Didier Cayrac Photography | Postcards from... Cuba – 1 – First impressions

Postcards from... Cuba – 1 – First impressions

February 28, 2018  •  4 Comments

Discovering Cuba is an amazing experience and a feast for the eyes. What struck me first is the colors.
Bright, vivid, joyful colors everywhere, from the porches of rural homes...

[Version française de cet article ici]

Cuba – 2018COLOR is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of Cuba ... to the streets of Trinidad.

Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018   Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018  

In comparison, our world seems so bland!

Then, Cuba offers the amazing feeling of traveling back in time, to the 1960s...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018TIME TRAVEL ... or even before, in cities...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018   Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018

... as well as in rural areas, which have barely been touched by mechanization.

Cuba – Viñales – 2018Cuba – Viñales – 2018

The impressive and elegant colonial architecture, pristine in the few carefully restored historical centers (even though their marshmallow colors is a clear giveaway that they have been "updated")...

Cuba – Cienfuegos – 2018Cuba – Cienfuegos – 2018 ... quickly turns into lively homes more representative of the Cuban culture just a few block away from the small touristic perimeters...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018In most other areas, the colonial buildings have been taken over and assimilated in Cuban culture

... and, a little bit further afield still, historical buildings turn into vibrant decay reminiscent of post-apocalyptic sets.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

As you may have already noticed, Cuba is also a paradise for admirers of old cars. American cars from before the US embargo (1962) have been lovingly maintained, and, as they are prohibited from leaving the island (like most of the population), they represent a large proportion of the relatively small number of cars on the streets (along with Soviet era Trabants, which frankly don't command as much attention or admiration...)

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 Sometimes, as their owners proudly claim, they are in even better condition than when they first arrived in Cuba, as they have been updated with the latest metallic paints, disc brakes, powerful sound systems, catchy LED lights, etc.

Cuba – Cienfuegos – 2018Cuba – Cienfuegos – 2018 Unsurprisingly, they draw a lot of attention from tourists, and the most beautiful ones are typically high-end taxis eager to take you for a spin around the city.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Around the Parque Central, magnificently renovated American cars imported prior to the 1962 embargo are lined up to lure tourists for a ride around the Havana city.

That's incredibly romantic, and has not been missed by this "just married" young couple.

DSC_3824DSC_3824However, it stil offers a magnificent backdrop for romance…

Another aspect that immediately struck me is... the complete absence of advertisement, anywhere in Cuba.

Well, that's not entirely true, if you count political propaganda for the Cuban revolution, and the cult of personality for its heroes, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in particular.
For this part of the article, cue the song "Hasta Siempre Commandante", in its modern and popular version by Nathalie Cardone, or, for a glimpse of present day propaganda, this more traditional version] - but make sure you come back to this article 😉
The propaganda is everywhere, and not particularly subtle.
Along the roads ["Patria o Muerte ¡Venceremos!" - "Homeland or Death - We Will Win!"]...

DSC_6832DSC_6832 ... on city walls, grand ["Hasta la Victoria Siempre" - "Ever Onward to Victory", or "Until the Final Victory"]...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 ... medium in size, but just as megalomaniac ... ["Che - Caballerio Sin Tacha y Sin Miedo" - "Che, Knight Without Fear and Without Fault]

Cuba – Cienfuegos – 2018Cuba – Cienfuegos – 2018 ... or even on modest neighborhood walls ... ["Yo Soy Fidel" - "I Am Fidel"]

Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018 .... and even in the most unlikely places, like the Che's iconic effigy on this hairdresser's apron or on this young woman's t-shirt!

Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018   Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Style is very important for young Cubans female or male.  

I have never seen the official party ideology questioned, except once, still quite subtly, on this wall of Habana Vieja:

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

[For the story of Alberto Korda's mythical and iconic "Guerillero Heroico" picture, see this Smithsonian article, and this other great one on Imaging Resource]

Cubans struck me by their dignity,

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018 strength of character,

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018energy and resolve

kindness,

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

generosity, Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018 energy,

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 and resilience.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

Although a few wealthy Cuban families thrive ...

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018 ... with personnel at their service, reminiscent of the colonial era ...

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

... and the educational system is apparently excellent ...

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018 ... enabling one of the highest levels of literacy in the world (over 99%) ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

... Cuba is overall a very poor country.

Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018 In the state run shops, coupons are exchanged for rations of essential items such as bread, rice, beans, sugar, coffee, etc.
Still, shortages are frequent, and queues often form in front of stores.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018 The shops are very different from what we are used to in our Western countries.
Each sells very few items, and choice is virtually non-existent.

DSC_1020DSC_1020 Meat is a rare, expensive delicacy, available at little butchers and the occasional market - neither of which would meet our expectations.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

A large part of trade takes place on the street, where pretty much anything can be found, from veggies...

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

... to fruit ...

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

... school supplies, lollipops ...

DSC_0218DSC_0218    Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

... pipes ...

DSC_9979DSC_9979

... and watch repair services.

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018

Rum, another key ingredient of Cuban life, is also sold and drunk on the street.
The way locals experience it ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Rhum is sold on the street, and drunk in large volumes

... is a far cry from the treatment we tourists get.

DSC_5545DSC_5545

Cubans deal with scarcity and adversity with amazing creativity and resourcefulness.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

For young people, like in most countries, being "cool" and stylish is extremely important, both for girls...

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018 ... and for boys alike ...

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Style is very important for young Cubans... female or male. ... although the results are sometimes hit and miss :)

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

In Cuba as well, Western brands are a huge status symbol...

Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018

... and being in shape is taken very seriously, typically with rather impressive results.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018    Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018
Possibly even more than the rest of the world, Cubans have a love-hate relationship with their dominating neighbor the USA.
Although some are clearly in awe...

DSC_5009DSC_5009Perhaps enve more than other emerging countries, Cubans seems to have a love/hate relationship with the US. some show their admiration (and probably aspiration) quite ostentatiously... and even litterally licking Western culture.

... others are a lot more realistic.

DSC_5019DSC_5019Others are quite brutally realistic (Michael's book reads "They Don't Care About Us")...

Sound, music and dance play a central role in Cuban life...

moden artmoden artModern art

... everywhere, and especially on the streets.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

If older generations tend to focus on traditional music like son, cha cha, mambo and what became salsa, younger folks prefer the reggaeton beats.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018    Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

The music and dance is a key draw for tourists as well, and opportunities to mingle with locals ...

Santiago de Cuba - 2018Santiago de Cuba - 2018 ... and practice abound.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

Sports are important too, and football/scoccer is huge, both as a practice...

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018 ... and as a spectacle. The FC Barca has a huge following, and the European games are watched everywhere.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

In another category, playing dominoes is a major activity as well, and games often ignite passion in the streets.

Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018

Finally, Cuba is also a land of amazing scenery,

Cuba – Viñales – 2018Cuba – Viñales – 2018 beautiful tropical jungle,

Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018 and paradise beaches - making it, in my opinion, a fantastic destination.

Cuba – Cayo Levisa – 2018Cuba – Cayo Levisa – 2018

I will conclude this first article on Cuba with words of wisdom on a garage door in Trinidad:

Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018 "The richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least."
"The happiest people are not those who have the best of everything, but those who make the best of what they have."

A perfect summary of my Cuban experience.

You liked reading this article? Please share it! Thank you! – and comments are always welcome.
And if you liked it, you will probably also enjoy my other articles on Cuba:

Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018Cuba – Havana • La Havane • La Habana – 2018 DSC_5567DSC_5567 Cuba – Trinidad – 2018Cuba – Trinidad – 2018 Cuba – Santiago – 2018Cuba – Santiago – 2018
A trip back to the 1950s in present day Havana, Amazing nature in the West: Viñales & Cayo Levisa island. Back to the 19th century & amazing nature – Trinidad & area, incl. Cienfuegos, the Escambray range, and the Valley de los Ingenios Santiago de Cuba,
the rebel of the South E
ast

Stay tuned, more to come!
Didier.


Comments

Christian(non-registered)
Hi Didier,

You should really quit your job and just travel shoot pictures and then amaze people as you do EVERY time. Fantastic pictures and commentary.
RICARDO VILLAFANA PINO(non-registered)
Félicitations Didier, excellent
Tantôt les photos comme les textes, ils montrent un pays qui cherche/maintient sa dignité en dépit d'agressions politiques, économiques et culturelles...
Bravo!

Patria o muerte venceremos!
Didier Cayrac Photography
Hi Andrea, thank you for your kind comments. Lots of questions... I'll try to answer them better in upcoming articles on Cuba ;)
In the meantime: I visited Havana, Viñales, Cayo Levisa, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and the valley de los Ingenios, the Escambray mountain range (including Guyanara), Cayo Iguana (a.k.a Cayo Macho), and Santiago de Cuba. I would have liked to visit other places as well, like Camaguey, but my travel circumstances didn't enable me to. What impressed me the most was the resilience, creativity, energy and kindness of Cuban people. The most challenging aspect was... too much to see and experience, too little time! Also, the frustration of not being able to help much. I wish I had come with another suitcase full of essentials like school supplies, soap, etc., to give away. I think the most "different" aspect from the other countries I have visited is the fact that in Cuba there is SO much to see and experience, so amazing, across so many dimensions: culture, nature, history, vibe, "time capsule", scenery/visual stimulation, music/dance, etc., in a relatively small amount of space.
Andrea(non-registered)
Gorgeous photos, loved how you used them to paint a picture of the country. What cities did you visit? What impressed you the most and what was the most challenging? What about your trip was most different compared to other countries you’ve visited?
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