Travel is often about contrasts. We take notice of details when we step out of our too-familiar everyday scenery. They flood our senses as we absorb the sights, smells, and sounds of our destinations. The excitement of life and discovery light up our brains.
The contrasts of Cuba were gloriously stark. Not only to the place I call home but within itself. It felt impossible to absorb. And yet it all fits together seamlessly—the old and new, countryside and city, tourists and locals. It’s an extraordinary place, steeped in history.
The urban architecture in Cuba is often detailed and intricate. It’s also known for its colorful facades that beg you to drink in the bright hues and vibrance. And the tropical forests embrace you in the deep, lush colors of nature—almost impossibly rich and surreal.
So in spite of intending to be off-duty for my recent visit to the island, I still felt compelled to take pictures. The colors can saturate you, though. So I embraced my infrared camera to dive into the details, textures, and contrasts that were sometimes lost in the vibrance. Shooting in black and white reveals structure and removes flamboyant distractions.
Havana is a bustling city, of course. But the energy is different from the urban environments I’m accustomed to in the U.S. There’s an underlying flow and rhythm to the constant movement.
Our second-floor apartment overlooked El Capitolo. From our balcony perch, we watched Cubans go about their everyday lives. Within the purposeful comings and goings, there was never too much of a rush for hugs and warm greetings amongst friends and families. Everyone seemed to know each other. It was delightful to witness.
Tobacco country feels like another world from Havana, yet in reality less than 200 km from the big city on the small island nation. Viñales is a quiet haven, but still crawling with tourists. Once you step away from the main streets lined with tourist restaurants and busses, it’s easy to find the easier pace of the locals.
It seems almost every home in Viñales is also a casa particular. Ours was on the outskirts. And there we were treated to being a part of the daily life of Cubans. One that consists of work, school, and home while folding visitors into the mix with love and generosity.
Best of both worlds
Although these two cities are starkly different in the physical sense, there’s no difference in how the Cuban people treat each other. Hugs, robust handshakes, and genuine enthusiasm are the norm. Even as a visitor, that love is evident.
I have to admit that growing up in South Florida, with a large Cuban population, visiting Cuba was never high on my travel radar. Now though, I see that as a tremendous oversight.
Cuba is beautiful. The Cuban people are beautiful. I look forward to embracing adventure there again soon.