Cycling in the Caribbean

I've just returned from a nice vacation in the Caribbean–thanks to the SVBC staff, board, and volunteers for managing everything in my absence! It seems I can soon look forward to retiring, as our staff is so capable.

Before I become entirely slammed with my inbox and other piles of urgency (I don't return to the office until tomorrow), I figured I'd share my experiences with you in case anyone out there is interested or planning a future trip to the area.

We were on a ship touring South America and some Caribbean islands. We took our Bike Fridays (pocket rocket pros, for those of you folding bike geeks) with us, which works out very well on the ship. This was our second time on this ship, which is 12 decks but only has several hundred people on it, so it's nice and roomy. We've become known as the “bikers” on board, and this time one of the staff dubbed our bikes the “magic bikes,” a nick name I think we'll keep. It's always funny to me how many people out there have never seen a folding bicycle. It becomes a real conversation piece.

The trip included some nice cycling, some not-so-nice cycling, and some downright scary cycling–all of which fueled my passion to make Silicon Valley a cycling-friendly haven.

Aruba, the first island we cycled on, was fabulous: although the two-lane roads weren't overly wide, the motorists generally got into the oncoming traffic's lane to pass. It seemed incongruous, since the island was host to a number of big casinos (think mini-Vegas meets white sand beaches)–but I chalk the pleasant cycling up to the fact that no one seemed to be in a hurry; the island is small, so it just doesn't take very long to get anywhere you might want to go (such as the lighthouse we rode to).

Bonaire, the second island I rode on, was also fabulous. Known for its diving and birding, this was a very pretty place. Not only were the drivers pleasant, there simply weren't too many of them on the 25-mile loop we did around the south of the island. The headwinds, however, were formidable for a stretch. We saw pink sand beaches and a flock of flamingos, along with some salt flats and another lighthouse.

Curaçao was a different beast altogether. It's a larger island, with a port town that the guidebooks call “cosmopolitan,” meaning, apparently, that there are lots of oil refineries and lots of people in a hurry. This was painfully evident once we experienced it via bicycle. My partner had carefully plotted a route taking us up the spine road of the island that we thought would get us to some beautiful roads. But alas, a few miles in I threw in the towel and insisted we turn back. The road was so narrow, in order to pass us motorists had to nearly hit us or veer into the other lane and nearly hit the oncoming traffic. This made me realize, very viscerally, how critical it is to plan for the needs of all road users in developing infrastructure–because even the motorists who wanted to treat us courteously had trouble passing us safely.

On the way back to the ship, we were passed by many cars with about 2 feet of clearance, not to mention the large garbage truck that we heard coming and proactively rode off the road to avoid being hit by. I think if we hadn't pulled off the road, the driver would have just run us over and we'd be dead. That would have been an unpleasant end to our vacation.

Needless to say, I don't recommend you ride your bike on Curaçao, at least anywhere near the major port city. I saw some road bikes on cars, so I suspect there might be some nice riding up north but you'd want to drive there.

We also went to Cartegena, Columbia, but didn't ride our bikes there. I recommend the place, though, the old city is quite charming.

My next cycling adventure will be in July in France, we will be near Bordeaux for over a week and also plan to put in a few days in Annecy–if you have advice, let me know!

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