This was my second visit to one of my most favourite places on the planet. Back in 2010 I visited Cuba for the first time and was smitten by the pace and way of life of this Caribbean Island. Back then it was a rush to see as much as I could and I raced around the place like the proverbial cruise ship tourist on a tight schedule. Thankfully, this time I was able to spend a bit more time and make for myself a photo-documentary of the place that filled me with so much joy on my last vacation.
In the time since my last visit, nothing seems to have changed much. There are still the plethora of old American cars, the old buildings and the old women dragging on enormous cigars. It’s a bit of a photographic cliché but one that I want to add to my photo album, as their faces are etched with so much life, humour and fun. I remembered from my previous trip that Cuban food wasn’t up to much, well for tourists anyway, although the people seem to have survived on it without too many detrimental effects. They are also without those Western staples of celebrity gossip, McDonalds, KFC and Coca Cola, which strangely enough brought back memories of my childhood when we had none of those things either. In fact, the kids in Cuba have very little. No brand name T-shirts or Nike trainers, no iPads or smart phones but what they don’t have they don’t miss and you are more likely to see a crowd of lads playing footy in the street rather than lounging on corners waiting for the next bottle of cheap cider.
As I walked down the streets clicking away at the sights I was amazed at just how friendly the locals were. In a house I passed I noticed some people were dancing to music on the record player. They saw me watching and I was immediately invited in to meet the family and have a dance, I’m not sure that I can see that happening that often over here in the UK. Further along, people were dancing to a guitarist as he sat out front of his home strumming his instrument and singing along. It was absolute magic. I remembered reading on my last visit that when Castro came to power he removed all the corruption and bad influences from his country, which had become a licentious den of iniquity by all accounts. He changed so much yet the country is stuck in a time loop that, well, I have to confess, I find charming and endearing, although I’m sure if I lived there I would find it all too restrictive.
There is a park in the centre of Havana where all the lads hang out but that is mainly in the evening when they get friendly and chatty… and the invitations fly. On this occasion, I just wanted to photograph as much as possible so I smiled sweetly, thanked them for their interest and moved on.
Havana is of course the capital city of Cuba and as such has most of whatever is going on in the country. However, there are some pretty wonderful beaches if that’s your thing. I hired a driver for a day and he drove me out to Varadero Beach, which is about 2 hours from the city centre. The interesting thing about Varadero is that it is said to be the only beach location in Cuba where you can find any local population. The town in Varadero has restaurants, local bars, amusement parks, restaurants, night clubs and cabarets, so when you’ve finished sunning yourself there are still a few things you can do.
My camera never stopped focusing on this beautiful country whilst my mind kept focusing on my own life. I often think nothing of spending £800 on a suit or £150 on a trendy shirt but was I happier than those smiling faces I saw everywhere I looked. Did the fact that they have nothing, coveted nothing, respected their elders and genuinely just got on with living… make for the secret of life? I wasn’t too sure but I did envy the simplicity of a bygone age and wondered if it wasn’t us that had got the priorities of life oh so wrong.
I travelled Leeds to London by rail with East Coast Trains: Advance Return fares booked online, start from £26 standard class or £79 first class.
Book via: www.eastcoast.co.uk call 08457 225225