C U B A
Luebben 200' off the deck near El Palanque Caverns
I first went to Cuba in the summer of '97 in search of rock climbing potential. I was climbing in the Caribbean, fairly close to the country at the time, and an 'opportunity' to go there presented itself - I had to see this place! I had heard rumors of steep climbable faces 'here or there' on the island and I wanted to find out if it was true. Of course the imprecise descriptions of such treasure came second or third hand (or more) from non-climbers, but what the heck, great adventures have been born from much less. So I flew through the "back door" on an old outlaw DC-3 that flapped through the air like a starving vulture. There was no copilot and you could see outside through holes left where some rivets had fallen out. When the pilot had to take a break, the single 'attendant' took his seat. After landing, evidence of the Revolution was everywhere, as was military presence. The degree of apparent anti-American sentiment was shocking - clearly very serious business indeed! I was not sure I had done the right thing in coming here, one very white face amidst a sea of brown - and I didn't speak Spanish (English had been banned for 40+ years). How could something like this exist less than 100 miles from US shores? How I managed to rent a car is still a mystery, and how I found my way out of Havana, its smoky atmosphere and seemingly endless barios, is a topic of another story. However once into the hinterlands, I was thoroughly stunned to find a nearly unimaginable tropical paradise. Quaint little villages as well as tobacco, sugar cane and melanga farms dotted the landscape. Also, much to my surprise, the Cuban people were warm and friendly to me, especially in the countryside. They were literally ravenous for news and information about the United States. And yes, there was climbing potential far beyond earlier descriptions, particularly around the small rural village of Vinales. I found out in years past there had been a route put up by a Columbian mountaineer, and also a pair of French women climbers had ventured about up about one pitch on a face on the north side of Sierra de Galleras, one of the principal Mogotes (little mountains) in the area. Outside of that, there seemed to be no other climbing development whatsoever. Yeessss!!
Craig joining in on the prevailing political climate. Hmmm, should we have been there?
By this time, it became apparent we needed to get back to some real climbing! As a warmup, we climbed the walls of El Morro Castle in Havana (shot at left) with several young, enthusiastic Habaneros who also took us to a climbing area they had been attempting to develop called Jaruco (see the map). Then, along with several very special Cuban acquaintances including Carlos Pinelo Esplugas, Vitalio "Viti" Echazabal Acosta and his beautiful lady "Nannie", and Juan Carlos Gonzales Ramirez, we went straight back to Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province. Huge limestone humps called "Magotes" surround the town and many have shear undercut faces literally dripping with stalactites and flowstone, while others have 200' to 400' vertical walls sometimes nearly denuded of forestation. We would spot a potential face and had to conduct reconnaissance to determine if it was worth the effort or not. Some were, some weren't. The shot at right shows the 'gang' trooping past fields of melanga, leaving an area we ended up calling 'The Great Orange Wall of Disappointment' because, after hours of hacking our way up to its base, it was total choss, unclimbable!! However, in general, we couldn't have asked for more. We established a collection of routes near the giant cave of El Palanque, about 3 miles north of VINALES. See photo showing the little village of Vinales and its surroundings. The arrow indicates the El Palanque 'narrows' where many of the routes are located). These climbs PLUS many newly developed areas (detailed in the new guidebook "CUBA CLIMBING" - see below) are found on THE MAP PAGE! Routes as long as 5 pitches were put up, many more have been put in since then. For an article about the early development of the area check out Rock & Ice Magazine, Volume 94, October '99, OR THIS INTERESTING LINK, for more of the story.
ORIGINAL ROUTES ('98)
1.) Mr. Magote, GO HERE
P A R T I N G C O M M E N T S
Cuba, the island of mystery, revolt and isolation is a veritable adventureland - with hiking in primitive forests, underground exploration in massive caves, diving, rafting, 100's of miles of beautiful beaches and so much more. Adventuring is limited only by the shores of the island and the seeming inability of US citizens to travel here. Not to miss out, Europeans have been coming to the island in increasing numbers since the late eighties.
Beyond this, I think it is probably rare that visitors to Cuba, especially those venturing out past the tourist havens, are not moved to a high state of compassion and sometimes even to tears. We were all deeply affected at one time or another. Nearly everything and everyone touches one's heartstrings. Its how the Cuban people create so much out of so little, how resourceful they are in the face of abject bleakness. For example, our Cuban friends assembled very functional backpacks out of discarded duffel bag parts (Gregory and Dana take notice!) and harnesses from scraps of webbing. It was these things plus their enthusiastic willingness to help and learn that was so impressive. In getting to know them more completely, it became evident that their strong sense of national pride had been shaped by passionate struggles and a turbulent history rich in conquest, slavery, rebellious dictatorships, bloody revolutions and starvation (both mental and physical). Yet they remain so delightful and open.
Despite widespread adversity and restrictive policies of the totalitarian government, the Cuban people are genuinely friendly and literally captivated by visitors from other lands, especially the United States. No matter where we went, the reaction was the same. It started out with looks of shock and disbelief upon learning we were Americans. "Could it be that this tattered band of rock climbers were actually the nasty, land hungry, rifle-bearing imperialistos from the north that they should be so afraid of"? Obviously not! The initial response was followed by tentative friendliness and quickly snowballed into complete, innocent acceptance and boundless curiosity. I am sure we made friendships that will last a lifetime. It could not have been better. Without doubt, there is a very strong wind of change blowing across Cuba. It won't be long!! And ...... YES, WE'LL BE BACK !!
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IN FACT, the local Cuban climbing community has put up many new routes since our first trip in 1998. ALSO climbers from many countries are coming here to help develop routes and to enjoy the unique climbing scene found only on CUBA.
The number of routes has literally exploded !!
These are compiled in a NEW GUIDEBOOK,
a 'must have' if you come here.
SEE THIS AND MORE AT WWW.CUBACLIMBING.COM
Good informational Sources:
NEW GUIDEBOOK for CLIMBING IN CUBA: "CUBA CLIMBING", Fernandez and Menocal, Quickdraw Publications, Squamish, BC (2009). www.quickdrawpublications.com
- Cuba: Travel Survival Kit, David Stanley, Lonely Planet ('97), 155 Filbert St., Suite 251, Oakland, CA 94607.
- Several Cuba URL's are listed on the links page.
- The Cuba Handbook, Christopher Baker, Moon Travel Handbooks ('97), P.O. Box 3040, Chico, CA 95927, www.moon.com.
** READ MORE ON CUBA ... GO HERE !
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