Cuba – My Story and What You Would Have Seen Had You Come…

It’s not easy… time to start inventing – Cuban Proverb

… And this is what this ‘article’ is – an ‘invention’. A jumble of thoughts, images and ideas that popped into my head and camera over nearly three weeks spent in Cuba in January and February of 2014. For Cuba is perhaps the most ‘not easy’ to describe country I have ever visited. Therefore, I am going to rely on my pictures to tell their story. As I am acutely aware my words would not do justice to this country, so indeed will many of my photos fail, however as American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams put it; “Sometimes I arrive just when God’s ready to have somone click the shutter.” Capturing images of this rapidly changing corner of the Earth is more interesting and challenging an experience than I have had in a long time.

(All photos are mine and all enlarge if you click on them)

Classic Malecon, Havana

Classic Malecon, Havana

In fact how do you begin to describe this country? This amazing place where the man in the street earns an average of 17 dollars per month, yet where you are never out of earshot of music, out of sight of immaculately turned out, beautiful people and never far from the receiving end of a smile.

New worlds need to be lived before being explained – Alejo Carpentier

Napkins Drying Underneath Havana's Best Restaurant

Napkins Drying Underneath Havana’s Best Restaurant

Havana, like no other city needs to be lived. To explain Havana, you’d need an eternity. So it is with this selection of my ‘best’ photos from my two week tour hope, I hope to show a glimpse of what my words could never do justice. Go, visit, now, before everything changes as it always does…

One Pair of Shoes For Sale, Havana

One Pair of Shoes For Sale, Havana

‘This is it’, says Patricia, my colleague as she leads me into a courtyard in Havana Centro. I have been here less than 24 hours and cannot believe people live here, let alone fathom how this can really be the entrance to the best restaurant in Havana, ‘La Guarida’. But it is. And the food is heaven. As she walks up the stairs to confirm our booking, I turn and take a photo of the girl selling one pair of American, used, shoes at the entrance…

Old Man in Trinidad

Old Man in Trinidad

So tourist friendly, Trinidad. The colours one expects from Latin America are all present. Reminiscent of Antigua of Guatemala, if still less touched. Restaurants are easy, hotels too. There are souvenirs, signs in English, foreign friendly music venues where beautiful Cuban dancers, men and women are employed to get Westerners up to dance. And only 5 miles away, the Caribbean beaches and the resorts one can don one’s blue bracelets and escape to for all inclusive tastes of home.

The Yellow Line, Havana

The Yellow Line, Havana

It’s the last morning. I step outside the revolving, security guard, guarded doors that separate the air-conditioned world of the Spanish-owned Iberostar Parque Central (average room cost for a night more than a year’s Cuban salary) from the outside. Whilst guests order their omelettes and cafe ‘Americanos’ behind me, a man paints the fading lines with a new coat of yellow paint. As he completes the stripe in front of the parked car, the owner comes and drives off.

'Educate Your Child'

‘Educate Your Child’

‘From what we are today, nothing will be beyond our reach’ – Fidel Castro. Everywhere are huge images, gigantic icons of Castro, Camillo Cienfuegos and of course ‘El Che’; the revolution lives on, must live on Cubans are urged from signs in the West normally reserved for advertisements.

Bacardi Building Guard

Bacardi Building Guard

Time to contemplate? How does one begin to deal with the challenges involved with living on the official Government wage? They say people are paid around 17 Cucs per month but need 300 to realistically survive. A receptionist-guard in a largely derelict building of a no-longer Cuban multinational has plenty of time to contemplate how to raise a further 283 Cucs…

Life on The Streets of Havana

Life on The Streets of Havana

One country; two views…

‘The Cuban people still live in constant fear of a brutal totalitarian regime that has demonstrated time and again its utter disregard for basic human dignity. The fight for a free Cuba has gone on for far too long’. – Mitt Romney

‘North Americans don’t understand… that our country is not just Cuba; our country is also humanity’. – Fidel Castro

Por la Carretera...

Por la Carretera…

We set off into the sunset towards La Moka and Western, agricultural Cuba along it’s Carretera…

The Red Tree, Santa Clara

The Red Tree, Santa Clara

Santa Clara. Spiritual home of El Che. The main square is a bustle. An old man stops to contemplate who knows what. From from my angle behind the camera, it simply looks as though he is staring at the red red leaves of a branch.

‘Tu mano gloriosa y fuerte, sobre la Historia dispara, cuando todo Santa Clara, se despierta para verte’

Hasta Siempre

Hasta Siempre

Everywhere, the towns, the countryside, the hills, the fields, the houses, the toilets are slogans… I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it – Raul Castro

Counting Cucs in Trinidad

Counting Cucs in Trinidad

‘At day’s end, one’s eyes become saturated with an exuberant palette of colour’ – Fracois Missen. It’s everywhere you turn, the bright yellows and greens of buildings, reds and blues of the flag and the hasta la revolucion slogans on the white buildings, the black faces, the coffee coloured faces and the white faces. Blue blue skies above soils as red as if they contain more iron than dirt. Green, lofty palms springing forth their green green leaves capped by white clouds. ‘No more! No More! What a cartoon strip, gentlemen!’

Frozen in Time, Farmer Near Vinales

Frozen in Time, Farmer Near Vinales

We are born in a free country handed down to us by our fathers, and the island will drown in the sea before we allow ourselves to be enslaved by anyone‘ – Jose Marti.

Mobile Baker in Santa Clara

Mobile Baker in Santa Clara

An old lady pushes a trolley across train tracks – those most famous and iconic of train tracks, once bulldozed by Che in Santa Clara. She is approached by a man and stops. He buys two rolls of bread which she pulls out of the belly of her steel contraption. They both carry on…

Santa Clara Farmer

Santa Clara Farmer

A farmer outside Santa Clara sorts potatoes in the shade behind the small building that constitutes his shop. Behind him his and his five companeros fields stretch out. They are provided by seeds by the state and heavily taxed. Once this is paid however, they may keep their profits. Their vegetables are green and look delicious.

Bacardi Building, Havana

Bacardi Building, Havana

‘Lunch in an Art Deco building’, reads our itinerary. But the art deco building, the former Bacardi Building in old Havana is being restored and no one knows when or indeed if the first floor cafe will open. Tour Guiding in Cuba has its challenges…

Dusk in The Countryside

Dusk in The Countryside

The story of a photo; a beautiful blonde girl catches my eye by the pool at our hotel outside Vinales. Unusually as I stare, she looks back, once, twice, three times and smiles. It is obvious. But I am in my swimming shorts and she, dressed in jeans is walking out of the front door. I shower quick smart, tell my group I will meet them directly at the restaurant, 2 miles away and in 2 hours time. I walk off down the only road, but she is gone… I never see her again, but armed only with my camera I walk the streets and capture this building at sunset.

The Doll and The Baby, Trinidad

The Doll and The Baby, Trinidad

La conversación que no produce la acción es como el silencio. Talk that doesn’t produce action is the same as silence – Santerian proverb. We visit a chapel, this to the element of water. Everything is white and blue apart from the doll and the baby.

Peppers and Tomatoes, Havana

Peppers and Tomatoes, Havana

‘Everyman has two mothers; nature and circumstance’ – Jose Marti. This man, captured on the streets of Havana sells vegetables outside the portico of his building, his dog guarding his cart from the shade below when he sits down to smoke a cigar between spaced out sales.

The Commute to Work, Trinidad

The Commute to Work, Trinidad

Riding into Trinidad from the beautiful mountains North of town, this man dismounts in a square and proceeds to just sit. He maybe a commuter, but there doesn’t seem to be any work at the end of his journey.

Tablecloths Drying, Havana's Best Restaurant

Tablecloths Drying, Havana’s Best Restaurant

Antes de renderti, recuerda por lo che estas luchando‘ – Fresa y Chocolate.

Guardians of the Revolution, Che and Lion, Cienfuegos

Guardians of the Revolution, Che and Lion, Cienfuegos

My favourite town on this visit turns out to be Cienfuegos in the South. Coastal, colonial, but French. Guidebooks draw similarities to Paris to general hilarity on our coach. We nickname the main streets Champs Elysees. Every evening at dusk I run here, training at the shores of the bay that ultimately leads to the sea and the Cayman Islands and, I believe, a past flame…

Tiny Church, Bay Island off Cienfuegos

Tiny Church, Bay Island off Cienfuegos

We sail out of Cienfuegos. Our Cuban guide, Yunier is exceptionally given permission to accompany us. They fear he might escape. Our fuel is controlled. There is not enough for Miami. It’s crazy. No one would attempt to cross from here. Rules. On a tiny island we see two inhabitants and a church. The entrance is overgrown…

Havana Electrics

Havana Electrics

Health and safety are words which are rarely combined in Cuba. A can of local TuKola sits on top of the fusebox for a typical Havana apartment building. Do NOT cut the red wire…

Santa Clara Baker ii

Santa Clara Baker ii

Below the most famous of Che’s sayings the old baker of Santa Clare, dressed in yellow socks sells her rolls on the streets near Batista’s derailed troop train.

Oranges For Sale

Oranges For Sale

The plants grow in soils in a land that looks as if it comes straight out of the Bible. I buy 8 cigars for 5 Cucs and a glass of pineapple juice, to which a dash of sugarcane juice is introduced. Maybe I have never really tasted pineapple juice I realise before as this delicious far from sickly sweet liquid travels to my stomach.

Marching Green Men, Havana

Marching Green Men, Havana

For a country in constant revolution one feels surprisingly rarely any sort of military presence. Here in Havana’s enormous, empty Revolution Square, I witness a changing of the guard outside one of the ministries.

Street Art, Havana

Street Art, Havana

Art, music, food and drink and beautifully turned out people. I have rarely seen such decorated streets as those of Havana. As the once bright facades of pre-revolution palaces have long since faded, people seem to have found half empty tins of paint and just decorated…

Music is Everywhere, Havana Social Club

Music is Everywhere, Havana Social Club

The difference between Cuba and other ‘poor’ countries I have seen in one word; music. ‘And now a Cuban poor as Cuba, I am free and my wife is the colour of sand, if there is nothing to eat we dance the conga’ – Henri Gougaud

Hanging Out in The Park, Cienfuegos

Hanging Out in The Park, Cienfuegos

A young man and his companero, an old dog move across the central park in Cienfuegos. A member of our group makes a present of a pen to him. He is too drunk to really acknowledge what’s happening.

'Brothers' and The Red Tractor, Santa Clara

‘Brothers’ and The Red Tractor, Santa Clara

Cubans are forever looking to foreign leaders to whom they attach real or otherwise feelings of empathy. Images of Chavez ‘our best friend’ are everywhere.

Havana Club, The Water of Cuba

Havana Club, The Water of Cuba

‘Drink your rum companero, but don’t forget where it comes from’…This Cuban saying sums up having a tragito mas. One more. Taste it, taste it’s past, remember it’s history, the sweet taste disguising it’s troubled story, But the nights are long and soon even the most conservative of travellers becomes enthralled by the music, captured by the atmosphere and the heady scent of seduction and romance… Bedtimes are overshot by hours as the sweet sweet nectar that flows oh so cheaply continues to do just that; flow. The Cuban joie de vivre continues to ferment on one’s mind long after departure.

Havana Apartments

Havana Apartments

There is a blend of the flavour of the past, the taste of the present and the scent of a promised future, like few other cities I have visited. They have seen much, these facades of Havana, and will see more.

Trying to 'Paint' Edward Hopper With my Camera...

Trying to ‘Paint’ Edward Hopper With my Camera…

‘One of Havana’s more engaging Museums… slick presentation and interactive experiences’… the Rough Guide, my companion to Cuba makes a visit to the Museo del Ron Havana Club sound quite enticing. So I go. Awful. The only thing ‘interactive’ occurs when one of our group is allowed to press ‘start’ on the model train and when after the shortest tour I have ever experienced we are handed a rum in a small plastic glass and left to our own devices. However, snapping the bored barmen (no one seems to purchase anything beyond the free sample), I get one of my favourite photos from the whole trip and it’s all suddenly worth it. Is that a guide book writer getting drunk in the background?

Trinidad Lamposts

Trinidad Lamposts

Night. Always a feeling of being safe. I am asked if I need a taxi, rarely anything else. One simple ‘no gracias’ always suffices to curb any interest. Indeed it often feels more as though one is asked out of a duty or feeling that tourists might need help. They would rather stay where they are listing to music or hanging out with friends, than move their cars or ‘rickshaws’.

Bride in Havana

Bride in Havana

Yet, ‘Cuba is no average sponge. It absorbs without becoming saturated’, Francois Missen

'Your Man' in Havana?

‘Your Man’ in Havana?

12 million Cubans, 2 million in Havana. 6 Million annual tourists and growing. ‘The aim here, that of providing a fleeting retreat for overworked foreigners, is clear to see. The island plays hosts to a sort of provisional emigration chosen by tribes who are happy to accept six hours’ time difference and and nine hours’ flying time in return for a single week of guaranteed removal from their habitual element.’ Francois Missen

AmeriKa

AmeriKa

This is such a land of contrasts. Waiting for my group to reach a Swedish restaurant in the centre of Havana, I bend over and take a photo of the cockpit of a classic. Only later do I notice the American flag air freshener. Later I see them everywhere.

Hasta Luego Havana...

Hasta Luego Havana…

It is a long time since I have been so captivated by one country. I am fortunate, work should bring me back here in less than 12 months time and I cannot wait. For those who have not yet visited this the largest of all Caribbean islands, I say this; do so and soon. In a year when I am back there will be already such changes and I will write about these changes and try to capture them as I these photos have captured a snapshot a frozen moment in time of this incredible island.

How can one forget Cuba? – Leonardo Padura

~ by 2ndcupoftea on February 9, 2014.

14 Responses to “Cuba – My Story and What You Would Have Seen Had You Come…”

  1. So beautiful. Your pictures and narrative are a treat. Loved it all.

    • Ciao Linda. Thanks so much, for reading, looking and commenting. I am so happy you enjoyed. It means the world when people comment. Take care

  2. Gracias – enjoyed your portrayal of an island so close to US and yet so very
    far away in time…

    • Hola Pat – muchísimas gracias for your comment. It is such an incredible island; so hard to understand, so beautiful to look at, to taste and to listen to. But so so hard to describe. I am glad you enjoyed my piece. Hoping to be back there much more next year… hasta luego.

  3. Fantastic summary of the place and our trip. Thank you so much Thomas and good luck
    Sue Mansfield

    • Thank you so much Sue. So kind of you to read and to make a comment too. It was such an adventure for me also. Hope to see you again on a future trip. Take care and safe travels.

  4. You took me there with your narrative and photos. Such talent.

    • Wow Mary, thank you so much. I am happy you enjoyed and delighted to have made an impression. Many hugs…

  5. Only last week I wondered where you were in this little old world, now I know. are you becoming quite adept at photoshop (love the black and white images with a splash of colour) or is this something your camera does automatically? Hope you are well Thomas.

    • Ciao Colin, thanks for wondering… sometimes I forget too 😉 I love taking pictures as you know, I play around with 9 different apps to get the effects I want (I do spend an awful lot of time sitting around in airports). Am well, and sending you many many wishes for the same. Salut

  6. I am leaving on vacation tomorrow to an all-inclusive in Varadero but am determined to take a day trip to Havana. Judging from your stunning photos and beautiful narrative, one day will definitely not suffice, but at least I’ll get a taste! Thank you!

    • You are so welcome, and thank you for the kind words. Definitely go to Havana – you will love it. And please, when you’re back and the new experiences digested, drop me a line and let me know what you thought. Hasta luego 😉

  7. This was wonderful reading, Thomas. You took me right there, thank you!

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