It was a long bus ride from Trinidad to Vinales but the reward was the first sight of the mogotes rising out of the lush valley in the late afternoon sun, like prehistoric monsters. For a travelling rock climber those limestone towers mean only one thing – cragging!
Vinales is a sleepy little town in the north-central Pinar del Rio province of Cuba and the Vinales Valley is a Unesco World Heritage Site for the karst landscape and traditional agriculture, architecture, crafts and music.
Travellers come to Vinales to hike or go horse riding among the green valleys. If you really can’t do without a beach catch the bus to Cayo Jutias for some chill out time with the locals.
But the Wandering Kiwis were on a mission to go rock climbing. Rock climbing in Cuba is not exactly kosher with the government and there is not a great deal of information out there about it but there is a guidebook by Armando Menocal and a lot of information on PlanetMountain.
The most important thing to start you off is knowing where to stay – at Casa Oscar in Vinales. Oscar Jaime and his family run a casa particulare (home stay) that has become a base camp for rock climbers in Cuba over the years.
There is a strong local climbing scene, encouraged by donations of gear by visiting international climbers and most of the (sport) routes have been put up by locals.
It is a one kilometre walk to the Valle de Mojote where we had identified a handful of climbs within our range. It is on the farm of Raul, who greeted us and pointed in the right direction – past the ‘no climbing’ sign on the gate.
Passing the pineapple field and the red, red earth we reach the jungle, where lemon-yellow and green-black butterflies dip and dive in the undergrowth.
We started out early in the morning but the steamy heat was already beginning to rise. Fortunately it was easy to stick to mostly shaded climbing routes.
The limestone is beautiful – fluted and pale – although sharp and unpolished on fingers!
A successful day’s climbing in Cuba finished with pineapple juice dripping down my throbbing fingers and onto my trousers. Raul had chopped up the succulent fruit for me and we bought a handful of his homemade cigars in return.
Back at Oscar’s in the evening we exchanged climbing tips and life stories with other guests, listened to the crickets singing and smelt the bananas frying on the grill. The women of the family chattered loudly in the courtyard and the children did their homework at a small table, supervised by Oscar.
Later still we wandered into the town centre to have a few mojitos and watch the locals salsa dancing at a club. Another great day in Cuba.
By Natasha von Geldern