Cuba journal - Uday's rough day

Friday night

Uday had a rough day today.

Uday Mehta is a radiologist from Chicago, and he's part of he USAT group. We all met this morning at Peter's bike shop where most of us were renting our bikes (Uday brought his own) and we headed out for a ride. Among our group were several Cuban boys, probably 12 - 14 years old, doing very well on their kind of ratchet old bikes.

There was one kid in particular with a "Team Canada" jersey on who is as competitive as anyone I have ever met. Every time one of us grown-ups would ride up to the front with him and take him on, this kid responded with power and determination and would not let anyone sprint past him.

I tested him. In the end it comes down to who is more willing to be in pain, and I have this race tomorrow and didn't feel like pushing it hard. Right now I appreciate the intelligence of that decision but wonder if I could have beat him if I had made it important to me to do so.


we rode for an hour, hour and a half and turned off onto some side streets that quickly became gravel roads and before long we stopped at the home of some people who had simply gone all out to create a lunch we would never forget.

I'm talking about welcome signs and fresh, abundant and diverse fruits, fresh coconuts cut with straws in them (which were then properly halved so that we could enjoy the coconut itself) and COLD jugo de piƱas with a little coconut mixed in as well.

Then came lunch, which was some kind of pork (with a curry sauce? I may never know), rice and beans, fried plantain chips and some other fruity-vegetable-y thing that I can't identify but enjoyed thoroughly.

It seemed as though it was the home of either our ride leader (this altakaker who appears to have been a legendary cyclist in his day) or his daughter (with whom I enjoyed a beautiful little connection) - it was "rustico" but well-stocked for cyclist appetites.

When I first came around the corner to this casita the first thing I saw was a little boy - maybe 5 - reaching up to kiss Jessica, one of our group; he then held up his little brother who couldn't have yet turned 3 so that he could also kiss Jessica.

I have rarely felt like more of an honored guest.

Because Gerardo was not with us, I was the one with the best Spanish skills (you know you're in trouble when I'm your Spanish translator, as Uday found out later) and the other altakaker asked me if we were "content" with our meal.

I quickly ran out of ways to tell him how much we appreciated it.

We have tons of pictures. Tons, and they're great, including a sign that said something like "The American people and Cuban people are freends" which is EXACTLY how I feel, if creatively spelled.

Before we left, one of the altakakers picked fresh flowers from the yard and gave one to Jessica and another to Amy, our two female team members. Amy rode away with it stuck somehow in her handlebars; I'm not sure how long it stayed on.

Back to Uday: Five minutes into our ride this morning he had a flat tire on his rear wheel. He had borrowed some fancy race wheels and needed a 90mm valve, but as they were not his customary wheels he didn't have the right tube / valve situation, so almost immediately in the ride he had to put his bike in the sag "wagon" (which was one of these great big American beauties) and ride in the car.

Somehow a bike tube made it to our lunch destination and as we headed back after lunch (we were going to stop at the Marina Hemmingway to pick up our race packets), Uday saddled back up and headed out with us.

The roads are not well maintained here. We had some seriously sketchty potholes and cracks in the road that we needed to navigate, and stopped cars in our lanes to circumvent and all sorts of other technical tomfoolery.

About a half an hour after lunch we were passing by a primario which was up on a hill to our left, and Uday (among others) waved to the children - but his front wheel hit a rock, and with only one hand to stabilize, his wheel turned and he wrecked, hard. Head hit the pavement (helmet: yes) and he was not really moving, crumpled over and moaning in pain.

He's a radiologist, as I mentioned, and he quickly diagnosed himself as having a broken clavicle, if nothing else. Presently an old American beauty rolled up and the driver pointed to me and said "English?" and offered to help. We were maybe 3 or 4 km from the Marina where we would have people to help with medical emergencies, so they agreed to drive him to the Marina.

Uday was in a lot of pain. Couldn't get comfortable, sitting in the chair they gave him at the marina.

For a while I wasn't clear whether they had called an ambulance for him or were trying to use the hotel doctor (there's a hotel on the Marina) to solve the whole issue. I got close to being demanding and the young woman who worked for the race kindly told me to relax, that she had called an ambulance and it was coming to take him to a proper hospital.

Uday needed someone to go with him and I sensed that that person was going to be me. The good people at the race agreed to stow my bike for the time being and off I went in the ambulance with Uday.

We went to the "international clinic" - apparently a better option than the Cuban hospital (though in my cab home tonight I saw the hospital where Hugo Chavez received his treatment), and in pretty short order they took x-rays, confirmed Uday's self-diagnosis of a broken clavicle but said that it really required surgery, which they reckoned would be better done back in the U.S.

USAT found some medical insurance for us to buy to cover us while we were in Cuba, and fortunately Uday bought it - but the challenge was to get the actual insurance "card" to the hospital.

Like me, Uday uses gmail with two-factor authentication, which makes it impossible for either of us to check our gmail down here, as our cellphones are not connected to anything.

I called USAT and left the clinic's fax number for them; I called our team and left the fax number for them as well. The doc said that (1) he had to certify Uday as being ready to travel before Uday could go home, and (b) Uday was staying the night so they could better manage his pain level and monitor him. But he couldn't get admitted into a room without that insurance card, which may never have come - so off I went to the Hotel Nacional where they have the most basic internet and telephone capabilities, which is much more than can be said for the rest of the country.

I called Uday's wife and asked her to send me his insurance email from Kara. Not one to only pursue one solution at a time, I also emailed Kara back at USAT and asked her to send it to me.

Kara never answers her phone when you call her (she may work remotely), but she's quick with an email reply and before long I had what I needed and was ready to head back to the clinic so that Uday could get a bed and not have to hang out in the waiting room any longer.

They have these sort of motorcycle cabs here with two seats in the back wrapped in kind of an egg-shell structure, and I decided to risk further injury and take one of those instead of the (now kind of touristy) classic car taxis - but I asked the driver to stop for sandwich on the way to the clinic.

Fast. To-go.

We went to a gas station.

Cuba needs to step its culinary game up several notches. I'm thinking that event the British have them beat, if for no other reason than the prevalence of curry in England. All I could get Uday at the gas station was a ham and cheese sandwich and some jugo de manzanas (they love their ham and cheese here), so that's what I bought and my death-trap-taxi-thing driver - who was working on his English swearing vocabulary, apparently, push-started our death trap and off we went.

Needless to say, by the time I got back to the clinic they already had received the insurance information they needed from something I had done earlier in the afternoon (whatEVERRRR), so Uday seemed set.

Knowing that I needed to eat and get back to my own Cuba trip, Uday told me to skedaddle so off I went. He has his phone (sans charger) and some pain meds and care and I felt as though he was going to be OK.

Had some dinner by myself (and when I say "dinner" I mean I'm really glad to be on my way to Mexico soon, where they have mastered the art of food) and a couple of drinks and a bit of an adventure in getting back home. Walked through what would have felt like sketchy neighborhoods were it not for the fact that there is so very little crime here. At the Riviera Hotel I got a 1949 Oldsmobile "cab" and made it home, stopping only to take some night time pictures of the Teatro.

I think Uday is OK for the night. It's almost 10 and I'm going to bed now, getting up at 7:30 or so, preparing for my race (which starts at noon) and heading out there nice and early.