Archive for March, 2015

In which our hero breaks his wife

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

So, there’s more to Cuba than a bunch of cities and beaches.

There’s adventure!

Cuba has a LOT of rough country and you can have a lot of fun in it.
Not a lot of it alone though.
Cuba is, rightly so, suspicious of people that go off into the wilderness. Why, only in 1956 a disgruntled lawyer got lost in the wilderness of Granma and 68 years later he’s still running the bleeding country.
On a more serious note I think we’ve proven we can’t be trusted to walk around in nature without seriously eroding it, leaving a forest of Mars wrappers behind, getting lost and requiring a week long search and rescue, or worse. So they don’t let people walk around in nature unattended a lot.

There is quite the guided tour activity potential though.

  • Hiking
  • Diving
  • Biking
  • Horse rides

There’s even the starts of a canyoning/active adventure kind of tours.

Anyway, we’re not the right kind of people for tour holidays.
It all started in Japan, where we were indoctrinated to tag along with great big busloads of people, taking in the sights, photographing them, being photographed in front of them, and moving on.

We like to do things on our own.
The problem is: We’re idiots.


In Viñales we forwent the climbing option due to a recently acquired tendon injury of the hand. BUT we did rent bikes.

For those of you reading this who are interested in biking in Cuba, there are quite a few good options for it, there’s even a bunch of organizations that deal with people biking across the country.
These are mostly on roads though.

What we did, we took the bikes off-road.
We took regular, non-mountain bike kind of bikes, off-road.
We took regular bikes along an ox trail toward the fields
We took regular bikes along what was, at first, an ox trail and later turned into a donkey trail past fields and into backwater Cuba.

It was gorgeous

It was painful

This was the first fall. Second came with blood (and I was busy doing stuff other than taking pictures at the time. Husband points, no photographer points)

Viñales is a place I highly recommend to visit if you are going to be in western Cuba. The climbing scene is (apparently, remember the injury) the best developed in the country, for bird watchers it offers some unique opportunities, it produces some excellent cigars and the way the highlands have eroded make for some truly stunning scenery.

But if you’re going to go off-road. . .
Take a tour.

Topes de Collantes

This place is a large natural reserve just north of Trinidad and for me easily the better part of my recommendation to go there.

If you do like hiking though, I recommend only using Trinidad as a staging point. The tours offered from Trinidad are always the same:

  • Go out early morning
  • Hike to a waterfall
  • Have lunch at this one restaurant
  • Visit the world of coffee
  • Go back to Trinidad

If you had a particularly short walk, the house of coffee would be before lunch and you could be on a beach by 2.

Combining two walks in one tour was not possible.

So we took a taxi to the town inside the park (Also called Topes de Collantes, I assume to keep tourists confused) and made our own ways to the hike sites. I am sure there is plenty of opportunity to explore widely off the beaten track, but there is no real need for first time visitors. There are a good 7 controlled hikes.
5 of those are easily accessible from the village.
One of them was an easy 10km walk away.

Well . . . easy-ish.

There was a clear hike indicated on the map that would lead us there.

Side note: Cuban maps SUCK. Read any travel advisory regarding renting a car in Cuba or doing a bicycle tour and it’ll be in the notes. Well, it isn’t much better for hiking maps.
And considering you will be walking with local trained guides, I guess there really isn’t a reason for good maps . . .


So you can see the yellow line with red outline that indicated a paved road which would take us halfway. Next to this there was a brown line (in between the first and second arrow from south->north) indicating a hiking trail.
Now, this uninterrupted brown line on the map had over 10 splits and joins in reality so a small alarm bell started ringing at the back of my head, but I expertly navigated us back to where the coloured line rejoined the other coloured line and sure enough we were on the paved road just shy of the bridge, exactly where the map said we’d be if we follow this track.
None of this with a single trail marker anywhere along the way btw.

Meeting a nice man searching for his cow on the way 😀

Now, for the next leg we had 2 options.

1. follow the paved road and then the 4*4 track. But the paved road went around the mountain and would be somewhere between double to triple the distance if we’d take option 2.
2. take the hiking trail over the mountain, but in an almost straight line to our destination. Considering how the previous leg went . . . probably not that hard.

Obviously we took option 2.

Also, option 2 made this blogpost.

Option 2 is the brown line starting just after the bridge off the paved road which the first coloured line just rejoined.
Sure enough, just after the bridge there was a footpath heading off in the right direction.
It was kinda slow turning right
OK, so first we gotta cross this little rivlet
We’ve still not turned
No, it certainly isn’t that path
Oh cool, an abandoned village
OK, maybe it was that path a bit back

It took a while to find the the path, but we did finally find one that was headed north.
It . . .
just . . .
kinda . . .

It kinda stopped halfway up the mountain. And this was after it had been getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller for a while.
We didn’t lose it though, it’s right over there.
No, over there.
Definitely still on the path.

By the time we had to admit to having actually lost the track we were up shit creek and not clear way down.
Just so we don’t come across as complete idiots we kept finding old campsites and empty bottles. It was definitely a path recently.
Jungles just grow fast, people.

Due to the nature of physical reality, despite being lost, if we would keep going north we would end up where we needed to go.
Sun was out, compass was working (mostly).

No problem.

So, I don’t know if you’ve ever been lost in the jungle, but it kinda looks like this:

That was north.
Full of thick stems and uphill. And a lot of the stems were tied together with vines. Thorny vines.

North was not working.
North-west kinda did though.

Except for that bit with the giant beehive.
Fuck that.

There’s a bit in the lonely planet where the writer says it’s a safe country due to there not being a lot of venomous animals or large predators.
Dude who wrote that obviously never ran into a beehive the size of a man halfway up a mountain. Bees will fucking kill you, man. And while running away from them normally isn’t terribly effective in the first case, in this case it would mean 2 seconds of running followed by plummeting head-first to your death down a 70 degree slope.
So yeah. Fuck that.

Climbing that mountain. 1 km on the map took us the better part of 2 hours.

Getting to the top of that mountain.

Not just the view either.
Look at that road! That’s a road right there.

Now, any experienced hiker will tell you that it isn’t going up the mountain that will kill you, it’s going down.
It’s the making of a mistake while going down and then the involuntary acceleration in vertical direction following it.
But the north side of this mountain was very gently sloped and very hikable.
Still not easy, there were still high density brush, but at a mere 20-30 degree slope it was a lot easier than trying to go back down the way we had come.

We didn’t go straight down, opting instead to head for a ridge and taking that down.

And on that ridge. . . .

A trail!

Oh yes! A trail!
And on that trail

A cowpat!

Oh man, that cowpat. That glorious cowpat.

You see, I thought there was no such thing as wild cows in Cuba so this meant the path would lead to a farm.

Wrong I may have been about the absence of wild cattle in Cuba, the path lead us straight to some guy’s farm.
And not just any guy. A guy who also worked as driver for tourists on the side.

By this time we were way behind our schedule (time flies when you’re lost in the jungle) and gladly accepted a ride to our destination.
And then accepted a ride back, without having done the hike we hiked to get to. By the time we’d finish that hike all transport options would be gone and walking back (by option 1, of course) would get us back 3 hours after sun-down.

So this picture of the Parque Guanayara waterfall is brought to you by google.

Following is a picture from the Salto del Caburni, which was an easy hike from behind our hotel which I did the next day. There is no Raphaelle in this picture as she stayed back, reading a book and not taking any more chances with bees.

I have had to hand in all rights to lead her off clearly marked trails for the next 6 months. But in 2 months we’re headed to the somewhat milder wilds of the Harz where we will try to have a little bit lower adrenaline to enjoyment ratio.

Find the complete picture set of our visit to Cuba here.