Photos and text by Mick Orlosky
People ask me "Why Cuba?" I suspect the folks that ask me might think of Cuba as this scary communist dictatorship run by vicious tyrants. But, that's not Cuba at all. I wanted to go to Cuba to see a different place, different people, and most importantly a different way of life. Walker Evans went to Cuba in 1933. I figure it had changed since then, but how much? I know that Cuba will continue to change as more Americans visit. I wanted to see it before we overwhelm it with our cash, our bad manners, and our arrogance. It took a few days for me to start finding my photographic groove. I could talk for ages about what I saw, but here are photographs instead. All right, I'll throw in some more words below, too.
While in Cuba, I started out in Havana, Most of the photos above are from that city. I visited the museum and foundation of Antonio Nunez Jimenez, one of Che's revolutionary captains who also became a respected naturalist. In a back corner of Jimenez' library sat an old Rolleiflex that had belonged to Che Guevara and was given to Antonio. There are folks in Havana who just try to look cool for photos, hoping to get a tip. You'll see a couple of those above. While in Havana I stayed in the Hotel Presidente.
I then then journeyed to Playa Larga, a small beach town on the "Bay of Pigs." Cuba is about the same size as the state of Pennsylvania, so a few hours can get you most anywhere. I stayed in a casa near the beach, where a band played on the roof one night. These next photos are from a crocodile farm we visited on the way out of Havana, from the Zapata national park, and from Playa Larga.
I met an official Cuban liasion, Alex. It was his job to school tourists like me about Cuba. Even though he was employed by the state, he was very honest and forthcoming about real life in Cuba. Of the many, many, many things I asked him in our conversations, the question that got him the most interested was when I asked him to describe Cuba in three words. It took him three days of thinking. He eventually told me: History, Change, and Challenge. I lost a shoelace in Playa Larga, and had to borrow a replacement. Thus, I sported pink laces for the rest of my trip.
This next set are mostly from Trinidad, a very old city with cobblestone streets that is now more tourists than residents. I stayed at the casa of an engineer who had studied in Leningrad and met his son and his son's beautiful family. Clothing with American sports teams are popular items, still I was surprised to find a guy with a Philadelphia Flyers hat. He told me it had been a gift.
I lay awake many nights thinking about the Revolution in Cuba, Fidel and Raul Castro, the U.S. policies and the global shoving match during the Cold War. I tossed and turned with such anguish at the brutality of global politics. The human cost paid by the Cuban people in our quest to assert our might is a blight on human history. But, things are changing. They are always changing, and this small island with its sugar crops will now face even more uncertainty as the old ways fade into the past.
These next photos are split between Cienfuegos, one of Cuba's more modern cities, and from Guanaroca Lagoon where I watched birds from a rowboat, looking for flamingos.
My three favorite parts of this trip were: 1) Snorkeling in the "Bay of Pigs" along a coral reef with many amazing fishes. Sorry, no photos of this happened. 2) The long talks with Alex about the past, present, and future of Cuba. I learned so much, yet have so many more questions. 3) Meeting a group of kids playing baseball outside Hemingway's old mansion. I blew off the tour so I could take photos of them, and they asked me to play with them! I took a few cuts at bat, laughing like a kid again. It was amazing.
This final set is mostly from Havana, again. The final leg of my journey. I found John Lennon, relaxing in a small park. Imagine that!