I honestly don’t know what to expect when I think about traveling to, racing in and simply just being in Cuba. The whole trip doesn’t seem real. I started planning this adventure with a simple idea – to get my family to Cuba – and somehow it turned into reality. The problem is, I didn’t think about what I would do if I actually made this little dream come true so, now what?

Of course there has been plenty of advice and opinion given where traveling to Cuba is concerned. I have heard everything from not being able to take pictures of Cubans and brining your own soap to how welcoming they are to Americans and how we’re not, by far, the first tourists to visit there, because Canada. The issue is, we are not tourists. And, no matter how Cuban I look, I still cannot speak the language. #Shame

TRAVELING TO CUBA

As an American, you absolutely need a visa and a good reason to travel there. I have two because you know I’m an overachiever. I am both going there as an athlete to participate in the Havana Triathlon (read: flood the economy with money) and as a journalist to write a story about the event for USATriathlon Magazine. I am also going there to drink rum but I don’t think that is a legit reason.

Working with a travel agent is highly recommended. We are using the one provided by the race, Miramar Travel, and they have been exceptional. Through our contacts there, we were able to rent a house to accommodate all of us (we are 10 total!), get our visas, airline tickets, my bike shipment permit, transportation to and from the airport and a designated vehicle for our transportation use once we get there.

CUBAN CURRENCY

The peso is one is one of two official currencies in use in Cuba, the other being the convertible peso or CUC. The Euro is widely accepted there and easy enough for us to get prior to our trip. What won’t be accepted is basically anything American in terms of banking or money. Most credit cards associated with American banks will not be accepted there. I’m sure this is something that will change over time but, right now, it’s kind of a cash…um, Euro only country for Americans.

RACING IN CUBA

Although this is not my first time racing outside of the U.S., I’ve already learned that going to Cuba for a triathlon is probably going to be nothing like racing a duathlon in Spain, that was sponsored by USATriathlon.

The Havana Triathlon is in it’s infancy, 2017 being only the third year it will be held and the first year with more American atheltes. Let’s just say there were a lot of “WTF” moments as I went though the athlete information guide.

THE SWIM

I was definitely worried about this being my first ocean swim, but after seeing where we will be swimming, I think that was wasted energy. You see, Cuba is a huge fishing mecca for obvious reasons, with one of it’s most famous fisherman being Ernest Hemingway. In order to make fishing and the enormously popular fishing events held in Cuba more accommodating and accessible, three channels were built just inside the bay of the Atlantic. It is in these channels, an area named “Marina Hemingway” that we will be swimming the half-mile required in the race.

It almost looks like gigantic swim lanes! There was also this warning:

 

“A capsized yacht in Channel 1 might cause the swim start to be moved to Channel 2. The swim distance will remain the same. Please be alert to any changes.”

Is this a frequent occurrence? And, just how big are these channels? Yikes.

BIKE

The most challenging part of the bike will most likely be me packing it and unpacking it. I have to say that I’m a little frightened about packing up my very expensive triathlon bike and putting it on a plane.

The bike course seems flat, fast and picturesque. I actually hope I take the time on the bike to take in my surroundings. I go into a race like this thinking about the ocean views but, when I’m actually racing all I think about is focusing on the task at hand.

The neon green line is the bike route. Other than “T1” I haven’t a clue what this map says.

RUN

Still my favorite part of any triathlon and, the most challenging part of this run will definitely be the heat. I’ve been doing my best to simulate the expected 80 degree temps while running and riding in my basement but I know I’m going to feel the effects no matter what I do…short of running in a sauna.

At least I will have a nice view.

TRANSITIONS

Here’s where it gets weird.

Normally you set up one transition area with all the gear you will need, including your bike. In the Havana Triathlon the first and second transition areas are separated and therefore, so is your gear.

They actually give you three separate bags to place your stuff in…

Right.

My coach, who will be doing an Ironman in New Zealand while I’m in Cuba by the way, had this advice:

  1. If it looks like rain and you want your gear to remain dry, double-bag it by putting your gear in an extra garbage bag and locating the opening strategically.
  2. Do NOT tie knots. Your hands don’t work strings well when you get out of the water – so do secure the bag, but don’t tie knots or leave it where someone who picks it up will inadvertently turn your nice string into a knot.
  3. Include a water bottle in T1 bag – to drink if you need, to rinse feet if you need

This should be very interesting…

FINSIHER’S SHIRT AND RACE MEDAL

This is also a first. Check out my sweet race shirt:

Apparently Cubans take racing very seriously…collared shirt seriously.

And, if I really do get two medals for some reason, my kids will be ecstatic!

FINISH LINE

When all is said and done, I just hope I can locate my family at the finish. The race is such a small part of the trip as a whole but, obviously I will be ready to go, no matter what the day brings. Even a capsized boat in my swim lane.

 

Where is the most interesting place you have traveled or raced?

What are some weird customs or observations you’ve had when traveling outside the U.S.?

What is the worst racing shirt you ever received?