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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!