Viva Cuba!

Cityscape

If you’re an aspiring time traveler like me, you might want to check out Cuba. Imagine a landscape stuck in 1950, featuring strong American architectural influence mixed with bright Cuban flair. Prior to the 1953 Revolution, almost three quarters of the country’s most profitable land was held by wealthy foreigners, mostly Americans. After Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista, the new Communist government instituted social reforms, including greater equality for black Cubans and women, reduced illiteracy, and the nationalization of foreign held land. In response to land reforms, the US tightened its embargo with Cuba, which later evolved to ban all US-Cuban trade, and later forbid US citizens from traveling to or conducting transactions within Cuba. Now, unkept buildings make for a post apocalyptic Gotham City. But zoom into the inner city streets and the rolling countryside and you’ll find life, energy, and passion.

Man with Cigar

Sunset Bike 2

Kindergarten 3

Sword Fight

Cuba is vastly different from other third world countries I’ve visited. Antique cars, worth a small fortune when well kept in the US, roam the streets of Havana, with license plate colors delineating private, government, and foreign ownership. There are no advertisements to be seen, no billboards, very few flashy neon signs, no posters, and no window displays. Instead, each building looks much like the others, with a peeling exterior, faded colors, and fresh laundry hanging on the balcony. From an outsider’s perspective, the standard of living seems consistent from humble farm houses in the country to high rise apartments in the city. Not once did I see a larger, newer home. Only a few select historic sites are under construction, otherwise the cityscape is void of cranes.

Cars 1

Building 8

Graffiti 2

The Cuban people are the life of the city. Contrary to the American view of Cuba, crime is extremely low, violence seemed non existent, and most people appeared perfectly content with life on the island. And why wouldn’t they? Unlike the typically awkward gatherings of American climbers, featuring self conscious huddles of hunchbacks swaying off beat to electronic house, the Cubans dance. Like, they really dance. I don’t think these guys ever slept. They climbed hard in the heat all day, danced all night, and were always packed and ready to climb at sunup.

Raùl Climbing

While the climbing, the food, and the scenery are always trip highlights no matter the location, time after time it is the people that truly capture my heart. I traveled to Cuba with Solid Rock – Climber’s For Christ, among a group of Americans, Mexicans, and Cubans. I don’t often talk publicly about my faith, as I find it to be pushy. My beliefs are something I want to share with others through genuine relationships, but not push onto climbers, who often hold anti religious sentiments. Throughout the twelve years I’ve spent with the climbing community, not once have I been ostracized for my beliefs. I’m aware of the “reputation” I may have for being conservative, or more conservative than the majority of climbers. While I don’t doubt that in my absence people may have questions or strong objections regarding what I believe as a Christian, face to face I’ve received nothing but respect, and for that I am both impressed and appreciative. I want to return that same respect to the climbing community that I deeply love.

I think the message which often surrounds Christianity is one of judgement, guilt, and even hypocrisy. To me, this is the “religion” part of Christianity, the rules and consequences that deter many people. However, as my new friend from Mexico said, Christ didn’t come to give us a religion, He came to give us a relationship with Him. This is the message of love I want to share, not through preachy words, but through relationships with my climbing friends.

Family Portrait 3

Daniela and Paige

Carina and Illariy 3

I experienced this love in a great way in Cuba. A genuine love, shared across people of vastly different cultures. A love for climbing, for trying hard, for pushing your limits. A love for metal music and salsa dancing and struggling through Spanglish. A love for new friendships. This is what Cuba meant to me.

Full Group Shot

I know a lot of people are interested in the logistics of traveling to Cuba since it’s a bit obscure, so in the upcoming weeks I’ll post about travel details and climbing logistics. In the meantime, if you get the rare opportunity to visit, don’t hesitate to jump on that plane. And don’t forget your rhythm!

Street Kids Running

Lizard 3

Hen Coop

Horse and Carriage

Pots and Pans

Turkey and Pigs

Workbench 2



22 responses to “Viva Cuba!”

  1. This is rad Paige! Can’t wait to hear more about it. Miss you lots and lots. xoxo

  2. Peter Stokes says:

    Really enjoyed this, from the writing to the photos to your words about Faith- it sounds similar to mine. I’ve also never felt any disrespect from the climbing community when I’ve expressed views that aren’t the norm, and I think it speaks to the number of interesting, intelligent and compassionate people in our sport. Cuba is on my list, for sure!

  3. Kevin says:

    Great article and photos Paige, miss seeing you. So glad your adventures continue.

  4. Daniel says:

    I can’t stop looking at that first photo! So rad.

  5. Chris says:

    Awesome read and great photos!!

    Keep It up!

  6. Hi … as an old ex-climber, I travelled on to your page, Paige. Loved the pics and your eye’s vision! Thank you and keep on keeping on. peace.

  7. Doug Englekirk says:

    My first climbing trip in years (except to Yosemite, but that’s my home crag so it doesn’t count), and my first foreign one in decades. Cuba was an adventure and it was fun to spend time and get to know you, Paige, and all the Cuban climbers. I appreciate how you communicated in your blog about sharing your faith. When I was on the climbing circuit, I had much the same approach, but I’m not sure I could articulate it like you did. Everyone knew I was a Christian and respected my views, so I tried to do the same with them. The only thing I’m trying to figure out is how to express the importance and blessings of following Christ, without violating the respect of others opinions. Great pictures!

    • Thanks for the encouragement Doug. It was wonderful to meet you and Dana too, I’m sure that’s not the last adventure we’ll share! Let me know if you guys pop out to Colorado, and I’ll do the same.

  8. Beautiful pics of the country and perceptive observations about Cubans. The buildings are decrepit,and the economy worst, but Cubans milk exuberance out of deprivation. An old man once said to me that we may be destitute, but we aren’t miserable.
    BTW, hello Doug, it’s been a couple decades.
    saludos,
    Armando

    • Hi Armando, I’m glad you like the photos, and I really appreciate your words about Cubans. Please let me know if there is ever any way I can help the climbers down there get resources, I’m happy to help in whatever way I can.

    • Doug Englekirk says:

      You hit the attitude of the Cubans. I enjoyed their company. Hello to you to, Armando.

  9. Nice pics…But if you think that cubans are “happy” with their lifes, think again. Like most turistas you seem to have felt for the apparent friendliness and happiness of my people, that legendary charm. And like most turistas you failed to notice the deeper sadness behind every cuban face….you failed to understand Cuba. Oh well, no surprise here….most foreigners and half of the cubans dont understand shit and Cuba remains a sort of “Jurassic Park” of socialism and human feelings for adventurous lefties and hopeless romantics…..while the culture and the country crumbles…..I also dont understand what climbing has to do with Christ….But Im and atheist, so to me the whole faith thing is quite comical…..and irrational!
    Hey, it takes a believer to see a paradise in Cuba!!!
    cheers……and forgive me!…like a good christian!
    Anibal Fernandez

    • Hi Anibal,
      Thank you for your comment. I understand that I’m a white tourist and didn’t begin to scratch the surface of what life is like in Cuba. However, I think happiness comes from within each of us, and I saw that happiness in a great number of climbers that I met. Of course, with happiness comes sadness, no matter where you are from, and I do not doubt that life in Cuba is difficult in a way that I do not understand. For me, that happiness comes from God, and He has put climbing in my life as a way to meet and learn from people around the world. As for what climbing has to do with Christ, I believe it is people that connect those two “interests” as you might call them. Climbers share climbing, Christians share Christ, and sometimes those things overlap. I’m glad you commented, as it’s great to hear from many perspectives, yours included. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Dariel says:

    Great pics. The famous writer Garcia Lorca said that Cuba is intoxicating, and Hemingway said “If I ever get lost go and find me in Cuba”. Of course, both of them were looking at it from a different perspective than the present people of Cuba, but no doubt that Cuba is charming even for those who had to leave her for some reason. I think I understand Anibal because I’m a Cuban, and I know how having nothing for breakfast, lunch or dinner can feel like, or having just 4 hours of power a day for months; but I know most of us have the ability to laugh at our disgrace. I also know what being an atheist is all about, I was the worst. But Christ (the Rock) changed my life, delivered me from drugs, alcohol, depressing smoking, extremely crazy life… IN JUST ONE NIGHT!! The very next day he had filled my life so much that I did not have to go back to any of these things again. It’s been 17 years now and it has been my best decision ever. I thought all that was religion too, irrational as you said, I even mocked at other Christians in my school and stole their food, and I was so wrong. He is so real, He became my best friend. And if you wonder what climbing has to do with Christ, I have to tell you that He has to do with EVERYTHING. No wonder why people like Newton and Pascal believed in Him, just to mention two. Jesus loves you despite your stubbornness and pride. His hands are wide open for you or any one who comes looking for meaning in life, a sense of belonging, true forgiveness, extreme love, loyal friendship. We’ll be praying for you. In Christ’s love,
    Dariel

    • Hi Dariel, thank you for sharing your story, I loved reading your words and hope I can hear more sometime. Of course you’re right, there are multiple perspectives to every situation, some less informed than others, such as that of a tourist. However there is also a good and bad side to every part of life, but the attitude we approach it with makes all the difference. Easier said than done, and it’s something I have to work on each day, with God’s help. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Brad says:

    Looks like a sweet trip Paige. Hopefully rewarding in many different ways.

  12. Dean Olin says:

    Awesome photos! I enjoyed reading about your experiences, especially your struggle with telling climbers about Christ yet not pushing them away. One of my favorite quotes is, “Preach the good news at all times and when all else fails, use words.”

  13. […] To read more about my time in Cuba, see my past post, Viva Cuba. […]

  14. Hermann Lahr says:

    I am sure you had a great time in Cuba. Please remember during all of this that this is one of the most oppressive regimes in the world and that the regime will do anything in it’s power to make you feel great. Look behind the curtain next time you’re there (but carefully)

  15. A real religious conviction should improve conviction, a connect to God. A superb belief summons us in community to show care for toward one another and toward persons less providential, and mobilizes us to feed the hungry, dress the poor, cure the fallen and secure the surviving. Spirituality manuals our feelings as religion guidlines our actions. Theology is inward while religious conviction leads outward. Mysticism can be practiced alone, but religious conviction in community. Particularly theology makes us additional understanding, religious beliefs impels us to perform concrete acts of loving-kindness.

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