Amar la vida en Cuba | Cuba Travel photography
There are trips that you take to relax, some to work on a project, and then there are those that open your eyes wider than before and change you.
Last month I did something that had been on my bucket list for a few years. I went to Havana, Cuba and it did just that and more.
I traveled there with fellow photographer and friend, Lisa Dierolf whom I met not long ago and we randomly began discussing the idea of the trip. As it became a reality I realized that I didn’t know as much as I should about this mysterious country to our South. A country so close to ours yet worlds away culturally and politically.
I began my research like I do with most trips that I go on, scanning travel blogs, reading the local news and finding out the current issues, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to experience when I stepped off the plane in Havana.
I had some issues in customs given that I had a backpack full of camera gear and very broken Spanish, but after an hour of interrogation and cataloging of my gear, the woman in the black fishnet stockings and beautiful smile told me to go on my way and enjoy myself.
Lisa and I jumped into this wonderland headfirst the next morning walking what seemed like miles and miles in circles around the city just shooting and taking it all in. We had a rough plan of what we wanted to shoot, see and do, but those were quickly overshadowed by the energy around us and the friendliness of a few people we met at our adorable casa where we stayed in the center of Habana Vieja (Old Havana).
We stayed in a private home, which is called a casa particular that was located on the third floor of a typical Havana building, a tall Spanish style row home of sorts with narrow staircases leading up to each floor and the high ceilings gave an open air quality to the interior.
Without going into a ton of detail about our 10 days in the city, I will highlight some of the moments that stick out in my mind.
1. The people of Havana are very kind, patient and welcoming to visitors. We quickly realized that a lot of the kindness was a way to get us to eat in a certain restaurant or take us to a club dancing (all of which made that person some money), so we treaded lightly when people asked us questions about who we were, where we were from and so on. We did meet several very nice people who talked to us about Cuba and shared with us their stories of living there which in some ways blew our minds as to how the people had lived, and the thoughts they had about their government.
2. The city reminds me of Madrid and New Delhi melded together to create this juxtaposition of a place. Beautiful Spanish style architecture, complete with ornate carvings, intricate tile work and patterns and plazas with cafes full of tourists. On the other hand, these buildings were crumbling and in need of major repair, many buildings are abandoned and lifeless, others house many families. It really made me wish I could go back in time to the 20’s and 30s and see this magical city when it was in it’s heyday.
3. Music everywhere. Everywhere you turn the sounds salsa blast out of cafes and people jump up from their tables to dance with the band leaders or their dining companion. Most of the time, I assume that this music is for the tourists in the area of Havana that we were staying, but as we made our way out of the old part of the city, the music was not as prevalent but was still alive. Every few blocks or so we would see a concert of some sort happening and people gather around gyrating their hips in a way I only dream of moving. The passion that comes with the music is unbeatable…I loved watching the people dance but most of all I like watching the band leaders sing. No mic, just a ton of soul blasting straight out of their lungs.
4. Rum! I have never been a rum drinker, never liked it and always made me feel awful, but that all went out the window when I had my first Cuban mojito! The abundance of mint in that drink was just what I wanted at the end of the day after we had walked around in the hot sun all day chugging down tons of water….and the pina coladas that I had weren’t so bad either.
5. Almost all of the buildings in the old part of the city have rooftops that are used as another floor of the building. Standing on our casa rooftop, which had a small bar and a few tables for dining, Lisa and filmed a few sunrise and sunset time lapses and watched the world below us wake up. It was calming and a great way to get an idea of the people of this city. We watched women hang their clothing out each morning, men lifting weights, dogs running around chasing cats and kids just hanging out with each other. It was a really nice place to be at the end of long days where their was commotion around us most of the time.
6. It would be wrong if I didn’t mention the old 1950 American cars. They are pretty magnificent. The ones that are owned by the men who drive the tourists around are in beautiful shape (at least on the outside). You’ll see them along side of every street shining the chrome, fixing an engine or leaning alongside it waiting for the next customer. It’s hard not to stare at these beautiful machines. The ones that are used for the local taxis are a different story. Their interiors are almost non existent, the engines are loud and the paint is rusting away, but they still run these things into the ground and get every last ounce out of these beasts. What I hated about these old cars was the exhaust. My lungs needed a good cleanse when I got home from all the exhaust that I was breathing in. They don’t have emissions tests like we do here, that’s for sure!
7. The presence of Ernest Hemingway in every little corner of the city, I am a BIG fan of the man and am thrilled at any chance I get a glimpse at a world that he held so dear.
8. The passion of the people for Che and the spark that you see in the Cuban youth who are ready for a change. We talked to several guys in their late 20s who were excited to move forward past the Castro era. There is a lot of people speaking out now that Raul Castro has announced his retirement (in 5 more years) and from what we saw in the daily life for the people of Havana, a change NEEDS to happen. So much of what I noticed was that the idea of everyone being equal is not working anymore. As more and more Cubans come to the US and now are able to send money to their family in Cuba, classes are starting to form. You see people driving brand new very nice cars around the city and wearing nicer clothing, and then there are those that are wearing second hand clothing and have access to their own transportation besides a bicycle.
9. Meeting people from all over the world. It’s weird to think the rest of the world can freely travel to this beautiful place, so in going there, I never thought I’d meet so many foreigners or Americans for that matter, but we did and it’s one of my favorite parts of traveling. I now have new friends that I can visit in so many corners of the world.
10. The markets. We had the opportunity to walk through several open air food markets while we were there. So many beautiful vegetables and fruits. The one thing that I just couldn’t get over was all the raw red meat sitting out in the sun (along with the pig heads). The men would chop off a portion of the large chunks of meat right there for the customer. I just kept thinking about how sick I would be if I ate it. Needless to say, the majority of the food I ate when I was there was seafood. I felt pretty safe with that option.