Monday, April 15, 2019


The Bay of Pigs.

Famous for scuba diving and, oh yeah, a botched CIA supported invasion of Cuba in the 60s.
The only real reminder of that was a museum that I was really interested in seeing in the town of Playa Giron.
A museum that was closed for the few days I was there because it is the 58th anniversary of the invasion on April 15 and they were spiffing it up!
So there were tanks and planes out front we could see.
(In fact there are a lot of places in Cuba where there are tanks and planes to see if you'd like to.
Also a lot of bloody uniforms, and hats supposedly worn by Che or Cienfuegos or Fidel himself!
What's interesting is some of these hats and other items look like they are brand new and have never been worn.
Maybe the guys didn't sweat much back in the 50s? In Cuba... where it's really hot and humid.)

So the fabulous Fabian and Hannah and I came to the Bay of Pigs to do some scuba diving and to snorkel a sink hole.
"The fabulous who?" you ask.

Well, Fabian and Hannah are two totally awesome German's I met while rock climbing in Vinales. They are some of the most fun folks I have ever met backpacking and I hope to see them again somewhere in this amazing world of ours. (Currently they are in Mexico working in a commune, adopting baby possums and playing in drum circles. :)

In a classic bit of traveling I had set up a climbing day for 9am on Monday, the day I returned my scooter. There's one Casa in Vinales that knows the rock climbing, so I stopped by there on Saturday to set up the climb. (One thing I learned about Cuba is you have to be 1 or 2 steps ahead of where you are currently at, planning for what you are doing in the future. Cause if you don't... odds are it won't work out how you planned...
which sometimes is just as it should be.)

So Monday rolls around, and I go to return my scooter at 8:30.
Well, it's Cuba.
It takes a little while to get it taken care of.

Then I had to book a bus ticket to leave the next day to head to the bay of pigs.
There's two options of places to book a bus ticket. Both of them were helping other people.
I waited patiently, but at this point it was 9:10, and I was late for climbing. So I asked if I could come back later,
she said If I was back by 3:30 or 4:00 I should be fine to book for tomorrow, but she can't reserve without making phone calls and collecting money.
Well that will work out. I'll come back...

So off to climbing. Meet my awesome guide, Yaroby, gear up in a shed full of quite a lot of rock climbing gear. All donated from travelers because officially climbing is not legal in Cuba. Even though there are hundreds of bolted sport climbing routes in the Vinales area and they have competitions and it is a favorite place to climb for people from all over the world. But for some reason the Cuban government doesn't see how it can make money?  Or maybe there is something else going on?

Then we pick up Fabian and Hannah from a random outdoorsy restaurant on someone's ranch.
Originally I was by myself, but they had called in last night around 9pm. (Right about the time I was writing in my journal how it would be really nice to meet some cool travel friends to travel with... I'm not kidding. It was at almost the exact same time.)

We spend the day climbing in this AWESOME almost cave.  It was really a crevase between the rocks of the Magote near town. Walls 30 meters tall (that's 99 feet for all us Americans. ).   It was shaded almost the entire day, but for about 15 minutes when the sun shot straight down on us. Fabian did all the leads, and I went up the routes afterwards. I was really happy with myself. As some of you know I used to rock climb all the time, but have drifted out of it and haven't been climbing in 10 years... 12 years... maybe more. Likely more.  It was SO FUN!  I was really happy how quickly the techniques came back. And sure, my forearm strength eventually gave out on the 4th of 5 routes. But it was awesome to be on the rock again.

Yep, I'm way up there!

Meanwhile making friends!

Afterwards we all sat on the guides porch. Talked about climbing, and they invited me for lunch... and as one of my travel guidelines (stolen from "the Beach") is to "Never refuse an invitation". I said yes and off we went...

which means I was not going to get back in time to get the bus ticket.
Which means I would likely stay another day in Vinales.
And that seems like the perfect plan. :)

We ate, we explored caves, walked into this hidden valley inside a Magote that was like Jurassic Park (minus the T-Rex). Though there were PIGS! One mama and 3 or 4 little ones that kept coming up to us as the night fell and we told stories in the dark. We were "attacked" by a strange insect that looks like a cicada with glowing eyes. We thought it was a lightning bug until it flew into my headlamp and landed on the ground next to us. Don't know what it is. But we made up stories about it.

A grand day with some great people.
Traveling done right...


So after that day and another exploring caves and riding in the rain, we rode a taxi collectivo to Havana... The car was a beat up old Cadillac with a Jesus gear shifter and eyelids on the lights.  It dropped us in some field next to the highway along with a bunch of other travelers on the south side of Havana. Somehow everyone ended up in other Taxis, cars and these classic old ford buses to get to where they are going. It's amazing that any of this works and that anyone gets paid. But it does... and I guess they do.

Bus Stop, Cuban Style

As our bus rolled down the 2 lane road along the east side of the bay of pigs I noted to Hannah that "It smells like death."
She said "The bus driver just said its the dead crabs on the bus tires."

Apparently the crabs live on the swamp side of the road, and in April they cross from the swamp to the sea to bathe...
then back across the road to get the naughty-naughty on.
Then BACK across the road to lay their eggs.
Then return to the swamp side to live out the rest of the year.
Two months later the babies cross.

And strangely the next month the BIG crabs cross to do the same thing.

It smells pretty bad, but when we got into Playa Giron, a one horse town if there ever was one, the smell had passed.

But the whole place felt like the apocalypse had come.
It was grey, overcast and there was almost NO ONE AROUND.
So Strange.
We even walked to the "resort" to check about diving and there was almost no one there.
Peeling paint on the "bungalows" (which are just cinder block buildings painted in bright colors").
They are building a lot more... but they are almost all empty.
As was the pool area and the lobby.

Well the next morning we go DIVE!
And man... it is GREAT DIVING!
And only $25/dive!
Hannah and I did 2. Fabian isn't certified (yet!) so he snorkeled. And of course there were other folks there...
almost all German or Swiss. (I'm noticing a pattern in Cuba. :)
I haven't gone diving in 4 1/2 years, so I was a little nervous to get a refresher and make sure it was all safe.
Talk about "riding a bike" It all came back really quickly. And the nice thing is, you just climb down a 4 rung ladder into the ocean with all your gear on, and start scuba diving right there. The reef wall is about 30 meters (100 feet) off the shore. So you don't even get in a boat.
You just take a bus... that smells like death cause it is running over crabs.

On the second dive we saw this HUGE soft coral the size of a person that looked like a giant Horn. It was bright purple and swaying in the current.
And also there as a shipwreck! Which you could swim through. So beautiful and amazing. I love it!

Back in town, we enjoy lunch, then rent bikes to ride the 19km to the flooded Cenote to go snorkeling. Because that is what one does.
The bikes were actually pretty good, brought by some random person the Casa owner called up. They cost 5CUC a day I think.
So we mount up, Fabian starts singing "Push it to the Limit" by Survivor (from the movie Scarface) and I laughed out loud. I sing that song regularly!


So we pushed it to the limit and rode north out of town.
Along the 2 lane road that few cars drive on.
Past the occasional smashed crab. Or maimed crab. Or crab flipped over cooking in the sun.
There were a number of them, but not toooo crazy.

We stopped to swim at a little beach resort cove. It was a pretty hot day, so it felt great.
And I took some pictures of the lines of dead crabs in the "yard" of the place. I figured I might as well get some pics to remember. I mean, dozens of dead crabs. It's pretty gross and weird.

So I put Survivor playing on my iPhone and we're riding free and fast. The road is flat and clear. It's a pretty great day!
Fabian and Hannah were about 100 meters in front of me.
This crab had crossed 3/4's of the road in front of me... safe from harm... good job Crab!

Then the little ass hole turns around and runs right back in front of my bike!
Not wanting to kill him I slammed on both breaks....
The bike stopped...
I did not.

I flew right over the handlebars going pretty fast. Cursing as I went and thinking "Protect your head!"
So I slammed into the ground hands first and rolled over... popping back up to my feet and stumbling back a few feet.

My wrists and palms were all cut up. My knee. My shoulder. My finger.
ANd my ribs...

The crab lived and wandered back into the grass.

Hannah and Fabian eventually rode back as I was bent over.
Now conveniently Hannah is a doctor!
So she checked my wrist (that was bruising pretty badly) and my ribs and said that she thinks its just bruised.
"Do you want to keep going? Or head back?"

Oh, if nothing is broken, we keep going. There is a Cenote to snorkel.

At this point you might say: "Craig. Why did you hit BOTH brakes??"
Great question. And it occured to me that the scooter that I'd ridden for 2 days, the back break is on the left hand... and on a bike the left brake is the FRONT brake.
So habit of two days.

Well, the sink hold wasn't much further. Maybe 3 or 4km.
I did NOT hit the brakes if a crab ran in front of the bike.
I did try to avoid them, but if they charged, I will say a few crabs might likely have crunched under the back tire. In fact I guarantee it. It was a nasty sound, but I'm not wiping out again.

We get to the Cenote around 4:45 or so. And the path in has crabs in the rocks all around us.
We get to the largest flooded Cenote in Cuba and jump in. We snorkel.
And collect trash, because there was a bit of trash around. Not India level of trash. But there was some ,and figured we would leave it better than we found it. With Fabian leading the charge to collect bottles and cans.

And on the far side of the Cenote, all along the rocks, coating the otherside in fact... were crabs.
I'm talking hundreds.
Probably thousands of crabs.
Lined up next to the edge of the cenote. I don't think they swim, so they just stop there... thwarted on their way to the sea.

We swam back into the darker passages of the Cenote. Where the water was only 3 feet wide. With this rock wall of crabs next to us. Climbing over each other. Squirming around. It's pretty creepy and gross. And really surreal.

Around 6 we figured it was time to head back. About 2 hours ride and the sun sets at 7:45.
We put shoes on and I notice we are the last people there besides the two people who had closed up the snack shop hours ago and were watching some Spanish language action flick on the tube tv.

As we walk out, we notice the path has quite a bit more crabs on it than on the way in...

Now the silly thing about the crabs is if they feel threatened (or want to be intimidating) they PUT THEIR HANDS UP IN THE AIR!
And they can't walk forward. So they walk sideways really slow, or stumble backwards like a strange child's wind up toy.
Now if YOU put YOUR HANDS UP IN THE AIR... they will respond in kind.
It's pretty hilarious.
So we started singing the Trance song "Put your hands up in the air!" and would put our hands up and the crabs would put their hands up and stumble back...

We reach the road, walk out onto it, and look left towards Playa Giron...



Look right... and the same sight.

Fabian asked the two workers how long the crabs would be there. An hour or two.
Manana. Tomorrow.

So that means we have to right up to 19km down a road covered in creepy, crawly, skittering crabs.

Yes it does.

Oh boy.

So we start... and when they are in mass, the crabs will slowly part if you ride slow and steady.
Sort of.
Because some of the little suckers would charge you. They would attack you.
They would try to claw the bike tires (with their wind up toy precision).
Sometimes they would grab hold and get rolled up and over and down.
Sometimes they would somehow make it THROUGH the spinning spokes of the bike tires safely...
and sometimes they wouldn't.

The CRUNCH of a crab under the tire happened quite a number of times.
It's a nasty sound.

More than one got hit by the pedals and rolled along.
Often I would just lift my feet up in the air and roll straight and hope I didn't hit any.

Seriously, WTF???

Now both Hannah and Fabian are vegetarians... and even they didn't like these crabs by the end of this.
I mean, they are really dumb. They attack bikes... and TRUCKS.

Every 10 or 15 minutes we would hear the sound of an oncoming truck or car or bus...
and here it would come...
SQUISH SQUISH SQUISH, CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUCH just obliterating crabs by the thousands.
And then we would race after it in the wake, trying to cover as much ground as possible before the tide of crabs closed on the road again.

One car creeped past us, everyone inside videotaping the silly gringos bike riding through the crabs.
It was pretty funny.
In truth I shot quite a lot of video too, because the whole thing seems out of this world.

In some sections of the road there were dead and maimed crabs everywhere. One with only one claw and no legs dragging itself across the road.
Others with broken legs.
Some we ran over... and they were fine.
Some crabs were eating their crushed or maimed kin.
And every once in awhile a turkey vulture would enjoy the dead crab buffet.

Now you might ask: do people eat them?
Nope. They are toxic to people. (The big ones next month aren't thought! So feast up!)
In fact these crabs have no natural predators in the area.
And even though they must die by the tens or hundreds of thousands.
Maybe even millions.
The locals say there are WAY more crabs now than 5 or 10 years ago.

Eventually they started to thin out, and then it was just the flattened crabs killed the day before or whenever.
So we could stop and take a breath.
And Fabian looked down and said "Did you notice what the red sand is?"
Because red sand lined both side of the road.
But on closer inspection it was clear it was not sand...
it was pulverized crab shells.

Kilometers of pulverized crab shells lining the side of the road.
Did they die yesterday?
Last week?
Last year?

Who knows?

The sun set before we reached town, and we watched it from this old reef coastline... surrounded by crabs crawling around the old rocks. It was lovely.
The crabs were hanging off the edge by the ocean. We contemplated what it must be like, to just live going back and forth across a road that wasn't always there (But likely has been since before the CIA tried to take the bay of Pigs.).

We did make it back in one piece... mostly.
There was a field in town, dotted with crabs about every 3 feet (1 meter). It reminded me of the shot from the Walking Dead where the zombie wanders through the
grass field. Only there were hundreds of these.

We rode to the beach and met with our diving friends.
We drank beer. Ate. And toasted one mans new grand child he just found out he was going to have.
Life goes on.
For us and for the crabs...

So the apocalypse we felt when we arrived wasn't for humans... it was for crabs.
And yet still they live and grow and spread....
Maybe someday they will spread beyond this little corner of the world...


PS:  As I finished writing this, PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT just kicked on. I'm not kidding. :)

PPS:  It's almost 4 weeks later and my ribs still hurt a little bit. I've had it checked after I got back and it is just a bruise. I guess they take 4 weeks or more to heal so I'm right on track.
Everything else was good in like a week. Though it looks like I might have some small scars on my knee. Was it worth it?  Well, I'd double check the brakes before riding ANYTHING again. But otherwise, hell yeah!

No comments:

Post a Comment