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Coop-FH Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: Viñales Valley, Cuba

The process was not uncommon. In fact, it had happened in a very similar fashion in nearly every town we had spent the night. You would ride in around sunset and start asking around for a ‘casa particular’. (Casa peticulars are basically Cuba’s version of Airbnb, pre-internet.) The first person you’d talk to would typically either know someone who had a room that would fit the team, or would walk you around and through the entire village, town, or city until they found you a room you could stay in.

On this particular night, we had ventured down a side road into a town that was not on the map. Tall, jungle-clad limestone cliffs encircled the village in a wild mystique. Our helper walked us across the entire town until we ended up around the side of a modest, concrete-sided home. He began shouting into the bathroom window of the house and held a conversation with what we could only assume to be the homeowner for about five or ten minutes until a face appeared, fresh out of the shower.

Through extremely elementary Spanish, we understood there were caves nearby, and the owner of the home was a caving guide. When he asked if we were interested in going to check them out, there didn’t seem to be much of a question.

Now I’m no caving expert, nor is my Spanish strong enough to be able to ask the right questions before entering what he called the second largest cave in Latin America (highly debatable), but there was something about the process that simply threw up a few warning signs.

Maybe it was the man carrying only a draw string backpack leading us away from our newly found home for the night, or perhaps it was the baseball field we rode through to arrive at a house in the outfield they insisted we leave our bicycles at, or perhaps it was the thin log bridge and pastures we walked through to get to the cave entrance. It could have been the small, camping style, extremely dim headlamps (not the big, bright caving ones that are used in more professional caving settings) they pulled out as we entered the cave, or the cycling shoes, bibs, and jerseys we were now wearing as caving attire.

Our experiences with almost every Cuban stranger, community, or family told us that despite all the red flags, these guys could be trusted. It was yet another example of the most honest, authentic, and genuinely hospitable interaction you could imagine.

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Cooper Lambla is the Brand Development Coordinator at the U.S. National Whitewater Center and curator of EXPLORE.

Coop-1 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: Highway 111, Cuba
Coop-2 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: Pons, Cuba
Coop-3 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: Viñales Valley, Cuba
Coop-4 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: El Moncada, Cuba
Coop-5 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: El Moncada, Cuba
Coop-6 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: El Moncada, Cuba
Coop-7 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: El Moncada, Cuba
Coop-8 Photographer: Cooper Lambla Location: El Moncada, Cuba