Saturday, February 8, 2014

CUBA my first impressions


Walking across the airport tarmac a pretty young lady wearing a smart military style uniform ushers us into the immigration department.  Her uniform skirt is mini length and she wears black fishnet stockings.


My passport and visa stamped, I pass through security, customs, turn in my health form and enter the Havana Airport lobby.  It is small like the old Sacramento Metro Airport in the 1960s.  I see no advertising signs anywhere. 

The airport parking lot is almost empty, save for a few old 1950’s Chevys, a Kia, a couple of Ladas (Russian cars) and our shiny modern Volvo bus.   No advertising signs anywhere.




Our first stop is Plaza de la Revolucion.  Where is everybody?  The government buildings (all built in the 1950s) surround a huge open  area, cement, light poles with dangling wires, a monument, and two huge portraits of Che Guevara …not Fidel?  This is where Fidel made his 4 hour long speeches and where the Pope came, but it is empty today.




I expected to see huge Fidel faces everywhere but instead it is Che Guevara.




Back on the bus we head to Old Havana…
we pass a neighborhood that looks like a bombed out war zone.




…we seem to be on a main street but there is no traffic.  Just a car here in there, or a Lada  (those Russian cars) that Ali told me are not cars more like jokes.




People walking on the sidewalks, congregating in small groups in doorways, sitting on steps, chairs, balconies and not one person is talking or texting on a cell phone!


IMG_8221 Jan 12 Old Havana


OLD HAVANA…Walking through Old Havana we see lovely Colonial buildings restored by the department of historical preservation.  Our guides tell  us that this is the only government department that still exists after the revolution.   The oldest buildings in Havana are the ones in best condition because the government is restoring the oldest first.


IMG_8205 Jan 12 girls group


This group plays Cuban music during lunch of shrimp, lobster and rice.   They play in front of the door to the kitchen so the servers keep walking between them with food.  The sisters have beautiful and powerful voices and their sound makes us all want to dance but we are hungry so we eat.


IMG_8212 Jan 12 Cafe Taberna bar


We are all familiar with the music of the Buena Vista Social Club so after lunch Matthew asks Ali and Laura to show us the Café Taberna where they played.   This is the Café Taberna bar…feels like 1930s here…


IMG_8215 Jan 12 Beny More' RCA poster


I spot a poster on the wall of famed Cuban singer Beny More’ and see that it advertises RCA Victor records.  The first advertising I have seen in Cuba, I wonder if it will be the last because this is a Communist country where all companies have been owned by the state since 1959.


IMG_8190 Jan 12 Old Havana street


We wander down streets of Old Havana, our Cuban guides Ali and Laura answer our questions and point things out to us.  People smile as we pass them, some wave from balconies.  


IMG_8230 Jan 12 reeds trio


We hear music coming from a small hotel lobby.  It is a reed ensemble.  We  investigate, listen for awhile,  LOVE THEIR SOUND!  I buy their homemade cd.


IMG_8232 Jan 12 art deco glass


My pre-trip research mentioned Art Deco buildings that have not been changed, so I am pleased to discover this lovely glass work over the reception desk in this small hotel lobby.


IMG_8244 Jan 12 street performors


We hear drums and discover a crowd surrounding stilt walkers and everyone is swinging to the Cuban beat.


IMG_8250 Jan 12 stilt walking girl


Seeing our cameras, this lovely young woman poses for us before hurrying off to catch up with the others.


IMG_8261 Jan 12 Hotel Ambos Mundos Hemmingway stayed here


Hemmingway slept here…


Another beautiful 1930s style bar, this one in Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemmingway and his friends stayed.


IMG_8259 Jan 12 piano mans Hotel Ambos Mundos


It is mid afternoon but the piano man is playing at the Hotel Ambos Mundos.  Music seems to be a 24 hour thing here.


IMG_8262 Jan 12 photo of Hemmingway at Hotel Ambos Mundos


I love old black and white photos.  These show the Good Old Days at the Hotel Ambos Mundos.


IMG_8186 Jan 12 contemperary sculpture


Love this!


IMG_8280 Jan 12 mural of colonial life


More public art, a mural of Colonial life in Cuba.


IMG_8278 Jan 12 beginnings of Capitolism


Beginnings of Capitalism? 


IMG_8289 Jan 12 boat in the street


I am not sure why this boat is sitting in the road, but I like it…


IMG_8288 Jan 12 Old Havana church


Lovely Old Havana church


IMG_8268 Jan 12 old women in Old Havana


and lovely Old Havana ladies


IMG_8265 Jan 12 historical preservation in Old Havana


Some buildings in Old Havana are restored and painted with fun Cuban colors, while others are in total disrepair.


Art Deco door and balcony


I whip out my journal and standing in the street below this balcony I quickly get the bare bones of the scene sketched.  I snap a photo and plan to add the watercolor in my hotel room at the end of the day.


This is not a painting trip.  I am not traveling at the slower pace that I do on a painting trip.  This is a People to People Tour which means we are on the go from one thing to the next, no time to sit and sketch.  So I carry my Watercolor Journal with a pen clipped to the spiral binding in my backpack.  My Cannon SLR camera is around my neck.  I am determined to capture some scenes on this trip in watercolor and ink sketches even if it means they get started on the trip and finished from photos when I return home.


I will continue to post my thoughts, photos and sketches of Cuba on this blog in the next few days or weeks.  Check back for more, or better yet subscribe to this blog. 


What do you think so far?  Please post your comments below.  Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Awesome write up sandy! Especially liked that you got a photo of the clarinet guys at the hostel. -jrl

Sandy Delehanty said...

Hi jrl, I am glad you like what I wrote so far, since you were there too. I have many more "tobacco stories" to go, so check back from time to time. Sandy

Anonymous said...

Sandy, thanks for posting your thoughts and impressions for those of us who don't have the opportunity of an approved tour. - Sharon Modrick

Jolynn Lacasse said...

This is terrific Sandy! What a wonderful time we all had. It was great to go during this time period, before the eventual onslot of Capitalism begins to make its way in. You have captured the experience perfectly. I can't wait to go back again for another visit. Viva Cuba!