I am just setting dates and finalising my plans to re-visit Old Havana in Cuba to follow up on my 2010 shoot.
Like any country where there is a great deal of hardship and poverty up close with tourism there are always going to be problems for the unwitting, and, Havana does have it’s fair share of crime directed against tourists. I myself was right out there in the thick of it for 14 days and had a simply fantastic time with no problems at all.
You could see tourists peering into alleyways unwilling to venture down for fear of losing their Prada’s, and quite rightly. I do think it is important to try and blend in as much as possible when you travel if you want to have experiences the same way locals do. Strolling around in your loud football gear or a $15,000 bling watch really doesn’t crack it down here as with many travel destinations where a little understanding is necessary.
The dividing line for where the tourists do and don’t venture in Old Havana tends to be where the level paving & street lighting ends. It is quite funny to see tourists literally trip over themselves to peer around corners to see the real Havana but fearing to dive in, such a shame if only they hadn’t worn their Rolex today.
I ended up meeting new people and finding hidden away local eateries, dance halls & bars into the early hours where the rum is cheap and the laughter is loud. One night in particular springs to mind where two guys in their late sixties who I had been drinking with through the course of the evening starting arguing about whose war scars were bigger; I couldn’t believe it as they started stripping off in the bar to everyone’s cheers. One had been shot three times and had entry and exit wounds in his legs and stomach which I thought was a winner until the other guy showed us all what a machete used in torture can do to a man. Both of them had been through hell and back in the Bolivian war, they were both great characters to spend time with. I can assure you that the somber mood was quickly dispelled with laughter and another bottle into what was a very long night. It was this night that I was first introduced to Cohiba cigars, an indulgence that I am still enjoying today.
There are very few Cuban people who you would not immediately warm to, happy and proud people both as individuals and as a nation. They are always ready for a good conversation, drink and a dance with a natural and earthy rhythm that is very leveling to be around. To travel to Cuba and not get out there with the locals is a terrible shame in my opinion, and with today’s all inclusive (pink wrist-banded) traveler is far too common. Here are some of those images to give you a feel for the place through my eyes.
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