Roderick Eime infiltrates a Cuban secret society, the 'Harlistas'.
There's nothing new about motorcycle touring vacations, but sometimes there's an attraction that makes a destination irresistible.
Here in Cuba, Ernesto Guevara March, 52, is not only a child of the revolution, he is the son of the famous 'Che' Guevara whose iconised portrait adorns everything from T-Shirts, postage stamps and fridge magnets to tenement walls and government buildings.
Like the child of any famous public figure, Ernesto seeks to find his own identity and that has been through motorcycles, Harley-Davidsons specifically. Again, it's a coincidence hard to ignore given his father's famous pilgrimage across South America on a Norton in 1952 that became the cult classic film, 'Motorcycle Diaries'.
It was an opportunity too good to miss, so I tracked down Ernesto who operates La Poderosa Tours out of Havana with his Greek-born wife, Maria Elena, and signed up for a sampler of his touring program that takes riders through some of the spectacular scenery of Cuba. Anyone who has seen the film or read the book will know instantly the significance of 'La Poderosa'.
Havana thrives on nostalgia with everything from centuries-old Spanish colonial architecture, mid-20th Century US-inspired excess and harsh Soviet-era blandness. Remnants of these bygone times populate the alleys and boulevards of Havana in the form of hundreds of 1940-50s-era US cars from Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler mixed in with such Soviet curiosities as Lada and Moskvich. The old Harley-Davidsons are there too, but much harder to find.
Unlike the garish Fairlane, Thunderbird and Dodge taxis that throng the streets, The Cuban 'Harlistas' are an underground cult whose cherished machines only come out for special occasions. The devotees meet at such 'hole-in-the-wall' establishments as Chacon 162 in the historic quarter of Old Havana where an old Panhead hangs from the ceiling. Its name is derived from the Cuban equivalent of 'Route 66'.
The fleet of 14 bikes used by La Poderosa Tours are modern H-D models such as ElectraGlides, StreetGlides and Dynas brought in through a convoluted method via Panama. It's all above board but as anyone will tell you, anything in Cuba is complicated.
Tours are typically a week or longer to such historic locations as Trinidad da Cuba in the country's south-east where the 500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage city remains surprisingly well preserved.
A full report will appear in Australian Road Rider Magazine
For details about joining a La Poderosa 'Harlista' Tour, contact Robyn Smith at Movidas Journeys +612 9700 1327 www.movidas.com.au
Main pic: Max Cucchi / Backroad Diaries Publishing