Monday, November 30, 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 travel blog, El Viajero Contento, 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.


ZihuaRob said...

Beautiful and revealing photos, Jeff! Thank you for taking the time to share them! I found myself surprisingly comfortable in Cuba during our visit several years ago. For all its shortcomings, the absence of constant bombardment by advertising was one thing I found quite attractive. I also found the people quite intelligent and interesting. Never a dull conversation. It looks like you stayed at the Hotel Sevilla in La Habana. What a place!

So are you addicted to mojitos now?

Dooglas522 said...

Great photos Jeff. I think a trip to Cuba will be on our to do list for next winter.

Laura Kelly said...

wow Jeff! Beautiful writing with rich insight! The photos are stunning and I look forward to your next entry. Thank you1

Jeffrey Willius said...

Rob -- Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. I must say that, because of your obvious passion for Cuba, I felt a bit as if I were channeling you when I was there. I agree w/ you about the people; though many were hustling, some were simply friendly and curious.
I stayed in a casa particular on San Juan de Dios at Compostela in la Habana Vieja. Not sure I even saw the Sevilla.
While I had some nice mojitos, I think my fave cocktail was the canchánchara. Have you had one?

Jeffrey Willius said...

Laura -- How nice to see you here in my little virtual space! Thanks for the kind, encouraging words. I love blogging -- especially when a new adventure provides the fodder -- and am so glad you enjoy my craft. Sally & I think of you often and hope to pay you a visit in March if you're around.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dooglas -- Are you who I think you are? At any rate, thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed my post on Cuba. Stay tuned, as I'm working on a few more -- each focused on one locale or aspect of the experience. Maybe my accounts will help you plan your itinerary. If you do go, I'd love to compare notes.

Unknown said...

Hey man. Great pix. Great stories. Looks like you fixed my sign-in.


Jeffrey Willius said...

That's great, Chas! So happy to see your comment! As you know, I always (sometimes) (maybe) respect what you have to say ;-)

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