Geological Travels In Cuba

A part of the Vinales Valley in western Cuba – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you’ve ever thought about Cuban geology, now may be the time to get serious about actually going to Cuba and looking at it. As a U.S. citizen, it’s been extremely difficult to legally go to Cuba. I went there in March of 2013 as part of an Association for Women Geoscientists’s geological field trip that we did through the travel company Insight Cuba. It was a very good trip. Our geological guide was Manuel Iturralde, a retired curator from the National Museum of Natural History in Havana and current President of the Cuban Geological Society. Manuel’s knowledge of Cuba’s geology is immense and consequently the geology part of the trip was amazing. But – because I am a U.S. citizen, my travel at that time was done under the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, initially imposed in 1960. That meant to be fully legal I had to travel to Cuba via a licensed “people-to-people” travel agency. The people-to-people visits involve booking a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities for each traveler that will bring about a “meaningful interaction” between the travelers and Cubans – and hence the time for geology is limited. Additionally, the places one can go in Cuba were also limited. For example, U.S. citizens could not visit “tourist” areas, and thus areas of geological interest such as most beach geology was off limits during my tour.

President Obama’s 12/17/2014 announcement on easing of Cuba travel restrictions may well help out those interested in seeing Cuban geology. According to the White House Fact Sheet – Charting A New Course on Cuba -, “general licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in 12 existing categories”, two of which – professional research and professional meetings and educational activities – will help for improving the quality of travel for earth scientists. However, I talked with a person from Insight Cuba today about the new travel requirements, and they said, “a traveler still needs to get a license from OFAC (U.S. Office of Foreign Assests Control), and it still might take about 2 months to get the license”. Unfortunately, in the Insight Cuba rep’s opinion, not much has yet changed for travel to Cuba. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see on what transpires with this in the near future.

But – as I said earlier in this blog, it still may be a good time to think about geology-based travel to Cuba. Manuel Iturralde recently emailed me an announcement for The Cuban Society of Geology’s VI Cuban Convention on Earth Sciences and Exhibition of Products, Services and New Technologies – GEOEXPO 2015 – May 4 – 8, 2015, in Havana. This should be a excellent convention and good way to be introduced to Cuba’s geology.

Just to mention a couple other earth science resources for potential travelers:

  • 2013/2014 Yearbook of the Cuban Society of Geology (Volume 1, No. 1, 2013. ISSN 2310-0060, Scientific Journal of Geosciences, Havana – now this is the July 2014 version) is online. As described from the website:

    This version of the Cuban Digital Library of Geosciences brings together some 3700 references, 2091 in digital format, most of the published contributions, unpublished lesser extent, the existence of which the authors are aware. The topics cover the various branches of Earth Sciences, with emphasis on geology, geophysics and mining Cuba, or in any way relevant to the best knowledge of Cuban territory, although centrally relate to other geographies. These contributions include books, monographs and scientific articles, a few summaries and maps dating from 1535. Some very important unpublished documents are referenced as are available at the National Bureau of Mineral Resources (ONRM), the Centre National Geological Information ( CNIG ), the map library and collection of science in the National Library José Martí; and library (1989), Institute for Geophysics, University of Texas at Austin. In the year 2012 was published a list of Information Centers Geosciences across the country and how to access them.

  • Journeying Through Cuba’s Geology and Culture: This is a brief article that I wrote for the “Travels in Geology” section of Earth magazine (published July/August 2013) about my trip through western and central Cuba with the Association for Women Geoscientists in March 2013.

 

One of the towering limestone hills locally known as “mogotes” of the Pinar del Río Province in far western Cuba. This mogote is known as Abra de Ancón and it is famous for the site where Manuel Fernández de Castro first found Jurassic marine invertebrate fossils in the late 1800’s.
One of the towering limestone hills locally known as “mogotes” of the Pinar del Río Province in far western Cuba. This mogote is Abra de Ancón and it is famous for the site where Manuel Fernández de Castro first found Jurassic marine invertebrate fossils in the late 1800’s.

Cuba Geology Via the Cuban Digital Geoscience Library

mojotes

 

 

 

 

 

The Cuban Digital Geoscience Library, compiled by Yasmani Ceballos Izquierdo and Manuel Iturralde-Vinet, is now available at  www.redciencia.cu/geobiblio/inicio.html. This is an extremely complete compendium of resources on Cuban geology – one that I wish I had access to before I went on geology/”people to people” tour to Cuba last March that was sponsored by the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG). Manuel Iturralde-Vinet (one of the co-authors of the Cuban Digital Geoscience Library) was our geology guide for the AWG trip. That Manuel was our guide was fortunate for us given his extensive expertise in Cuban geology. For more information on our AWG trip, link to a trip article published by Earth magazine and to a previous blog on our Cuba journey posted on Geopostings.

Here’s a brief intro to the Cuban Digital Geoscience Library (using my sometimes loose translation skills):

The “Cuban Geoscience Digital Library” brings together a considerable number of references, most of the contributions published and unpublished to a lesser degree, the existence of which the authors are aware of (over 3000 references). The topics cover the various branches of Earth Science, with emphasis in geology, geophysics and mining Cuba, or in any way relevant to the best knowledge of Cuban territory and other geologically/geographically related areas. These contributions include books, monographs and scientific articles, abstracts and a few maps, dating from 1535. Some very important unpublished documents are referenced, and are available at the National Bureau of Mineral Resources (NDRA), the National Geological Information Center (IGP ), the map library and collection of science of José Martí National Library, and in the Institute for Geophysics Library, University of Texas at Austin.

The “Cuban Geoscience Digital Library” has several pioneering works, namely the literature on geology of Cuba News, released by Pablo Ortega (1910), the Cuban Scientific Library compiled by Trelles (1918), the Bibliography of West Indian Geology of Rutten (1938), the Cuban Geological Bibliography published by Peter J. Bermúdez (1938), Mining Bibliography of Colonial Cuba (Anonymous), Geology of the sketch on Cuba prepared by Antonio Calvache Dorado (1965), and the Compilation on Paleontology Publications (Bonzoño et al., 2008). Of these bibliographic lists, Bermudez and Trelles are noted for their excellent compilation of the oldest contributions.

The existence of many compilations on contributions to the geosciences of Cuba, made at different times, denotes the interest of researchers to present the results of their time, to facilitate future professionals, and to provide a computer database to serve as basis for their work. This compendium is also a broad recognition of the scientific work of several generations of outstanding professionals.

On this basis, the development of this “Cuban Geoscience Digital Library”, with the quality that current technologies can provide to users for accessing most texts and maps in digital format (pdf and jpg) was inspired, and thus for the first time puts a “click” access to this vast intelligence, particularly for the paper originals that are hard to acquire. A first version of this database was published as part of the “Compendium of Geology of Cuba and the Caribbean” in the 2010 and 2012 editions done by Manuel Iturralde-Vinet.