There really are few places in this world that are as unique and as beautiful as Cuba. I have only been to the island nation just 90 miles from Key West, Florida twice, but the first time was an unforgettable 30-day road trip across the entire country. So how could I possibly top that on my return trip to co-lead a workshop with The Giving Lens? Well, quite simply, the answer is, I couldn’t. The road trip was easily one of the best experiences of my life. It was so unique and visually stunning, I even have a whole article devoted to just iPhone shots. But the one thing I remember most about that road trip? The faces. The beautiful, welcoming, animated faces of the Cuban people. Yes, I have an entire article devoted to just the Cuban faces I encountered. To make a long story short, those 30 days in Cuba were maybe my most rewarding experiences in travel and travel photography. So again, how could I possibly top that?
For my second trip to Cuba, I was primarily doing a video project for The Giving Lens. So, when I returned home, I was surprised to see how few photos I actually took during the nearly two week trip. Maybe feeling dejected, I never even looked at them. After the incredible scenes and people I had met on my first Cuban adventure, how could I have captured anything remotely close that would convey my love for the Cuban people and their culture. Almost two years have gone by since that trip, and it took a swift kick in the ass by my friend David DuChemin to inspire me to go back and look through the folder of photos. I recently spent three days studying David’s new course ‘The Traveling Lens,’ and it really reminded me about what I love about photography. I was so inspired, I immediately wrote ’20 Lessons David DuChemin Taught Me About Travel Photography.’
I was suddenly filled with excitement to get back on a plane and take the lessons I learned from the course and put them into action when I return to Morocco and Jordan this fall. But, what did the course teach me most of all? A lesson I don’t think David ever planned me learning from it. It taught me that, even though my Instagram is filled with mostly outdoor adventure photos and landscape shots, what really makes my heart race is the connections that I make while documenting a culture. All too often, I am too consumed with finding the photos that weave into my Instagram profile that I forget WHY I love photography in the first place. The milisecond moments in time that unfold in front of our eyes as travelers. Moments that will never, ever be recreated. Real, authentic moments that aren’t being carried out for the ‘Gram. These moments are playing out in front of us because, well, that’s life. Whether it is the shopkeeper selling goods, the food stand cart owner handing out hot, tasty empanadas or the old lady sitting and watching the day pass out of her window. This is there lives. And I am honored and humbled to capture it and share it with the world. I need to remind myself of that the next time I am looking for a colorful sunset to post on my Instagram. Am I posting that for me? Or am I posting it for the people who follow me?
I am finding myself inspired to get back to basics. To share these moments. To begin to tell travel stories again. To inspire people to let go of their fears and doubts and throw themselves out there, to get lost on the colorful cobblestone streets in a land they never dreamed of seeing. To show them that there is so much more to the world than vibrant sunsets. So thanks to David DuChemin, you now get the pleasure (or annoyance) of seeing some of my favorite photos from my last trip to Cuba.
Looking back through these, it sure as hell makes me miss Cuba. Maybe, just maybe, more than I have ever missed a country or its people before.
Fidel Castro had died just three days before we landed in Cuba. The government had imposed a nine day mourning period where alcohol, music and dancing were outlawed. All through the country, there were tributes to the leader that many Cubans had lived under their entire lives.
While traveling with The Giving Lens, we work with a local non-profit, Amigo Skate Club. The aim of the organization is to help the local youth stay active and learn art skills such as photography, painting, and dance.
Is it just me or does this kid look like the Cuban Justin Bieber?
Just two guys hanging out in the trunk of their car.
Sometimes, the best moments in Havana are high above you.
The best time to hit the streets of Havana? In the early morning as the city comes alive.
It’s easy to just sit down and get lost in your own thoughts as Havana goes a mile a minute around you.
Is that room still for rent?
Two woodworkers hard at work.
A woman sits in her house, surrounded by her own thoughts, which she has recorded on the walls of her house in thick permanent marker.
A butcher prepares for the after work rush of his neighbors needing meat for dinner.
A school girl walking to class in Trinidad.
A woman holds up a Fuji Instax that I had given her one early morning in Trinidad.
Village school children leave class as their fathers and the local farmers return home from a day in the fields.
After I had finished putting together this photo essay, I got inspired to re-visit my original Cuban adventure and edit some photos I had never shared before. So, here you go! Inspired to go to Cuba? Feel free to check out my travel guide and ask me anything via my Instagram!
No matter how hard we tried, this girl would not say a word to us.
Outside of a cemetery in Holguín, a man makes a living by selling roses on the streets to mourners as they pass the cemetery gates.
The further east you go, the worse the road conditions become. This is two of three ‘broken’ bridges we had to pass over while driving the coastal road between Cabo Cruz and Santiago de Cuba. The man is explaining to us that there is no detour and that the only way is to drive over the partially collapsed bridge.
A hat weaver takes a break in the hot sun to light up a cigar.
A recent visit from the Pope was still highly talked about, as evident by the amount of pictures and posters taped up on shop and house walls.
A man looks out of the back of a transport truck in the smokey east coast.
A military veteran who had lost his arm in service tells us his story as his dog curiously looks on.
A woman hangs her clothes to dry on the roof of her apartment as the heavy industrial sites of Niquero looms in the background.
A merchant at the local farmer’s market easily wins the award for biggest produce.
A woman watches the day go by from the comfort of her window in Havana.
American flags are EVERYWHERE in Cuba, like on this bike taxi in Ciego De Avila.
A tobacco farmer takes a break in the late afternoon after a long day of hanging leaves to dry.
A girl waits to go to school in Havana.
A young couple takes a shower as the mother laughs at us for being so interested in this unforgettable moment on the southern coast.