Wherever I am, I am looking for the same things: a color, a light, a sharp contrasts and deep shadows, a facial expression, a sentiment. In Cuba, I spent almost every day walking around the streets. When I take photos I always go alone. I focused on people in public spaces – their daily routines – but I tried not to interfere in peoples’ lives.
In Cuba, I was with a small group people and leader. Our leader was responsible for booking accommodations in Cuban homes and transport. This is very important because they have a very big problem with public transportation. In Cuba there aren’t a lot of buses, and the buses aren’t punctual. And a Cuban’s favorite word is “tomorrow”. Private cars are very old and destroyed but have bright, beautiful colors. Cubans’ cars are a part of the landscape in Cuba just like red buses in England. I think Cubans love colors. If color is an important element of your photos, Cuba is a perfect place for you.
If you want to get to know real life in Cuba, do not stay at a hotel. I stayed one day in a very expensive hotel in Valadero. It had everything: beautiful beaches, many kinds of food and alcohol but there was no Cuban atmosphere. My favorite places are Havana and Santa Clara.
At the time of the 1959 revolution, Havana ranked as one of the world’s great and dynamic cities. Today, it can be a collision of the antique and the nouveau. Strolling through the streets of Havana you see old houses and expensive hotels. The old buildings are so overwhelming in their magnificence – and their dilapidation and the poverty surrounding them so apparent. You meet very poor people and the very rich Cubans. The differences are enormous. Life in Havana unfolds in plain view: front doors are left open, washing is hung out on balconies, domino players sit at tables on the curb, conversations are shouted between buildings and families watch TV in exposed street-side living rooms. This is an enchanting and captivating city. There are so many topics that can be photographed. Strolling along the Malecón at sunset is a wonderful way to soak up the feel of this city and in the golden glow of the setting sun, they make a beautiful photo. The Malecón is a great place to meet the locals.
Conversations with the Cubans and the time you spend with them are the most important things. It’s the only way to know this country. Cubans who rent rooms to the tour speak English. They are very friendly, open and modest. Neighborhood contacts are very important. I think everybody knows everyone. They have a problem with street names but when you ask about a surname, everybody know where this person lives. One night I lost myself on the street. I was coming back from the pub myself. The old lady stopped me and said “you are looking for house? I know where you live. I’ll show you.” That was the first time I saw her in my life!
Yes, it is true that Cubans love music. Kiko, whom I have stayed in Havana has his band. I asked if I could listen to his music and he was very pleased. In spite of the late evening he had a great loud speaker and let his music sound out. Of course, he also served rum. On another day I heard music on the street. The door to the house was open. I looked in shyly. The host invited me inside. His son was playing drums. I listened to the music and went on. Another nice experience.
In the tourist areas the locals are attracted, they want to sell you something. Necklaces, chaplets, clothes… all the same. It can be tiresome. But it is calm and safe in the normal streets. Cuban streets are very good for street photography. Cubans likes small gifts. When you walking on some street for the first time bring some candy for the kids. The next day everyone will smile at you. No one will ask why you are taking photos.
One day when I was walking down a street in Santa Clara, I met an old man with a “bouquet” of hens. He was holding the hens by the legs. At first sight I thought these animals were dead. But they were alive. The man didn’t speak English. I don’t speak Spanish. He didn’t understand my body language. He thought I wanted to see where the eggs come from. And he showed me how hen lays egg!
A lot of products in Cuba you can get with food stamps. Every person signs up only to one shop. When products are in the shop, they can buy them, if available people have to wait. But the easiest thing to buy are eggs. Every single day I ate eggs for breakfast and I think this is a standard in every house which host tourists. Now when I see eggs I think – Cuban breakfast!
Every place you go can see images of Che Guevara. There is a huge cult of Che. Every morning children in all schools in Cuba begin the day with an assembly and a slogan: “we want to be like Che”. There isn’t a huge cult of Fidel, and there aren’t a lot of Fidel’s monuments. This was a surprise for me, because I thought every dictator puts up a lot of his own monuments. I was in the cemetery where Fidel’s tomb is. At this place you can’t stand for a long time. You can only look and must leave this place quickly. Fidel’s tomb has very good security.
Cuba is not a culinary destination. Once I waited three hours in a small restaurant for rice with vegetables. But nowhere in the world do you eat a better mango. There is very limited wifi service. Finally, you have time to rest from Facebook.
Cuba was love at first sight. I hope this wasn’t our last meeting.