Like so many others I was on the fast track to get to Cuba before the flood gates opened to the American market. Over the last few years during the Obama administration it was becoming easier and easier for Americans like myself to squeeze through the grey zone and legally visit Cuba. The word was out to get to Cuba now, before it would become too late. Now this was my first time to Cuba, and since I was not there 10 years ago to compare I can only give you my personal impression. Of course it’s changing, but I feel like it is a long way off before the fear of not seeing the “old” Cuba becomes a reality. Europeans have been traveling to Cuba for a very long time so by no means has Cuba been off the tourist track but there are so many places that remain vastly undiscovered.
Havana is a huge city with a population of just over 2 million people and it’s hard for me to believe that it’s become too touristy. There is the historical old Havana where the streets are constantly swept and kept pristine and there are shops and restaurants that would satisfy even the pickiest of tourists. The street of Obispo is by far the most touristy part of Cuba and a funnel for the newly docked cruise ship crowds to “see Havana in less than a day”. They can buy their cigars and rum and be on there way before dark. But as your get further and further away from the small main hub the American feel become more and more faint and that’s when the magic really sets in.
It seems like the streets of Havana never sleep. There is the constant beating and shaking of the Caribbean style drums, voices belting out sounds that you did not even think possible, people dancing and laughing in the streets and it even got me (someone who cant and really never dances) swinging my hips. Furthermore there are the smells of BBQ meats and seafood sizzling on the open grill, cigar smoke drifting upward on the sea breeze towards to sky and mint being crushed for the famous mojitos. How could I not have an amazing time in Havana.
I would not call myself a street photographer by any means. My style is more to get up close and personal with my 50mm lens. I strike up a conversation or a smile, work through the posed or uncomfortable moments and then wait for people to relax and start to ignore me. Then that’s when it really gets fun for me. I feel like I can never get a tight enough frame and I always want be closer. But Havana inspired my to try to expand and step back and bit and do some street photography. Every corner in Havana presents an incredible frame. Every vendor could not have been placed better with those old crumbling buildings highlighting his stance. Every bright color and smiling face seems to encourage me to take the shot. Ooh and not to mention the cars!!! I’m not a car person at all but seeing those old cars in every street with all those different colors was quite the photographers dream.
One of my absolute favorite places to photograph in Cuba was along the Malecon. The quintessential 5 mile Havana drive that so many photos have been snapped from. Although I did not necessarily get my dream shot I felt like a kid in the candy store. With storm clouds rolling in and waves crashing over the jetty spraying sea foam in every direction to the brightly painted cars whizzing past. I could have stayed there forever. It was so much fun I had a grin from ear to ear.
So the question and worries on everyone’s mind is when is Cuba going to change. Well of course only being in Cuba for a little over a week and barely scratching the surface of what this magically island has to offer I can say that without a doubt this island has so much to offer off the beaten path that travelers can rest assured that Cuba will retain its magic for many years to come.