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Cuba. Las cosa esta dura. 24 hours in Havana.

February 19, 2019

Cuba. Havana.

Growing up in post Soviet Union space I remember all the songs and movies praising this friendly little island. Cuba in my mind has always seemed to be like children coloring book- bright, happy, fun and full of colors. 

 

I wasn't wrong  about it and at the same time I was. 

 

I'm not going to make comments about the regime. I come from the country that overcame it therefore it's hard to fool me by showing the plazas and tank museums. I'm going to show you the back side of one of the greatest cities that I have ever seen which is currently  being destroyed by... By what? Politicians? Time? People's minds? Laziness? Fear? Everyone gets to decide for themselves. 

 

This post in not made to hurt anyone's feelings. Havana took a very special place in my heart and if I could change anything to see this place strive and bloom- I would.

 

 

***

It's 7 in the morning and the voice in our little cabin is waking us up:

"Welcome to Havana. Disembark and enjoy your day". 

 

It's me and my sister, our first cruise and... Our first trip to the place that we always heard of and always wanted to visit. 

Expecting the colors of  Havana to sweep us off our feet  we run to the balcony for some breakfast and... 

 

 

Hello there. Is this place really alive? 

Black holes instead of windows and no lights in any of them... Is it too early?

Maybe Cuban people wake up later? It's almost 8.

 

We disembark. 

 

We hired a guide separately form the cruise excursion because we knew that seeing all these touristy places for impressions is nothing but boring. But we also were in the mission.

 

You might hear a lot of things about Cuba and some of them sound absolutely unrealistic but most of them will be actually true. 

 

We discovered that simple things like feminine products, toilet paper, certain foods, soap or toys are not available to the most people. My sister decided that we need to bring at least one suitcase of the toys for children to give away and our guide was willing to help us. Visiting orphanage was in our plan.

 

Sunrise and sunset are my two favorite things to photograph. I got both that day.

 

San Francisco terminal is the place were we got off and were going to meet a guy who was supposed to show us around and take us to places.

 

 San Francisco terminal / Diana Lange photography

 

 Across the street from the terminal there is a plaza that they take really good care of. Everything looks perfectly clean (I saw them washing the street with their bare hands!), glass in the windows is still there, first restaurant is opening the doors and local guides are standing with the signs waiting for their clients to show up and jump straight to one of these vintage cars for the promenade. 

 

Ours wasn't there and we decided to take a little walk by ourselves while he was coming.

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange

 

 Havana, Cuba , Tilt Shift / Diana Lange Photography

 

Kids in exactly the same school uniform were on their way to school, other people were in hurry too (for work?), we were searching for coffee shop to start our day ... No coffee shop ( Hm... did we go wrong way?) 

After strolling down a few more blocks we returned to the main plaza to meet our guide.

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 

Friendly Cuban guy with nearly perfect English offered us to take a little walk among the buildings before we jumped to our car. The landscape was beautiful.

Colors. Architecture is breathtaking... Well... Whatever is left whole after the revolution... 

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception (1777) that Barack Obama visited while his trip to Cuba. / Diana Lange Photography

 

 Suite Plaza Vieja, Havana, Cuba | Diana Lange Photography

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 

Soon enough pathetic walk become too boring for me because it has reminded me of one of the tours we had to take in school (to learn but to never really ask uncomfortable the questions?) and I decided to move forward with our plan. 

 

-Hey Jaime (The name is changed). You know I'm originally from very similar country. You realize that mine has been thru some similar things in it's history, right?

-Of course. 

-Do you mind if I ask you blunt questions? If you are allowed to speak about these things?

-Go ahead.

-Do you have internet? Do you have enough food? Are you allowed to talk about your government? Do you really believe in communism? -. I was popping the questions and his eyes were getting more and more round (Oh well).

-Diana, some of these questions I'm not allowed to answer. But no we don't really have internet (not at home for sure), sometimes  my children wake up to no breakfast and yes I do believe in Communism but everyone here is going to tell you the same thing. Because we have to. And I can't talk about the party of our leaders. 

 

That was enough to break the ice between us and to make him feel like he doesn't need to do his typical tour. He could show some brutal reality instead and we felt like he didn't mind. 

 

We decided to go straight to the orphanage to give away the toys so we can enjoy the rest of the tour without thinking about it. 

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 

It took us a while to actually find the place. And when we finally did- they refused to take our donation because we didn't submit some sort of the paper (hello bureaucracy!). The toys were left in our hands and completely ignoring Jaime's "It's my responsibility to keep you safe!" we jumped to the car and headed to the neighborhood that is considered to be one of the most unsafe and poor in Havana.

 

We got what we asked for. 

 

Old Havana is relatively small so we went back to the area where we began from but...

Oh boy. See the difference yourself. 

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 

 Do you see the doorway with the license plates on it? We got invited in because we handed these people's children some toys. The size of the inside was about 50 sq.feet. They had a couch and the cage for... Their child. They kept the kid behind the bars because they basically have no choice and way to watch him when they have customers. I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures inside. In fact I'm strongly against making people's homes an entertainment for the tourists. We've got to see some hallways and outsides of actual apartment buildings and that was enough to depict and give you the impression of how they actually live in the capital of the island (imagine, what's going on in the smaller towns)

 Slum of Havana | Diana Lange Photography

 Slum of Havana | Diana Lange Photography

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 Slum of Havana | Diana Lange Photography

People live in every apartment. And by every I mean ABSOLUTELY EVERY. Each window belongs to the family and someone who is actually living there.

 Slum of Havana | Diana Lange Photography

 Slum of Havana | Diana Lange Photography

 

I think that giving away the toys by ourselves was the best idea. First of all we actually knew that every doll will belong to the child and not used for trade or sold. Second thing is that kids were bringing over their friends who also needed a toy and it made our mission way easier. Not even once we had people approaching us and asking for things. Everything we handed out- we offered by ourselves.

 

We were getting to the inner part of the buildings (yet not the apartments) when we were asking for children. That let me capture some of the  very inside of Havana.

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 

The next photo has a very special story for me. One of the boys at the picture was running by when we handed him a little lego kit. He asked us to come and see his friends. We met two more of his mates and were ready to leave when the voice behind the door stopped us- "Do you have anything for me?" - it was an old lady, supposedly grandma of one of the boys. We had one last Barbie doll left, and of course we handed it to her. She said that she has always dreamt of one but never had it. 

 

 Havana, Cuba / Diana Lange Photography

 

By the recommendation of out guide we visited Fusterlandia, a house of Fuster, Cuban artist who considered himself a follower of Picasso and Gaudi. Besides decorating his own studio he decorated the houses of his neighbors and now this place is a huge attraction for the tourists. We spent about 20 minutes there and then went to shop for some souvenirs. Note, that nothing in Cuba is made in China. Cuban people sell only what's made right there on the island, meaning that if you buy the magnet or a little framed picture- you will actually support Cuba, not some sort of the import.

 

 

 Fusterlandia | Diana Lange Photography

 Fusterlandia | Diana Lange Photography

 Fusterlandia | Diana Lange Photography

 Fusterlandia | Diana Lange Photography

 Fusterlandia | Diana Lange Photography

 

 

After Fusterlandia we swinged by Floridita, 200 years old cafe in Havana where we found Jerry Rivas from El Gran Combo jamming with local musicians and Hemingway :)

 Across the street from Floridita

 

Breathtaking Gran Teatro de La Habana | Diana Lange Photography