Cuba: A photographer’s paradise

Peggy Farren  |  Florida Weekly

Editor’s note: Photographers Peggy Farren and Joe Fitzpatrick were among a small group that traveled to Cuba recently for a weeklong tour on a People-to-People visa.

I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go to Cuba. I thought it was going to be like all the other Caribbean islands. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Caribbean, but since I live in Florida I generally want to spend my travel dollars somewhere vastly different instead of in another place with sunny beaches and beautiful surf.

Vastly different certainly describes Cuba.

I hadn’t really followed the history or politics of Cuba, so I had no idea it was once the most thriving island in the Caribbean. It reminded me of Paris — or more accurately, what a run-down Paris would look like.

El Malecón in Havana, Cuba, is one of many settings for great photos like this and more inside. See pages A16-17. JOE FITZPATRICK / SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY

Havana has very few skyscrapers; most of the buildings just four to six stories, just like Paris. The buildings are extremely ornate, with filigree, columns, mosaics and other lavish ornamentation. And every one of them is deteriorating; some to the point of ruin.

Which, as sad as that is, makes for awesome photographs.

What is it with photographers and ruins? We love them.

Travel regulations have been relaxed so Americans can legally visit Cuba with certain stipulations. We went on a People to People visa with a tour company. It was a great way to go, as we got to experience the rich culture as well as the architectural heritage.

Naturally, we smoked the Cuban cigars, drank the rum and tried the coffee (I couldn’t quite get the coffee down). We went to a couple of organic farms, drank honey from a live beehive and visited Ernest Hemingway’s house as well as the homes and workshops of several artists.

I knew there were many 1950s American cars on the road in Cuba. I didn’t know, however, that MOST of the cars in Cuba are that old. It’s a common sight to see men working on the their cars on the side of the road. Cubans are ingenious when it comes to keeping up old cars. Chevies somehow end up with Ford bumpers, Oldsmobiles with Chrysler engines. They make it work. If you go to Cuba, don’t miss a ride in one of these old convertibles. And if you’re taking pictures, try to shoot a solo car with something interesting in the background for the most impact.

PEGGY FARREN / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Cuba is filled with incredible artists. We visited a street full of murals, a pottery co-op and a house and most of a city block decorated with mosaics. (If you purchase artwork in Cuba, you’ll have to pay a tax to get it home.)

We also visited a ration store. The Cuban government supplies rice, beans and other staples to every citizen. Once a week, they

bring their bag and ration book to the ration store for their groceries. You will be hard pressed to find a retail store in Cuba. There are a few, but with the average monthly income of $40, most Cubans cannot afford to shop much.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the transportation system. Most Cubans get around by taxi — which can be an old car, a truck with the canvas tops like you see in the military, or even a horse and cart.

Cuba was the most fascinating trip I have ever taken. It is truly like stepping back in time. Way back.

I can hardly wait to return.

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