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Cuba has World Class Climbing, But Climbers There Are Struggling

Cubans face the worst economic catastrophe in 30 years. Blackouts and food shortages are now the norm.

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For decades climbers have ventured to the paradisiacal limestone walls of Cuba, where in the Viñales region alone you can sample from several hundred bolted sport climbs. Just over 100 miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba offers European-style tufa tugging without the time and expense commitment of Continental travel. Like many countries, especially smaller somewhat isolated ones such as Cuba, the island nation was hard hit by Covid, troubles compounded by the war in Ukraine, sanctions, and lower subsidies from Venezuela. Tourism from visiting climbers, whom the locals depend on for gear and dollars, virtually ceased. Add to that a destabilized economy, one with triple-digit inflation, and Cubans now face long food lines. Much of the time, says a Cuban climber who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of governmental retribution, “The stores are empty for weeks and when they supply any food, people behave like cannibals trying to reach what little there is.”

The government, which supplied rudimentary provisions, has collapsed. “Even the commitment of milk for every child is consigned to oblivion,” says Cuban-American climber Armando Menocal, founder of the Access Fund and Acceso PanAm and an early developer of Cuban rock. It is the worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union some 30 years ago.

Other basics such as electricity are in short supply.  The situation “is horrible,” says one Cuban climber. Outside the capitol city of Havana people live without electricity for four to 16 hours, and “you never know when they remove it or when they are going to put it on.” Menocal says that many Cubans “cook without electricity and shower in the dark from a bucket of water.”

Cuba’s climbers, ever resilient, have pressed on despite the hardships and the lack of recognition or support from the government, one that can make even climbing illegal for Cubans. For more than 20 years, Cuban climbers have developed and maintained their abundant and world-class crags thanks to gear donated by visiting climbers, who often leave their equipment after seeing local climbers climbing barefoot or on frayed ropes. Today, the situation goes beyond the need for climbing gear—being able to purchase food is a more primary concern.

What follows is a photo gallery by Cuba’s leading climbing photographer, Tito Jorge. Climbing is pleased and honored to present these images and hope they will motivate you to help our fellow climbers. How? Plan a trip. For details on how to visit Cuba legally (the rules seem ever-changing), visit the U.S. Embassy In Cuba website. For more information on climbing in Cuba, check out cubaclimbing.com —Duane Raleigh

 

 

Rock climber on limestone feature in Cuba.
Henry Sanches gets a wrap on Tho Más Dos (7c+/5.12d), Techo Del Mundo, Viñales, Cuba. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Adrián Pérez works through the steep on Tho Más Dos (7c+/5.13a), Techo Del Mundo, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Dione and Mambises y Maulet (6b+/5.10d), Cueva Larga, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Dione and Mambises y Maulet (6b+/5.10d), Cueva Larga, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Adrián Pérez with an ocean-side seat on Buen Viaje (5+/5.10a), Peñón del Fraile, Jibacoa.

Dairon, Tacto Rectal (7a/5.11d),Jaguaeyana, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Luis Enrique Pimentel on the bucket-list La Puta del Barrio (8b/5.13d), Techo del Mundo, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)
Elisa Moreno on RM (6a+/5.10b), Cueva de la Vaca, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Adrián Pérez goes on an Espléndidos (8a/5.13b), Cueva de la Vaca. Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)
Dione on Mambises y Maulet (6b+/5.10d), Cueva Larga, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Raikel Reyes carves out Insection (7b/5.12b), Mogote del valle, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Mija Popovic on Romeo y Regletas (7b+/5.12c), Paredón de Josué, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)
Jorge Luis Pimentel works up Je Sui Qun Connurd (8c/5.14b), Techo del Mundo, Colales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)

Nicky Kleoudis, Mucho Pompito (6b/5.10c), Costanera Wall, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)
Raymon Lee dances with the Pink Lady (6c/5.11a), Cuba Libre Wall, Viñales. (Photo: Tito Jorge)