013. This was bigger and better than last year with more bikes, activities and sponsors. David Blanco, (Cuba’s leading rocker & an avid Harlista), performed a knock out concert in Varadero as part of the associated activities which has become a highlight of Varadero’s cultural activities. Organized by Max Cucchi and Abel Pez this event generated a lot of sound and fury this year and continues to generate international interest in the fascinating story of Cuba’s HOG community.

Ana Lorena, a young Cuban student who had never seen a Harley before, yet alone been on one, was along for the ride. This is her story….

The road to Varadero is one that I know well, especially since I entered the university. One of my best friends, Betty, lives just 10 minutes from the famous resort city. Every year, we would travel to her home in Cárdenas to celebrate her birthday, but most of the time we would end up at some nightclub in Varadero. My story, however, has nothing to do with the university (or my friend Betty!).

On the occasion of the 2nd Cuban Harlistas Meeting (Varadero, February 8-11, 2013), I was on the list, definitely going. The point of departure of Harley-Davidson bike owners was the Cupet service station in Guanabacoa, a town in the outskirts of Havana. I woke up early not least to work out how to get to Guanabacoa.

The best and fastest way to get to the meeting place was by taxi. When I say taxi I mean an “almendrón,” one of the many vintage cars that (fortunately) cruise the streets of Havana day and night. It was already 11:30 am and the departure to Varadero was supposed to take place at noon, so I was pretty nervous fearing that I would not get there on time.

When I finally got to the famous Cupet, the first thought that crossed my mind was that I had arrived late and been stood up. I immediately banished that idea from my head and started asking around if anybody knew about the event. It seems nobody knew anything. Trucks and cars came and filled up their tanks, but there was no sight of any “Harlistas.” Half an hour later, after walking up and down the place and making inquiries, I saw some men getting a camera ready. I went over to talk to them and yes, they were there for the Harley meeting, and no I had not arrived late but an hour too early. The Harlistas were supposed to meet there at 1 pm.

Max Cucchi, one of the organizers of the event, arrived at 12:30. He was the person who was to choose a biker for me to ride with, so I immediately introduced myself. Meanwhile, the Harlistas started coming in and my camera never stopped for a second. I was like in a daze, surrounded by so many of these cultural symbols, Harley-Davidson motorcycles that ranged from very old to very new, from original to hatched-up bikes. In a few minutes, the Cupet had become an interactive museum.

Three hours later, everybody was ready to hit the road: Cuban, Italian and Spanish bikers would join some Canadian colleagues who were already in Varadero. Max chose the bike I would begin the trip with. Needless to say, it was the first time I rode a Harley-Davidson, and that day I got to ride on three. Three different Harlistas took it in turns to take me to Varadero on their bikes.

Our first stop was at a place just exiting the province of La Habana. Although it was early February, the sun was really hot that day and everybody needed a break for refreshments. I personally chose to drink some heavenly-tasting orange juice. The motorists started out again in a disciplined manner, everybody in a pack. I don’t know, however, if some bikers, including my personal driver, had something other than orange juice to drink, because in a little while, we were racing down the road.

When we reached the city of Matanzas, we realized we had left the main group behind. One of the bikers phoned the organizers and learned they had stayed behind at this little place where they sell pork sandwiches. My group of three bikers decided to wait for the others, but soon became restless and we continued on our journey.

We reached Varadero around 5 pm and headed to the park on 43rd and 1st streets, the event’s main venue. I was not only tired (unaccustomed to riding motorcycles) but my stomach was crying out for food. The weekend passed with bike competitions, shows and rallies. Saturday evening we attended a concert with the popular young musician David Blanco, who is also a Harley-Davidson aficionado. All in all, this has been an unforgettable experience and I’m already getting into contact with some Harlistas for next year’s meeting and see if they would be willing to give me a ride.

Contact details:

Max Cucchi
Tel: +(53) 7 879-0506 / 5-263-1339
email: max@enet.cu

Abel Pez
Tel: 5-264-4546

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