January – Hola Cuba! Installment #1

I have been back from my trip to Cuba and Florida (Ft. Meyers and the Everglades – for bird photography) for about two weeks. A busy work schedule has kept me from thoroughly editing my 5,000 images and identifying the “keepers

Cuba 1 - Havana Car copyThe Cuba part of the trip was only 10 days, which, in my opinion, was a little too short. I would have liked to have seen some of the beautiful beaches on the eastern coast (Manzanillo and Santiago – not Guantanamo). The trip was spearheaded by Bay Area photographer Brenda Tharp who leads groups for Strabo Tours out of New York. She has been bringing photography groups (12 people max) to Cuba for the past few years since the issuing of the “people to people/culture” visas.

Tobacco Farm in Vinales

Tobacco Farm in Vinales

We spent time in the countryside of Vinales, the towns of Cienfuegos and Trinidad, and several days in and around Havana. The people were friendly and delightful. Of course I loved seeing all those 1950-1960 Chevys, Fords, Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs. It is amazing how their owners have been able to keep them running –some looking as spiffy as new, while others seemed to be held together by bondo .

We photographed farmers, cigar rollers and youth at the National Ballet School as well as many street scenes and people along the way. We had the opportunity to meet and converse with well-known political cartoonist Ramses Morales Izquierdo and other artists.   Our Cuban guide and bus driver were both well educated – advanced degrees in engineering, but they told us they make more money in the tour business.

Cuba 1 - School Pledge 2 copyOne morning in Trinidad I wondered into an elementary school while the students were arriving. I asked to enter and was given a nice smile and head nod to join the children in the court yard where several classes were lined up for the flag raising ceremony. They enthusiastically sang songs and recited a pledge.

Cuba 1 - Vin Car copyA lot of the colonial buildings and those built with the wealth of the 1920s, especially in Havana, are in need of much repair. But everybody has access to healthy government-provided food and free education. We talked with a GLBT advocate who feels Cuba is making much progress in human rights. Many little farm huts had solar panels, and teenagers often gather in small groups singing and playing musical instruments for their own enjoyment. It goes without saying that everybody loves baseball!

Some restaurants are government-sponsored, but now the Paladares (restaurants in homes) are also flourishing. We ate in both – and the food was very delicious! We spent our two nights in Trinidad staying in people’s homes; in Havana we stayed in the 5 star Saratoga Hotel. For ten years after the revolution the hotel was used as a boarding home for the poor, but it has now been restored to its former elegance.

Cuba 1 - Plowing copyThere was wonderful entertainment at the dinners – opera singers (students), folk singers and bands playing typical Cuban music using drums, guitars, bass, and various rhythm instruments including the jawbone of a horse.

The weather was a little too hot and humid for me, but otherwise the trip was a great adventure! The Mojitas and tuKolas were also quite refreshing!  I will let you know when I post a Cuban portfolio on the AWE Gallery website.

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