Given President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, I thought it was due time for me to post some images I took on my own historic trip to the island nation last year. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long!
My sweet husband, who tries not to tease me too much about my mid century American car obsession, surprised me with an anniversary trip to Havana and beyond. He figured there was no better place for me to see my dream cars than Cuba! I tell you, it was the surprise of my life!
The cars were truly beyond my wildest dreams. It was as if we’d stepped through a door and suddenly it was 1956. The way the Cubans have kept these autos running for so many years with so few resources is simply amazing and an achievement few others could imagine. Yes, my compact flash card was filled with images of colorful Chevy Bel Airs, ancient Cadillacs, and fabulous Ford Fairlanes. But more than that, and unexpectedly, my head was filled with images of a culture struggling with decades of neglect.
Because this adventure was truly a surprise, I did not prepare for it in my usual manner of carefully reading guidebooks, planning day trips in advance and learning a bit of history pre departure. No, I arrived completely unprepared for the shock of it all. I recovered quickly and took on the challenge of seeing and doing as much as humanly possible over 5 days.
Unencumbered by a tour group, we walked and taxied our way all over old Havana, Havana Vieja. We met friendly Cubans everywhere we wandered. I was overwhelmed by the hauntingly beautiful, crumbling architecture surrounding us. Havana must have been stunning it its heyday. The buildings are an eclectic mix of Spanish/Moorish, Italian Baroque, Art Deco, Communist and more. Many are in severe states of disrepair, others are in fairly good shape and still others are being refurbished.
I was struck by the reality that many of the buildings that were literally crumbling to the ground were also homes to people. We’d see an in tact balcony right next to one that had tumbled down years before and it was obvious that both apartments were occupied. Yet every Cuban we encountered smiled or shook our hands or offered help with directions. We heard live music pouring out of many doorways.
One night (OK two nights), we ventured to one of Ernest Hemingway’s haunts; La Bodeguita del Medio, where the mojito was created. The bar was packed with friendly tourists from other countries. Graffiti covered every available wall and the hard working bartenders used an assembly line style set up to create the very delicious mojitos. I could just imagine Hemingway holding court at the bar!
As each day turned into the next, I embarrassingly realized how little I really knew, or was curious, about Cuba and its revolution. I’d heard about it all of my life from the time I was a little girl and never thought beyond what the news and textbooks and relatives here in the US had taught me. I’m not going to use my blog as a political tool, but I’ll just say there are many sides to every story and the Cuban story is very complicated and nuanced. I gained more knowledge on this trip than I could have imagined. To see what human beings endure because of the actions of their leaders and of outside forces is very humbling and frustrating. To see how humans endure is very inspiring. I have no idea how the change in relations with the US will play out in Cuba nor how it will affect everyday lives there. I do hope that the Cuban people will somehow benefit without losing their beautiful spirit.
As always, I’ll let my photos speak for me.