This final post on Cuba is a smattering of some of the places we visited during our stay and few summary thoughts. Most US citizens traveling to Cuba are required to go on “educational and cultural” tours such as we did with Road Scholar, the largest provider of tours to Cuba. Even though relations have thawed between the US and Cuban government, it’s still illegal for Americans to visit Cuba as general tourists and do your own thing. There are ways around the requirements but it’s challenging and subject to strict oversight by the US government. I’ll describe a few of the cultural stops on our tour.
One of the most fascinating stops was at the Muraleando Community Art Center (aka El Tanque) in a barrio of Havana. At one time, the site of the present day art center was a dumping ground for the nearby rail yard. In the 90’s a couple of artists began teaching kids how to paint murals (hence the name Muraleando) to cover the blighted walls in the community. Soon other artists joined in and used the junk piled in and around the large water tank to create art. The garbage and junk is gone and the center is alive with performance and visual arts for kids and adults. The water tank is a place for artist to sell their art and a classroom for teaching all types of art. All this is done with volunteer help and donations and no government sponsorship, an inspiration to both Cubans and visitors from around the world. Here’s a few photos from Muraleando. Meet our host Ernesto (if I remember correctly) who told us the story and impact of the art center. Very impressive and enthusiastic leader.
He was followed by this musical group, Mambu and Company, that got it’s start at the Muraleando and teaches performance and dance to kids at the center.
Here are some scenes from outside the center, note all the murals and art created with junk mixed with creativity and inspiration.
Hamel’s Alley (El Callejon de Hamel) in Havana was created in the early 90’s by self taught artist, Salvador Gonzales Escalona. Again, recycled and repurposed materials were used to transform an eyesore into something to enrich the community. This narrow street is a neighborhood gathering space as well as a tourist destination especially if one is interested in art. It’s photographers dream, lots of things to shoot. Here are a few of my photos from our visit to Hamel’s Alley.
We visited a modern dance studio where the young performers put on a recital for us and then modeled after we talked and shared lunch. They were all working towards jobs in dance companies, these young people work very hard to perfect their craft. Here are a few of my favorites from this experience.
Another “art” stop on our tour was Fusterlandia, another arts district that was created by Jose Fuster. When he moved to this area of Havana over 30 years ago, he decided to brighten up his house by creating mosaics and sculptures. Soon his neighbors noticed then called on him to decorate their houses. It didn’t take long until he was working in the whole neighborhood. And here’s a bit of what he created using the funds from selling his art (paintings, sculpture and art) to create an unique community.
While in Trinidad, we visited a small center that is working to preserve and teach traditional fiber arts. Donna was very intrigued (she’s a sewer and quilter) by what they were working so she got up close and personal with one of stitchers and even tried it out.
Another one of the people learning the art and craft of this art.
And the result of their labors.
One of our morning tours in Trinidad we got a twofer. First, we visited the mirador (scenic overlook) overlooking the Valley of the Sugar Mills. Here’s a pano I shot with my iPhone.
That was nice and picturesque but what followed was even more interesting. We walked down the hill from the mirador to this small house. Our Road Scholar guide, Essdras, got to know this family from his many previous visits to Cuba and this area. He wanted to bring gifts to the family especially for the granddaughter of Rosario, the elderly lady who lived with her daughter and husband. The husband was in the fields tending to cattle owned by the government, his job. Here’s what we saw walking down the hill.
Rosario allowed us to take photos, believe me we took plenty, not too often you are invited into someone’s home to photograph at will. Here’s a photo of Rosario holding her granddaughter.
Just we were leaving Rosario peeked her head out between the laundry that was hanging on the line what a beautiful face so full of life and character. This is one of my favorite shots from the trip.
After that mind blowing experience, we then went to the Manaca Iznaga, a six story tower that overlooks a village and the part of the Valley of the Sugar Mills. By climbing the tower, one is rewarded with a grand view and here’s a couple of photos to show you what I saw. Notice the vendors selling handmade beautiful table linens, dresses, and shirts for so very reasonable prices.
Donna couldn’t resist making a purchase of some the wares. This young lady really worked on Donna to make a sale, well not that hard because Donna’s a soft touch when it comes to fabric! No haggling just paid the asking price.
Well folks, I sincerely hope you enjoyed my several articles on Cuba as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. As I looked through the photos and wrote the posts, I found myself reliving that fun experience all over again. It’s hard for me to image future travel being as fun and interesting as this excursion to Cuba. But then again we have more travel coming up that I expect will more than meet our expectations but it will be hard to top this trip.
In closing this Cuba section, I’d like to thank our guides Esdras Suarez (Road Scholar and renown photographer, Joel Hernandez Marin (Cuban Photographer guide) and Alex Garcia, our Cuban government guide. From left to right, Joel, Alex and Essdras.
And I can’t forget our proficient and friendly bus driver, Julio. As an aside, when this photo was taken Julio confirmed that the ugly several story building we are looking at a few blocks away was the Russian Embassy. I hope the Russians didn’t pay much for the design and construction, it was by far the ugliest building we saw on the trip, bar none!
Next up, the Florida Keys.