I turned my family holiday into a cultural immersion in the Cuban capital of Havana.This UNESCO World Heritage Site really has so many interesting things to offer. A visit here feels like a trip back in time without the need for a time machine.
For those who do not speak the Spanish language, that literally means “always towards victory”. For those who don’t speak the communist language, that means “a bloody revolution”.
Che Guevara was an interesting man, a fellow “porteno”, which is what we call people from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Porteno comes from the word “Puerto”, which means, port. Someone from the port. The beautiful (this is a sarcasm) port of Rio de la Plata.
So, Che’s famous saying was “Hasta la Victoria Siempre!”, and that’s what he believed in. In 1959 he, in partnership with his friend Fidel Castro (and brother Raul), succeeded on revoking the Cuban dictatorship of Batista, in order to make room for a new, but equally censorial dictatorship. Viva la Revolucion, Cuba is finally now an independent, communist, and isolated country!
Sarcasm aside, this short and completely biased historical flashback on Cuban history, has a point: 23 years after the revolution, and thanks to Cuban segregation of the world and it’s evolution, Havana is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What does this mean? That I got some good photographs from the 1950s, and in order to travel back in time I only had to hop in a plane for just under five hours.
Now to be fair, this “self-assigned field trip” was only a family holiday turned “let’s learn something and take some photos”. When we decided to go away for New Year’s break, Varadero was my only choice, as I have been waiting to be close enough to Havana to be able to take pictures.
So when the day came, I guess the hardest decision to make was which camera to bring. It turns out, a medium format Holga, loaded with 120 black and white film, a Diana Mini with 35mm colour negative, and my dSLR was the perfect team.
I found myself mostly shooting on my Diana mini. I guess the city was so incredibly colourful that I wanted to capture it extremely vibrant and contrasty. I feel like my digital camera was mostly documenting the experience, while Diana was capturing the essence and voice of the place. Holga came out only occasionally when composition and subject matter seemed to take over the scene.
I could turn this into a Lonely Planet article and tell you all about the 99.8% literacy rate, the almost nonexistent unemployment, and even about all the reconstruction work being done in old Havana, but those are things you can look up. What I can tell you is that you must see it. It is heart breaking, yet inspiring, it is irrational, yet it makes you question your own values, but most importantly, it is a unique experience. It is like being in Europe and back home in Buenos Aires at the same time. It’s a trip back in time and a trip into idealism and what is what should never be (that’s a Led Zeppelin song in case you didn’t catch it).
If you haven’t been, and you do not plan on going, well at least I got to show you what I saw.