Bicycle Ingenuity

Jorge Milanes

Inventing entertainment. Photo: Bill Hackwell
Inventing entertainment. Photo: Bill Hackwell

The Pan-American Villa is a city of apartment buildings of no more than 5 stories, located at the entrance to Cojimar.  They were constructed for the athletes who participated in the Pan-American Games, held in Havana in 1991.  After the games were finished, the apartments were distributed to families.

From that time on, hundreds of young people get together in its large park known as El Prado de La Villa to listen to music, talk, dance, ride bicycles, in other words to have a social life.

Yesterday night I headed out on my bicycle to buy cigarettes.  Since the route is so boring, I asked Humberto, my 17-year-old neighbor to go with me.  He’s a very jovial teenager who goes through life cracking jokes and gesticulating.

He immediately got his bicycle and performed a spectacular take-off from the door of his house with the wheel suspended in the air.  He turned to me radiantly, as one waiting for a compliment.

His bike was old, like mine which I’ve had since the nineties when the difficulties of the epoch made this form of transportation absolutely necessary.  But he distinguished himself with different stunts on his and he kept asking me what I thought of them.

I really didn’t have the faintest idea about what he was asking me to judge, but I told him, “Great.”

When we reached El Prado I discovered the reason for his questions and acrobatics.  All through the park there was an army of young people with bicycles performing their bike stunts, talking or showing off the latest accessory that they had adapted to their vehicles.

My neighbor introduced me to a group of them.  Full of excitement, they told me that they had pedeled to Cienfuegos, a province 190 kilometers from Havana, with no problems.  My neighbor then asked my permission to go over and join another group of young people, apparently his friends.

I went up to another group with really nice bicycles and asked them: “Where did you buy them?”  They answered that the bicycles were ones that their parents had used during the “Special Period” (after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the severe crisis that brought to Cuba).  Mine is from that same epoch, but it’s nowhere near as nice as those Chinese bikes – very heavy and durable bicycles that they had modified to fit their own taste, with spare parts they had adapted, interchanged or fabricated.

“The rule is that they can’t be new, because if they are they lose the mystique of using our own ingenuity,” one of them explained to me.  Their faces lit up like suns when they saw my interest in what they were doing.  I also noted that they felt proud of themselves for having worked out their own form of entertainment, since in Cojimar there isn’t even a discotheque.

At the same time it gave these young people a sense of meaning in their lives.  I’ve seen other groups who dedicate themselves to less healthy pursuits such as delinquency.

By the time it was 9:20 I tried to say goodbye to Humberto, but then decided not to bother him since he was still involved with his friends.  I took my leave of the group and left, without ever remembering to buy those cigarettes.

One thought on “Bicycle Ingenuity

  • Thanks, Jorge, for a beautiful slice of life in Cuba. Please write more. Thanks, HT.

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