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.