Following an internet poll a few years back, Havana was chosen as one of the world’s New Seventh Wonder cities, and after a recent trip there I can certainly see why; I spent ten days being totally captivated mostly by the Cubans who made this one of the most friendly and memorable places I’d ever been. I want to go back. Soon.
I had a nice reminder of what is really important in life too. Compared to the West, the Cubans get by on remarkably little – the monthly salary would barely buy a decent dinner here in London – but they are incredibly proud of their country, its free education system (and I know plenty of students in the UK who’d love free university education), free healthcare with life expectancy now better than the nearby USA, and respect for older citizens who can access services to keep them active and independent well into their 80s and 90s. Quite simply, Cubans look out for each other and they live and work together; it’s a shame we’ve lost some of that.
There’s work for everyone and the place is a constant bustle; it also seemingly never sleeps, and it was a joy to see local friends and families simply out on the streets, walking, talking and laughing. I was slightly less impressed by the early morning roosters though – but I suppose they meant I never over-slept.
My trip was as part of a small group of (4) photographers with a local guide for five days, and we had a fabulous time. Having a local guide over an extended period meant we got to parts of town that most tourists probably wouldn’t see. Travelling with a few like-minded people also meant we could talk photography and bang on about gear without boring all the people we were with! I also enjoyed a few days by myself on the weekends either side of the trip – time to get totally immersed and just go with the moment.
There’s so much material for photographers to work with too (especially given how we’re so drawn to decay), although it’s hard to avoid some of the Cuban clichés – old cars, old ladies smoking cigars, etc. It took a little while to ‘get my eye in’ after some fallow weeks photography-wise but I’m happy with some of the images I got. I was even happier with the great company, the excellent music in the evenings and, let’s be honest, the rum (yum).
If you’re wondering about going, I’d say that as long as you’re not a compulsive neat-freak then don’t hesitate and get there as soon as you can – but don’t go to the all-inclusive tourist resorts; stay in one of the private casa particulares (Cuban B&B) and get to live with the locals. Eat like them too – simple Cuban food (grilled meat or fish with rice and vegetables) was tasty and plentiful; Cuban takes on other cuisines (Italian for example) is probably what leads to complaints from the tourists….
I hope some of these photographs might be a little encouragement too.