Let’s get the superficial out the way. Many times Cuba is portrayed as this country that is stuck in the past and Havana as the city of old buildings and cars. Though some of this might be true, it is not representative of what this island is and beholds. In my short stay, I saw and heard the true beauty that lies in Cuba - which I hope to represent through these upcoming series of photos and a story I did. I had many experiences that demonstrated why there is so much hope for this country, my “second country.” This is just the start, hope you all enjoy these upcoming set of images/videos and ultimately the presentation of a story I did on an individual. Once again, thank you all for the support, none of this would be possible without it!
Before I even got to the island, I starting hearing amazing stories. At the airport, I met Pedro Mercado Rodriguez, a cuban that migrated from Santiago de Cuba to the states in 2000 in search of a better life for him and his family. He was able to leave the island after winning the cuban visa lottery, often times called “el bombo.” He left it all behind in hopes that he would be able to give his kids a better life by supporting them from the states - a prevalent theme amongst many cuban immigrants. It would be the first time in almost 20 years that Pedro would finally be able to see his family once again.
This was taken on the night I arrived to Cuba. In Cuba, these old cars are usually used as an “almendrón” or taxi. They have routes all around the city just like a bus system, but are cars. They pass through various streets and you have to stand near the street and ask to get picked up. You also want to make sure that their route goes towards where you want to go. They are more expensive than buses but much quicker. A ride usually costs you 10 pesos or about .40 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). This gentleman, however, runs his business like an Uber. He doesn’t drive a route but rather is requested and takes you wherever you want, but it is at a higher cost.
There were also different types of “almendrónes.” This one was a jeep-style car with benches on the sides. The back is open with just a small door keeping us in. Very cool for photos, but all I could think was about how strict we are about seat belt laws and other safety concerns in the US while people are riding like this in Cuba. Not a critique but rather an observation of the different lifestyle.
For as long as I can remember, my mom has told me that if she could go back to Cuba to see one thing, it would be her university. La Universidad de La Habana hosts 16 faculties of which my mom studied history, because she had to… In Cuba, you don’t necessarily study what you want but rather what you’re given after you rank your options. Very different from what we’re used to here. Here’s the photo I promised my mom, hopefully next time I take it with her in the frame.
There were a lot of mixed emotions around Obama’s visit. Some were hopeful, others fear that nothing will change. Nonetheless, it was a historic visit. This gentleman saw me taking polaroids, all of which I ended up giving away, and asked me for one - the visit meant something to him.
Many would line up around streets that were closed hoping to catch a glimpse of President Obama in “La Bestia” or “The Beast” which is what cubans called the president’s tank like Cadillac. Since many streets were closed - sometimes up to 3 to 4 blocks away from where the president was going to be at, balconies seemed like a great viewpoint.
One of my personal favorite from the whole series: I was fortunate to catch the glimpse of the president in “La Bestia” several times. Here, he was on his way to the local brewery to have a meeting with cuban entrepreneurs. As he drives through “El Malecon” you can see he famous “Morro” in the back.
After watching the president take the Malecon route several times to go to the various places he visited, I wondered if he saw some of the destruction that plagues the island. The infamous “derrumbes” or “collapses” can be found all around Havana. The most ironic part is that they can often be found next to buildings that have been or are in the process of being restored such as is the case of the collapse that is in front of the capital building. In this case, it is a collapse that exists between two other apartment complexes.
This was a collapse that was in the process of being restored but due to timing and money was put on hold. The thing to note in this image is how despite this destruction, you can read the ‘Viva Cuba’ graffiti that is on the brick wall.
This image has an interesting background story to it. On my way to Cuba, I sat next to a Canadian reporter who told me she was interested in photography. She showed me an image of this same exact man that she took in 2011 and told me that she just loved how his face had so much detail. She then showed me a photo that she took 3 years later in 2014 of the same man. She expressed how she wish that she knew his story. When I was walking through one of the streets through Havana, I happened to find him and I was very excited. I told him about the journalist and how it was such a pleasure to meet him. He told me that he finally had papers to come to the states but that he feared all the gun violence that existed in my country.
Havana streets are teeming with mini bars and restaurants that attract many tourists. In this one, the gentleman on the left was putting on a music and dance show for these tourists before he started pouring beer in their mouths.
This man was driving his sidecars motorcycle when he saw be photographing and just looked at my for a split second. I thought it was neat that I caught that exact moment. Sidecar bikes or how cubans pronounce them “cide-caar” are very common in Cuba.
Street vendors are also very common in Havana. They provide these goods to different neighborhoods at relatively cheap prices. I passed several of them throughout my walks through the city.
Or… you can go out at fish your own food. The many times I visited El Malecon, there were always people fishing. It seems like these two gentleman got lucky and were definitely bringing back some food.
Cuban militants get ready for "El Cañonazo de las 9," a custom from colonial times that would signal the closure of the gates of the city wall. Every night a cannon is fired at 9pm... Don't worry, cannon balls aren't used, it's just the sound.
La Plaza de La Revolución is probably one of the most photographed scenes in Cuba. Though not many of my frames have #revolutionary figures in them, it is hard to avoid their faces while traveling through Havana. They are literally everywhere: on all types of souvenir items, on buildings, and on billboards.
As the sun sets on Havana, it does so as well on this set of images. Hope you all enjoyed a little taste of #Havana. I’ll say this much - four days is not enough to explore everything this beautiful city has to offer. Cannot wait to go back and continue working on stories. Stay tuned, as I still have a story to post on a gentleman that I covered a for few days while in Cuba. Thank you all for the support once again!