Tuesday, December 1, 2015

POOR, RICH AND RIGHTEOUS – Top 25 Images of Cuba

Cuba is like that weird uncle no one ever sees any more. Once the life of the party—an anything-goes spree destination for well-heeled American socialites, celebrities and the mob—the exotic country just 90 miles south of Key West suddenly became persona non grata.

So close, yet so far away.

While visiting Cuba the first two weeks of November, I was struck by the obvious effects, not just of the half-century US embargo, but of the influences of other countries—especially Russia and China—stepping in as allies. Given such connections, one wonders how the communist government, though providing certain first-world benefits like free health care and education, has managed to deprive so many of its citizens, for so long, of any broader sense of prosperity.

No sooner do the airs of one lively salsa or rhumba band fade than those of another two blocks ahead rise to the ear.

But Cubans count assets other than a high standard of living as it is understood elsewhere in the world. The flavors of their diverse heritage—European, African and Indigenous—blend in a savory stew of cultural energy. A distinct pride of survivorship keeps the great Revolution on low simmer, still evident in folks' erect bearing and in defiant propaganda splashed on walls and billboards. And Cubans are nothing if not resourceful, scrimping, saving and improvising to make do with their limited resources.

The country's lush, tropical landscapes, from jungle to beach to highland coffee plantation, are breathtakingly beautiful. There's a surprisingly strong sense, even when one is beyond sight of the ocean, of this being an island—something, I suppose, about how the air feels and smells, and how close even a distant thunderstorm seems to loom.

Even gritty La Habana Vieja, old-town Havana, though at first glance a ruin, holds its own charms. Through the structural decay shine glimpses of grander days. Some landlords have managed a bit of restoration, even if it's only a fresh coat of paint. Here and there, vibrant art delights and challenges the eye, and music is everywhere—no sooner do the airs of one lively salsa or rhumba band fade than those of another two blocks ahead rise to the ear.

While a people can hardly be characterized by a tourist's limited impressions, I found the Cubans I met on the streets and in the countryside to be friendly, welcoming, curious…and surprisingly optimistic. Most are excited about the thaw in relations with the US, looking forward to new opportunities and reunions with long-separated family members living there.

I can't share all the warm smiles, the welcoming handshakes, the tastes and smells, the music's beat. Those you will have to experience for yourself.* But I can offer a few of the images I captured with my camera. Of the 1,000-plus I snapped, here are my best 25.
* Keep an eye here and on my other blog, One Man's Wonder, for my upcoming post on how you can spend a couple of amazing weeks in Cuba—legally—for less than $1,500, about a third the price charged by most tour companies.


sue in mexico mo said...

Wonderful! My friend and I are planning a trip to Cuba. We can't decide whether to go soon or wait a year or two. She was there in the 50's as a teenager, with her parents. I have never been. Thanks for sharing.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks for the comment, Sue. I hope this inspires you to go -- if you ask me, the sooner the better. Would you two go on your own or with a tour group? Interested in Spanish lessons as part of the experience?

sue in mexico mo said...

We haven't made any plans yet - just a lot of talk. What do you suggest?

Jeffrey Willius said...

Sue, I'd say it depends on your temperament. If you're open to adventures on your own and making new friends, go on your own. If you want more structure and a bit of insulation from the nitty gritty of immersion, then a group might be better.
Stay tuned here for a post I'll publish here in the next few days called "Cuba Can-Do," about how to go on your own for about a third the cost of many group packages.

sue in mexico mo said...

I would say we are somewhere in the middle. We like adventure. However, we will probably need guidance and structure to get the most out of the experience.

DJS said...

Love the last two photos especially! That gal looks like'd be a fun one to talk to.

Jeffrey Willius said...

DJS - Yes, I'm afraid I broke the unwritten rule of paying her for the right to take her photo. I think that's why she suddenly covered her face with her fan. (I was some distance away, across the street from her.) She's quite famous and has been doing this for a long time. Google images using "Cuba, woman with cigar" and she pops up many times.