January 2016 – Cuba travel log:
With photographers Matthew Ree from NYC & Jeannemarie Photography from Honolulu Hawaii, we headed to Cuba for an amazing adventure together. My first impression of Havana was so surreal; it was as if we were in a time warp traveling back to the 1950s & stepping onto a movie set that someone forgot to tear down. Within an hour of arriving, we were wandering & exploring on foot through the streets of Havana. The weathered patina colors, amazing textures, patterned tiles, & narrow streets kept us in a daze of “where are we?” The place is beyond words! The ombre glow at sunset is beautiful against dilapidated grandeur buildings of era’s past. Being a lover of anything old and vintage, I have found my haven of getting lost for days here!! The colors, architecture & old chippy buildings held me captive as I start figuring out how I am going to return one day & spend more time before progress spoils the character of this place.
Romance versus the reality of Cuba:
We found out that Cuba is a journey of extreme problem-solving! I decided before I left Honolulu, that I would not use the internet to conduct business. The internet is somewhat unpredictable in Cuba anyway. They now sell these cards that are able to connect you. You see people standing on corners where you might find a hot spot for an hour or so. You may find a connection in your hotel but nothing is predictable. Without warning, the power goes off & we are all left in the dark for hours. I needed to stay in the moment of my surroundings to really absorb what was going on here. I did not want to miss anything. No phone calls, no internet for me. Unplug & go with the rhythm of Cuba. I watched my colleagues in the lobby of the hotel shuffling with their laptops while I watched the man behind the hotel lobby counter speak in Spanish to someone who has just wandered in off the street with a rain dripping umbrella. The large lobby is dark because there are only 2 lights on to save electricity I suspect or perhaps they ran out of light bulbs. There is a piano playing in the background of the hotel restaurant. Nothing feels familiar to me. This is a real lifetime warp that I have wandered into. I like it!!!!
we realized we did not exchange our US dollars for Cuban CUC money at the airport so in our daze that first day of wandering around looking at all the magnificent of Havana, we realized we had no money to even buy a drink. The first two money exchanges we came to were closed even though the sign said they were open. We quickly found out that time means nothing here. No one is in a hurry, just us wanting to take it all in!! We found that getting currency exchanged was a real hit & miss challenge. Wondering around Havana looking for a bank that was open or had money proved a big hurdle that day. We saw a long line of people winding down the side street of a money exchange. Thirsty & wanting to get to our drinks at an outdoor cafe was just a moment away now!! WRONG. We quickly learned that they only let one person in the building at a time, hence the long line of anxious people waiting to exchange money. We also learned from other bystanders that if they run out of money, that’s it for the day. Another tip for Americans- take cash to Cuba. The banking system as to date does not accept American credit cards. That means no access to an ATM machine. Cash is king!
The Cuban people:
The people of Cuba have the most beautiful spirits. Everyone was very nice & welcoming to us. For a society that is so economically poor, I saw many happy welcoming faces. The culture & family community here is strong. People in Cuba, have much better patience with everything that we do as Americans. Something to be learned! We felt safe walking around the streets of Havana. Everyone walks in Havana. Children playing in the streets, mothers leaning over balconies, & lovers standing close to each other on a street corner.
Cuba is a photographers dream! We decided while sitting outside the Igleaterra’s hotel cafe/bar one afternoon that we would return & bring over other photographers on a traveling adventure workshop to experience all the charm & culture here. To bring you all up to speed today as I am finishing this journal, that is just what we are doing. We are producing our first photography workshop in Havana, Cuba this February 1-4, 2017. It will be a small intimate gathering of creatives!!
Matthew Ree Photography http://www.matthewree.com
Florist/ stylist https://designsbyhemingway.com
Film lab http://www.richardphotolab.com