For as long as I can remember I've wanted to travel to Cuba. And when I learned the travel ban was lifted for American citizens, I was quick to sign myself up. I realize there are mixed emotions about Cuba, and while I'm still processing all I've experienced, I want to at least share the photos I captured while on the island. This week long tour from Havana to Cienfuegos made me appreciate so much more than just what I saw. I'll try to include some of those thoughts along the way. And PS about the images: Most images are 120 film taken with my pentax 645n. I took over 1000 photos that I consider keepers, so narrowing this down to something that fits in a blog post was painful. But you're welcome. ;)
The first thing I remember after we landed in Havana was seeing a few old cars drive by! It was so surreal! The cars were definitely a huge attraction because they are almost like time capsules. The interiors look just as you would imagine after 50+ years of use, but the exterior was often shiny and vibrant in color.
Our first stop was touring Ernest Hemingway's old home.
We ate in a local restaurant (most restaurants, and stores, were in homes with little to no signage) with a delicious meal consisting of what we would learn are the common dinner items: rice and beans, plantains, salad, and a meat. But the best part we found (in addition to mojitos and other specialty drinks) was the coffee! They were small, almost like shots of coffee and they were GOOD!
After lunch we toured a tree farm/elderly day center. There were men playing dominos on the porch and a guide who took us through the beautiful gardens.
We then made our way into the city of Havana and stopped at the monument and saw some of those shiny cars up close. Most of these cars are used as taxis now.
The first official morning in Havana was an early one (thanks to the confusion over Day Light Savings and time zone change--no internet so we really struggled with this lol). We visited a "planned community" as they called it to see how an area was set up with farmers to bring back the vegetation. It was beautiful and we toured where a coffee plantation once stood and visited with the "mayor" (they don't really have mayors but chose to call him that) and stopped by two artists' homes. We saw how one man pressed recycled paper and created gorgeous watercolor paintings and then another man, who I believe was blind, bound them to make notebooks.
We also had hot churros and lunch (in that order, of course) and my son took a quick swim in the river nearby. That evening we even had a little time to sit by the hotel pool.
Then it was to the place my youngest considers the best thing we saw in Cuba--Murleando. This area was a water tower buried in garbage many years ago. It was cleaned up and made into an art center by the local residents. They are very proud of this facility (and should be!). It even had a restaurant with a live band. Fun night!
Our third day in Havana we toured a preschool and then the university. After lunch we took a walking tour through historical Havana.
We visited another community project that was a gym for kids. These kids had talent! But, we all cringed at the sight of kids doing circus tricks on a rusty trampoline with no mats below. No one got hurt, thankfully!
That night we ate at an amazing restaurant (again in what looked like a house). I couldn't help but notice the bathrooms at this restaurant were so similar to home! Seriously, they were nicely tiled and updated, there was toilet paper free for use(!), and there was soap AND a hand dryer. All of these things are hard to find in Cuba's bathrooms (so if you plan to visit be sure to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer).
After we were back at the hotel that night my son realized he had left his bag at the restaurant. Many, if not all, of my friends and family have mentioned their concern for our safety in Cuba. I like to tell this lost bag story because I think it says a lot about the safety we experienced. We didn't realize it at the time, but our son had carried an iPhone, Beats headphones, and Oakley sunglasses in his bag that night. His bag was worth over $1000! I assumed it was all gone forever, but when we got into the hotel the front desk said the restaurant found a bag and would have it there for us to pick up in the morning. The next morning EVERYTHING was in that bag! This might have been luck, but I have a feeling if we were in Europe (or even the US) this would have been a whole different story, right? Though there were streets in Cuba that felt iffy and there were plenty of stares from locals, we felt safe. I suppose the video cameras on street corners were helpful as well. And, to be honest, I don't know what the consequences are for crimes in Cuba, but I would guess they're pretty hefty and not worth the crime.
The following day we drove to Cienfuegos but stopped along the way. We visited a nature reserve and another art school in the area. These artists and musicians we were meeting were so impressive!
We ate lunch in a small resort town along the Bay of Pigs. We had a "coffee break" at the beach since Americans are not really allowed on the beaches yet. After a little fun there, we went to a museum about the Bay of Pigs invasion. I'm not usually a big museum enthusiast, but these memorials and museums were really interesting (although most were not in english so that part was tricky).
The next stop was a botanical garden and then a walking tour through Trinidad. This city is very old with rickety cobblestone streets and the most colorful buildings you've ever seen.
Next day was a bus ride to Remedios, a small town that hosts a large gather for the Pavana Festival each year. Outside the museum we visited was a long line of bici (bike) taxis. I felt a little guilty joy riding in actual taxis the locals use, but man was it fun! My kids even got a chance to drive a bici taxi!
We visited a sugar cane museum built from a closed sugar factory. It would be hard not to notice the numerous closed and abandoned factories in Cuba, but that's its reality unfortunately. A few lucky people, including my youngest son, were asked to ride along in the train engine. It was a steam engine so you can image how dangerous that was. This would never have been allowed in the states. ;) After the sugar factory and then lunch, we met a Cuban baseball team for practice. This was so fun!
Cienfuegos was our next destination where we visited an art school. We listened to an amazing flautist and watched talented dancers and met fantastic painters--all kids! Later in the afternoon we listened to a small town orchestra, the most talented group of musicians I've ever heard!
We later went lunch in the town and then back to the hotel where the kids had some time to swim. We had dinner practically on the water in Cienfuegos. (Nate had rabbit!) Sunset was beautiful from here.
Our last day in Cuba was spent in Santa Clara where we stopped and toured a monument/museum for Che.
We had lunch at the "American Hotel" and walked the town square before taking the train back to the airport.
Cuba was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I loved the people, the place, the history. It was all so fascinating.