Many of you know that as a student at Cornell Law School, I worked on the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigating the John F. Kennedy assassination. I traveled to Cuba twice. The first visit in 1977 with Congressmen Louis Stokes and Chris Dodd and the Chief Counsel, Bob Blakey, we interviewed President Fidel Castro. On the second visit in 1978, I interviewed various other sources. On both visits, I was struck by the kindness of the Cuban people as well as the amazing beauty of the island.
I always wanted to return to Cuba, especially before the island became totally modernized and looked like any other island in the Caribbean. I had my chance this February. I had been following the exploits of the great photo journalist, Peter Turnley, and read that he was leading a photo workshop in Cuba. I threw caution to the wind and signed up. What an experience it was.
The group met in Miami and traveled together to Cuba in a short 45 minute flight. As we approached the island, we could see the natural beauty and ruggedness of the island. Though 900 miles long, from above the greenery dominated the landscape.
On arrival day, we checked in and immediately headed to the Malecon, a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall that stretches for 4 miles along the coast from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Havana neighborhood to the Vedado neighborhood. This is the spot ion Havana. The male con shows more of the Havana soul and attracts more locals and tourists than any other locale in Cuba. During our walk, I encountered these 3 lovely ladies and asked if I could take a photo. They said yes. I soon learned that most folks are happy to have you take their photo.
On our way back home, we spent time in El Prado, the inland Boulevard that reminded me of las Ramblas in Barcelona. The pic of dad and son above was taken there . We also ran into a colorful religious pageant that I followed for a while to snap the following photo.
Day 2 began with a Ferry Ride to Regla, a Santeria haven and beautiful spot in Havana. While in Regla, I witnessed a Santeria trainee offering gifts to the God's by the water, befriended locals and drank fine rum with them and was invited into the homes of strangers. I fell in love with Cubans.
We next visited the world's most famous dance hall, La Tropical. The flourishing club has been an important part of Cuban culture since first opening its doors in the segregated 1950s. Founded by a beer company for completely commercial reasons and transcending all expectations by remaining successful even through the Cuban revolution, La Tropical caters to an almost exclusively Afro-Cuban clientele. Its reputation is that it is the place to go to experience the very best in local music. The famed venue retained its vitality even in times of social upheaval and exemplifies how something as simple as a low rent musical venue can impact a culture desperate to establish an identity. The dancers in this outdoor setting, that oft swells to 10,000, are amazing. I may be Latino but I do not dance like these Cubans!
We viisted the Egido Marketplace neighborhood where I saw beautiful buildings crumbling because of the proximity of the sea and no maintenance over decades. I also ambled into a gym with some old equipment but where the locals proved that it's not the equipment but rather the dedication. Throughout the neighborhood, lovers roam the streets on bicycles and murals are plentiful. All in all, this neighborhood was one of may favorites.
Our visit to a Santeria ceremony was amazing. We learned how the Afro Cuban religion has influenced the evolution of Cuban culture. The male dancer pictured below was spectacular and the Babalao (Yoruba Santeria Priestess), pictured after the male dancer, did her dance and worked with the younger Santeros throughout the ceremony.
Our 3 hour trek to Viñales Valley was amazing. Considered by many to be the most beautiful place in Cuba, the Viñales Valley National Monument holds stunning landscapes and jaw dropping vistas off the Mogote mountains. These mountains are found only in Southeast Asia and Cuba. Many of you may not know that the island of Cuba split from Asia and not the mainland, hence the existence of the Mogote mountains. The area is also famous for being the premier tobacco growing area in the world. We were transported to the valley in a hair-raising oxen ride and once there treated to amazing food, a tobacco farm and a great lunch.
A visit to Cuba without going to the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym would not be a visit to Cuba! The gym is a local amateur boxing gym for the young athlete to learn and train for their country's second favorite sport. The best Cuban boxers began their training here.
Our visits to two separate dance companies, one modern and one a classic ballet studio were amazing. The contrast was spectacular as was the dedication shown by the students.
Walking around Havana provided me so many opportunities to chat with new friends and take their photos.
This last pic was taken from the inside of a bus on a rainy day. I looked out and saw this amazing view. Such was the draw of Cuba.
Throughout the trip, my photography improved tremendously. Watching Peter Turnley work was awe inspiring. He taught me how to approach people, ask them to allow me to photograph them and then direct their stance. Thank you Peter!
Thank you readers for sticking with me. If you got through this post and enjoyed it or if you have a question, please leave a comment.