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USA, Your Door Is Now Ajar…

Can a better future be seen, even from the top floor?

Can a better future be seen, even from the top floor?

We collectively exhale one of many held breaths as President Obama is living up to another part of the campaign promises.  This time it is the one to facilitate a more humanitarian relationship with Cuba. What exactly does that mean? Does that mean that we can all travel unhindered between Cuba and the US, take bike tours of the Vinales valley and do an oooh-aaah tour of Guantanamo’s military prison after some breathtaking peak-bagging in the Sierra Madres? No, think again. Like every valuable coin there are two sides that one must pay attention to. One side with a smiling face on it and the other side with the symbols, numbers and gritty language.

While our currency always states on it’s emblematic seal, E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one) it should probably state the converse, Ex Uno Plura (out of one, many), because as we are now a singular nation, we are more so a body of voices that all want to be heard individually and are willing to say what they should not just to be heard. Obama made promises, or declarations, and is now, in the face of quite intense abnormal forces, aiming to be a man of his word. Though these actions rarely affect one person, but instead hordes who all hold different beliefs on the subject matter. For every person who believes that we need to loosen our policy against Cuba, there is another person who will tell you the difference will be made when the other side takes its own actions. Undoubtedly will relief be felt from the reduced travel restrictions and by empowering people to do more for their family that remains in Cuba then they were able to before the changes. However, giving cell phone flexibility and greater mail parcel value will not change Cuba. This is where the flame gets its heat.

Many devotees to the Cuban cause believe that actions such as these only assist in propping up a communist regime that truly keeps its people under its thumb. Until the Cuban government stops its biast and archaic practices, the Cuban people will never be free. Yes, they will have quick and free access to healthcare and everyone will know how to read, but the Cuban people will never be free.It is impossible to feel free when your government can throw you in jail for not-supporting the system.  By this I do not mean revolting and being outspoken, but more so as by not following the recommendations to the letter.  There is a reason that Cuba boasts that there are nothing but criminals in  Cuban prison, becuase from dissenters to artists, anyone expressing counter-communist beliefs are deemed criminals.

There have been numerous cases where charges such as peligrosidad, dangerousness, has been cited as the chief complaint. Peligrosidad is an article defined as behavior or action that contradicts socialist morality, thus the offending individual has a special proclivity to commit crimes. Thus peligrosidad, under the penal code, can be used as a security measure to sentence someone up to four years in prison. In the past peligrosidad has been used to send punk rockers to jail, gays to jail and, now, rock climbers. However, as per the latter, it is not because of the activity itself, it is because the activity puts Cubans in contact with foreigners on a regular basis thus possibly altering the individual’s belief in their government’s system.

So the government has concocted the idea that Cuban climbers are growing marijuana on the mogotes, the picturesque limestone mountains, that have made the Pinar del Rio province famous. The authorities have stated that using heat-sensitive photography they have evidence of such activity, though they have never shown anyone accused or restricted from climbing, or anyone else really, these pertinent photos. Anyone indigenous to the area knows the error in the argument. The only thing that climbing has in common with drugs is that climbing is like a drug. Once you start there is a probability of addiction. Once addicted you just need to climb all of the time.

The problem with climbing often is that it makes you not want to work more and it exposes you to all sorts of worldly people as well as nurturing one’s instinctive analytical nature to question and test boundaries. This does not sit well with the Cuban government. However, returning to the original argument, no matter the energy that the US throws into the Cuban issue, it will not relieve the situation for Cubans, and thus only slightly for Cuban-Americans. The only thing that can be done is to place multi-lateral pressure on the Castro Regime to free it’s people.

Individual voices have been selected throughout time to express the happiness of the Cubans, and I am not here to debunk this. For some Cubans the life they have is all they could ever want. Unfortunately there are many Cubans who want a lot more. Here is a link to a post by a Cuban with a perfect record to wishes to exercise their will to travel, as it has been affirmed by the president of the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC), “that all Cubans can travel, except those who have a debt to the justice system.” This is not the truth and it is unfortunate that misleading information makes its way into the popular media without the appropriate filters or counter-voices.

So, in as much as I applaud our new president for his actions and courage to make the touch decisions that his predecessors could not, I say it will not be enough. It will not be enough until a second revolution originates from the same limestone caves and dark corners that the first revolution did. It will not be enough until Cubans have the right to travel, to earn respectable wages based on their own ambition or to pursue their own dreams as life has bestowed unto them. It will not be enough until the Castro Regime turns the government over to the populous from the greedy hands of a highly-centralized and imbalanced control of power. If the sentiments and declarations of the revolution that just celebrated its 50th anniversary had been universally followed then it might actually have been enough.


news from the mogotes

so now we are two.  starting as a group of six strong, going to eight and then to five and now to two.  we remain to tie up loose ends, give off the items brought to donate to those who need and see a few last sites.  baseball gloves, insoles, soccer balls, toothbrushes, pens, paper, carabiners, powdered milk, sugar and plastic containers.  everything must stay with those who need.  then the climbing gear is given to a trusted local source who can give it to he and she who needs and deserves it.

other news is that the project went.  for days i could feel the soreness in my left shoulder from the multiple large gaston moves, especially the one in the last boulder problem.  in reality, i should have sent the climb my third go and changed my foot beta just a hair, but enough to guarantee a victory, clipping the chains just an hour before the guy who bolted the route, Yarobys, clipped the same chains.  The name is Huracan (hurricane) and I think it goes at 13a.  Definitely agreat route, with three boulder problem cruxes and a mean core tensions sequency crux at the top.  my favorite route in two years, as it is rare that I get the moves of a climb stuck in my head so that I can´t think of anything but it.

Tomorrow we are going to a new crag to bolt a couple of routes to prepare for the national competition.  Normally Cuban climbers don´t climb really strong on average, so these routes will hopefully become classics and be enjoyable for many as time passes and more people come here to clip bolts and crank on the limestone of the mogotes.   The best Cuban climbers are in the mid 5.13 range, but the majority are breaking into 5.12.

As my language gets better I feel a hurdle with three languages.  You start to think about a word and end up referencing all three when you should be able to go and focus solely on one.  maybe once I break through this hurdle will I ultimately understand more about languages, or at least more than I already do.  Such a determinable link to culture and the people, expressions and intonation alone mean so much.

The people become more and more like family, playing a nd joking and giving signs of affection that we normally do not see in the US with people other than close friends and family that you´ve known fo ra long time.  It is such a nice feeling that a sense of community gives.

The day I sent the project I traveled out to the crag with Yarobys on a Guagua, one of the local Cuban buses.  It was so chill and talk about economical.  I don´t know why we have taken so many taxis when it is completely convenient to take the local travel methods and thus pay local prices.  Ten cents for a ride instead of six bucks.  I know how that sounds on the absolute scale, but on the relative scale it is much more astronomical.  and as for convenience, it is only a limited factor as some friends of ours took a taxi, paid for half of the ride and then the  guy never came back for them.  after walking five dark miles on Cuban roads did they find a place with a phone where they worked their Spanish and called a taxi.  luckily by that point our friend, Raytheon, knew something was wrong and asked our host to go and get them.  Thus we could all eat a fine meal together and laugh about the incident.  Oddly enough it was the day I took the local hitchhike and bus option.

So I stare here at the two holes on the sides of my finger that are the remnants of my work on the project.  my sequence included a solid five feet or so of pulling on a mono with my right hand as I pull into the clip, lock off, clip and pull a few more feet to a sloper.  When such work culminates in a victory you often have no more than the vestigial feeling of elation, a few photos and perhaps some worn down skin.  It all grows back and then you are left with a memory.  How does this end up changing us in the end. That for a small period of time we are infatuated, fully in love and head over heels for this climb and think and dream about it like a stranded castaway dreams of water, friends and comfort food.  Then after this zealous fit of emotion it is gone.  Does this make us callus to intense emotion after a while, knowing that we will be changed just for period of time and then life as usual goes on?  Hmmm.

In the end, I sit here with less skin then yesterday, four minutes left on my tarjeta, and thoughts of family and of the political discourses that separate such incredible places that have so much in common, and only 90 miles of water between their secured borders.

When will our governments see the light, that we are all brothers and sisters under the same sun with the same passions and family that resides on both sides of the line.  How much it would benefit both parties for us to open borders.

Anywho…it is time to go as the seconds tick by on this card and it will probably take all 56 seconds for this blog to load.


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Cancun to Habana

So I’m sitting here in Cancun after having navigated the whole no American dollars changing hands so as to not support any regime that doesn’t coincide with medieval political views. I’ve been slammed on my bags twice for having brought too much gear, at least a third of which being donated items to leave with people who have literally no access whatsoever to a market of high-quality first world good. I don’t mean anything like Dolce & Gabbana. No, I mean like Gilette, Colgate and MLB.

Some toothbrushes and toothpaste, a couple of baseball mitts with balls, powdered milk and thread. Basic life necessities that are just plain difficult to find. It also seems that American companies are often psyched to be able to donate to a cause as venerable as this. One day and one day soon will we have free trade again with our closest Caribbean neighbor.

So, sitting here on a marble floor watching tourists buy straw hats and little wooden musical instruments painted in vivid prime colors, I find myself so freakin excited.

I get to go to one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a group of great people to do the thing I love most in the world: rockclimb. And even chronicle it for my own sake and for the stories and great things I can share.

Visas taken care, bags checked and a yen for friend plantains like no other, we get to Habana tonight and should be in Vinales in the morning. Hopefully within twenty four hours I will have tasted limestone yet again and have met some great new folks.

Here we go again.

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The Locomotion of Change

The change has already begun.  Right from the beginning, the new administration is keeping its promises, whatever those may be.  Many people balked at the Obama campaign before the election for the lack of details on a few topics.  A campaign that touted change for the better is not a new thing around these parts was the competition’s retort.  Truthfully, politics, DC and false promises go together like Larry, Moe and Curly.  What is different about the show these days, is that people are not laughing at the cliche any more, but getting critical instead.  Movements and decisions with the national welfare in mind are already being made and it seems that there will be plenty more.  Now the people are going from doubting to nods of assent.

For a while many people have been worried about the future of print in daily news delivery, there may be a solution now: there will be news to print.  If the headlines of war mongering and death to poor grammar and even worse critical thinking skills will be replaced.  It seems the new headlines actually have news.  There are no glam photo sessions of this president, just tag-lines and newspaper content.  In two days there has been a tidal change in the quality and moral direction of the subject matter .


Tim Geithner’s name emerges from text that tells the story of the administrations stance on Chinese currency manipulation.  Our trade deficit with them is substance enough, yet since stances were not being taken (cowtowing is more like it), such an important topic did not get the proper media.  Can you hear the crickets (not the whining)?  After a 60-34 senate confirmation no one is talking about back taxes or domestic help.  Ahh…just as it should be.

There are stories about the closing of the Guantanamo military base to curtail or reallocate current Defense spending.  This is an opportunity in many ways.  Communications with Cuba can be opened, the trade embargo can go to the wayside and more peace can exist in the world.  A smear on American integrity equal to Abu Graib and a vestige of the cold war era will be swept away to make room for better relations.  There are so many positive aspects about opening up relations with Cuba, the majors being: a new market for American goods; a travel destination (chaching!) that combines old world culture with UNESCO protected countryside; a new source for importing raw materials like sugar and cobalt.  So Cuban exports may not solve our current economic dilemma, but it cannot hurt.

The kicker, to round off this trio of current domestic news items with international twists, is the permission for stem-cell research to be performed on humans.  So this is not exactly a treasure chest of federal monies, but it is an astral leap compared to the last administration.  Federal monies are better served in other federal programs right now, ones that will give a more immediate jolt towards stopping this slow churning locomotive of economic depression.  Once we stop that steam breathing demon we can all get aboard and go for a much, much better ride.

This thread is just the beginning.  This is change.  It is only the first week, but already there is a renewed spirit matched with action.  Up markets, up people and a feeling that good things are on their way up too; this bodes for a better future.  This new well-spring of news is the tapping of an aquifer that has always known to be there, as it has been tapped a few times in the past, yet for some reason became an El Dorado.  Now the national GPS has put a way-point on it and will keep going back, so as to keep this new engine of change a’going.