Havana, Cuba Street Photography

Flowers for Sale in Havana Cuba

November, 2015

Just back from Cuba and a week of wandering around Havana, taking photos and trying to talk to locals. For tourists, Cuba’s grand old hotels (in various stages of decline), legendary jazz clubs, numerous squares with original Spanish colonial architecture, countless tiny souvenir shops, and year-round summer weather provide a lot to like in a vacation. And those CARS…

But we were more interested in the real Cuba. As in most Caribbean countries, it’s very different from the one most tourists see. In Castro’s Cuba, the dichotomy is astonishing.

Locals even use a separate currency, and while visitors can exchange their money for “moneda nacional”, they’ll have to venture out of tourist land in order to spend it. Once in the real Havana, though, some rare treats await. Like ice-cold, fresh-squeezed “guajava” (guava) juice served in a (glass) glass for about 7¢. Or my favorite, guarapo, made by squeezing raw sugar cane. For less than 30¢ you can have a great ham and cheese sandwich, sometimes with chorizo added. These are served on the sidewalk through windows from smiling vendors in tiny rooms, sometimes just big enough for a small refrigerator, hot plate & sink.

The entire city is filled with once-magnificent architecture, now crumbling under the weight of years of poverty. In the 90’s, after the loss of Soviet sponsorship, Cuba experienced what they refer to as “the special period”, when the country lost 80% of its exports and imports. During this time, food consumption was reduced to a fifth of previous levels, and the average Cuban lost 20 pounds. Entire areas of Havana had no running water for years.

The long term effects of crushing poverty are evident in the entire city outside the areas where tourism and UNESCO have poured money into restoration, or in government centers. It’s hard to imagine what a lush, fabulous city this once was.

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