New Zealand



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The hardest part was getting myself to go. Going wasn't even the hard part. Once I was in Cuba, everything kind of fell into place. I mean, things are usually going to fall into place one way or another; maybe not the way you want it to go, but it will fall! Thankfully, I had a pretty easy entrance and month in the country.

Once I met up with Alex and Mark things started to make more sense. With my limited knowledge of Cuba and Vinales, I would've had a lot harder of a time so shout out to them for showing me the ropes. I'm sure with a little more research I would have figured things out, but it definitely helped to have people who'd been to the country before show me around. That's what life is about anyway: learning and connecting from others, being open to new opportunities, and accepting you will never know it all.

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I found there were actually a decent amount of climbers in Vinales when I went in January. There were climbs for everyone, but I felt you need to at least climb around 5.11 or 6b+ to enjoy a good majority of the routes. That is in my unprofessional opinion!

There is so much opportunity for developing more climbing routes in Cuba. I'd read online about bringing in gear to the country, but didn't understand this is still a need. The things I read were from at least 10 years ago so I didn't know what to expect. Climbers can't really get gear in their country so they rely on foreigners to bring it. They need everything: ropes, harnesses, shoes, bolts, drills.

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Climbing in Vinales is popular, but not so popular that the local families are used to climbers spending months at a time in their village. My hosts (and most people I came into contact with) were totally confused as to why I would be spending a month in Vinales. They would always tell me it was too long. That tells me climbing is still a developing activity in this heavily touristy town.

But seriously! Every other tourist I talked with had told me Vinales was the most touristy place they'd traveled in Cuba. I only really spent my time in Vinales so I didn't have much else to compare it with. From what I gathered, this town thrives on tourism. It's basically a road lined with restaurants, and every single home is a Casa Particular (homes with rooms for people to rent out). Everyday someone would try to convince me to pay for a horseback riding tour, rent out a bicycle, or take a taxi somewhere.

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I was there to climb so most days I'd be walking down the road with a pretty large pack full of climbing gear. It looked like I was a backpacker just arriving in town so I'd get yelled at and followed by people trying to sell me a room. Every morning I'd have to tell people I did not need a room. I already had one. After awhile, Vinales started to feel like a place where people just wanted my money or a chance to get out of their country. It felt weird. I couldn't go anywhere without people trying to make a deal with me or men making kissy noises at me. I honestly couldn't trust people. I felt like I was looked at like a pile of money. That was hard. I don't have that much money, but in comparison to the Cuban people, I was rich. I couldn't tell, after awhile, who was genuinely being nice or who was just trying to get money out of me.

Cuba, from my experience, is safe. Yes, if you are a female most of the men will cat call you and tell you they love Americans, but I never felt scared or in danger. By the end of my trip I did get tired of hearing, "Que linda, where you from?! You with your boyfriend?" As Cubans, one of the only ways for them to get out of the country is by marriage or family. I would ask many locals and they all told me generally the same thing. Years prior their families would've had to have escaped the country, or they would need to marry a foreigner to leave. So I can't blame the guys for trying. By week 3 it was a bit much though.

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On a separate note, I found I like using the internet! I guess that's not some huge revelation. I like sharing my adventures and letting people know what I’m up to. I like watching Youtube, listening to music online, and Googling anything I want whenever I want. I couldn't do this in Cuba. The times I'd be in a place with Wifi I was usually spending my time with people so I couldn't utilize the internet that much.

Alex and Mark mentioned that even within a couple of years, wifi access had totally changed. Wifi used to only be available at designated areas or parks with a prepurchased card. This year, almost every restaurant offered wifi. It usually wasn't fast by any means, but it was available! The cards and wifi parks were still a thing, but you weren't limited to that option anymore. I honestly never bought a card, and just used the wifi at restaurants.

Cuba was a very spiritual time for me. It made me realize I don't know everything….Surprise! I was in a foreign country so my senses had to be totally engaged and aware. I couldn't speak much of the language so I had to rely on others to help me communicate. I didn't have internet when it was time to wind down for the night or wake up in the morning so I was able to use that time to meditate, journal, read, or think. It helped me be more in tune with where I was and what I was doing.

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By week 3 I had climbed most of the routes I wanted to try and was just ready to move on. I was ready to do other things. I still liked climbing obviously, but I wanted to mix things up. I guess things started to feel the same after awhile. Wake up, climb, eat, do it again. For me that gets boring.

On one rest day, though, we did get a big group of us to go to the beach. We went to Cayo Jutias which is about a 2 hour drive from Vinales. There were a couple options: take a bus or take a cab. Half of us were able to get tickets for the bus that morning, and the other half of the group had to share a cab as the busses ran out of available seats. The cost for a round trip ride to the beach was $15 for the bus. The beach day was great! It felt kind of silly though because all the taxi and bus drivers just waited at the beach until our time was up. It basically felt like an adult field trip as they watched all of us grown ups have our fun in the sun. But really, that day left me craving for more beach time. It made me want to live on a beach and learn to surf…

One last thing I haven't mentioned was how almost every single person I knew got a stomach sickness at some point in the trip. I managed to make it 2 weeks before it caught up to me. I thought I had gotten away without getting sick, and then it hit. For 24 hours I was so sick. I had thrown up more times than I can really remember. I can't tell you what it was from, but I sure got it! I have not felt that sick in a very long time. Out of all the climber friends I made there, I think one guy made it out successful. The rest of us had to do our 24 hours of time.

Overall I had a great first impression of Cuba. Like I said earlier, I think I would have been satisfied with 3 weeks in Vinales instead of the 4. It was nice because it just so happened that most of the climbers I met at the beginning of the month were also staying the full month as well. It felt like we had our own little family there for awhile.

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If I return to Cuba, I would do a few things differently. First of all I would make sure my offline Google Translate is downloaded and not try to update it halfway through the trip….or you know, maybe just actually know how to speak Spanish. It turns out the option to download the offline version of Google Translate isn't available in Cuba. I had it downloaded from when I traveled to Spain last year, but 2 weeks into this trip I noticed there was an update for the offline version. The second I tried to update it, my phone treated the app as if I had never downloaded it in the first place. So 2 weeks in I couldn't communicate with anyone as freely anymore. I'd tried downloading other translator apps, but I couldn't find anything remotely close to being as good Google Translate.

I'd also try to bring things to leave with the locals. The most common things people asked me for were clothes and ropes. Even people who weren't climbers would ask for my rope for use on farms or boats. Really anything would be beneficial. I met a couple from the States who have been traveling to Cuba for many years, and they bring over things such as guitar strings, clown noses, clothes, toys, etc.

Bring a water filter! I didn't have one, and I'm not proud to admit, but I ended up using waaaaaay too many plastic bottles. If I had a filter I would have saved close to $75, and made less of a negative impact on the environment. Several of my friends brought over and were using a Grayl water purifier bottle.

A few last things I'd do differently is exchange less cash at the airport, have mosquito repellent with me from day 1, and bring Tupperware dishes for leftovers! That last one is no joke. Meals are large, and I could have saved money if I had dishes to keep some leftovers in.

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That about wraps things up for now. Something life keeps constantly teaching me is the thought of something is usually scarier than actually doing it. That was Cuba in a nutshell. I had so much anxiety leading up to going, and when I got there that anxiety seemed silly.

Note to self: Stop overthinking. Do!

Thanks for stopping by!

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