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After a sad farewell to our Casa hosts Anna-Maria and Victor, we navigated our way out of Havana heading west for Vinales. Four days on the road included a visit to Les Terraces, a small resort community surrounded by thriving Pine forests (a regeneration project for an area scarred by fire and agricultural mishaps) and a beautiful series of swimming pools at nearby Banos del San Juan.
There was a bit of backtracking on this part of our journey, here at Les Terraces because our minimal Spanish had us standing at the gate for the banos with the wrong entry ticket. This meant dropping the trailer and riding back to the park entrance gate for the correct ticket, tacking an extra 15k on the day. There is a cool little restaurant in the village (El Romero) that served up dishes with local ingredients, whole grains and some tasty baked rolls, a nice change from the standard rice and beans. A night in the tent beside a sweet river and a gorgeous ride the following day had us arriving in Las Palmas. Upon the realization that an important article had been left behind in the restaurant mentioned above, we tried to figure out the best way to backtrack for the second time in as many days. Thankfully some very friendly and helpful Cubans were on hand, and the next day Hailey got a lift to retrieve it.
Vinales is close enough to Las Palmas that we decided to head out that same day, and the late afternoon and evening light illuminated some of the most stunning scenery we had seen so far.
We rolled into Vinales after the sun had dipped below the horizon, and our fully loaded bikes had the Casa hustlers (jinteros/as) calling out from all sides. We had a Casa in mind, recommended by a friend, and found our way to it. Booked up, unfortunately, but we were quickly directed around the corner to Casa Mileidy. A real score, it turned out! That evening, despite profuse apologies for being unprepared, we were served up a HUGE and delicious meal by our hosts. Garlic fried chicken with yucca, fried plantain chips, papas fritas, black bean soup, avocado, rice, vegetables, and for dessert: cheese and guava paste!
By the light of next day we realized that Casa Mileidy was on the very edge of town, away from the hustle and bustle, and literally ten minutes walk away from some of the best crags around! This, combined with the amiable nature of Mileidy and her family made the decision to stay right here an easy one. After an equally large breakfast accompanied by coffee grown and roasted right in the back yard, we headed out to the rock.
We met some members of the small Cuban climbing community, and it is shocking and unfair that their choice to pursue the sport could land them in serious hot water with the government. Despite it being “illegal” for Cuban nationals to climb on the crags surrounding Vinales, there are some young guns that climb at a very high level. If you decide to enjoy a climbing holiday in Cuba, consider leaving some gear behind to help these guys out. Hangers and bolts are very much in demand, there is miles of new route potential!
I cannot say enough about Vinales. Fantastic rock climbing. Eye pleasing vistas in all directions. Friendly vibe, great parties in the plaza, and hundreds of reputable inexpensive Casas serving better food than you will find in any state-run restaurant. The next two weeks went by in a flash, climbing every day, exploring different valleys and mogotes, strolling through fields of coffee, yucca, tobacco and pineapple. We took a couple of days off for a short cycle to San Diego de Los Banos, two days of riding through even more incredible landscapes. The namesake sulphur baths we were looking forward to soaking in turned out to be closed, and had been for a couple of years! This is the hazard of an outdated guidebook.
Here are some more images of our time in and around Vinales.
Renan Ozturk has been creating beautiful videos that he posts on the collective blog Vertical Carnival Dispatches, and lately this includes three dispatches from a recent climbing trip to Vinales. Great stuff, brings back good memories, and I even recognize a few faces! Here is the second episode, be sure to check out the first and third here.
Ah, historic HAVANA! Big enough to be a city since 1592, with heavy fortifications built at the harbour entrance to fend off the pirates of the 1600′s. A perimeter wall was added to the defenses in the 1700′s, only to be torn down in 1863 to make room for a rapidly expanding metropolis. After the first revolution in the late 1800′s, the country ended up under United States control. The 1930′s brought gangsters, casinos, money, and of course, corruption to Havana, turning it in to a veritable sin city. Fulgencio Batista was the man in charge, and brutality and greed reigned over Cuba. Change finally came on January 1st, 1959, when the irrepressible forces led by Fidel Castro,”Che” Guevara, and Camilio Cienfuegos were poised to take over Havana, and Batista fled by plane with a personal fortune of dirty money estimated at 300 million dollars.
Today, still under the rule of Castro, Havana is a city of contrasts. Beautifully maintained and restored buildings stand amidst those that have been allowed to crumble into the streets. Fifty year old (or more) American cars of all makes share the narrow streets and wide boulevards with Russian Ladas from the seventies, and rarely, newer Chinese and European models. Sharply dressed Cubanos riding on 40 year old Chinese bicycles. Humble corner bodegas where Cubans can pick up their rations of rice, eggs, bread etc., and huge department stores full of stuff that most of the population will never be able to afford.
We settled in to our cosy casa, made arrangements for some Spanish lessons, and set to wandering through the ever busy streets of this lively city. Often we would walk along the Malecon, an eight kilometer long sea wall pummelled by waves and wind during storms, but packed with Habaneros (residents of Havana, not the hot peppers) on fair weather evenings. One night we passed hundreds of people, hanging out and having a good time with friends, drinking, fishing, playing or listening to music, and making out. A fantastic part of the city.
GALLERIES, ART, and other DETAILS:
After an enjoyable ten days in Havana, we were excited to hit the road again and escape the one thing we didn’t like so much: the air quality can only be described as poor in this grand ciudad.