VENTURING TO CUBA FOR THE FIRST TIME
By Darrell Miller
In 2015, after 15 years of long hours in the IT world and very little travel, I decided to treat myself to a trip abroad. I shoot a variety of different events in and around southern Louisiana. However, my true love is capturing people in their natural environment with my camera. Even though Louisiana has an incredibly unique and diverse culture, I felt like I had become too comfortable taking photographs there. I wanted to venture out and photograph a culture and people completely foreign to me. From my perspective, Cuba is both interesting and mysterious. Visiting Cuba is like stepping back in time. The colors, the textures, and the old cars of Havana serve as a living time capsule.
I researched many different photography focused trips to Cuba and quickly settled on Photo Workshop Adventures (PWA). PWA seemed to be very organized. Michael Chinnici was our trip leader, and he has made multiple trips to Cuba over recent years. I don’t mind finding my own way around certain destinations, but Cuba is a place where I wanted someone with experience to help me find great photo opportunities and Michael was the perfect person to do that.
Upon arriving in Havana, our group of 10 photographers hopped on a bus with Michael and our Cuban tour guide and headed to our hotel. I fully expected our accommodations in Cuba to be nice but rustic. To my surprise though, our hotel in Havana was beautiful, comfortable, and provided all the amenities you could ask for. We even had a in-house hotel doctor on call at all times.
Each day we were taken to another amazing area of Havana. Michael is quiet and reserved, the complete opposite of my extrovert personality, so it took me a little while to get used to his nature. He was always close enough to answer any questions or offer advice, but he was not one to hover over you checking on you or your work. Michael gave us the freedom to shoot what we wanted and how we wanted.
While traveling, he would often show us personal photos he had taken of the location on previous trips. He provided a few suggestions and tips on how to get the most out of our photographs. Upon arrival though, he quietly and casually stayed out of our way. This was a very graceful way to manage a tour. He kept us on a schedule but gave us the freedom to explore the area. He wanted us to have the opportunity to find our own photographs and capture our own moments.
The Cuban people were very friendly and photography was almost always welcome. Very few people said no to photos if asked. Many of the people spoke English very well and loved to talk and tell stories. This was far more than just a photography tour, this was a bona fide cultural experience. Michael brought us to meet famous local musicians, artists, and other friends of his. Talking to these people gave us a real picture of how life in Cuba is changing. The best way to describe the Cubans I met would be humble, proud, and excited about the changes coming to their country.
We explored so many memorable places in Cuba but several stand out. I had the opportunity to visit the Rafael Tejo Boxing Gym where I spent some time photographing some up-and-coming young boxers. These kids are proud, enthusiastic, and respectful with amazing talent to boot. The market in Old Havana and the Malecon (a sea wall and roadway where many Cubans spend time socializing) were other favorites that provided endless opportunities to capture people and their daily lives.
Just a few days in Havana let us capture old classic American cars, beautiful architecture, fresh open air markets, classic Cuban homes, a tobacco farm, a youth boxing gym, and a farm-to-table restaurant overlooking a beautiful valley. We only scratched the surface of Havana though. Knowing this, I found myself mentally planning my next trip and making lists of places I wanted to shoot.
Our group stayed busy but I never felt rushed. PWA did a very good job of pacing the trip. I could easily spend a month in Havana just shooting the city streets and the Malecon, but I felt Michael did an outstanding job giving us a taste of Havana’s diverse culture and scenery in a very short amount of time. I was lucky enough to have a very good group to explore and travel with. Everyone got along and contributed to the experience in different ways. Seeing everyone’s photos from the same location was both educational and inspiring. We all took very different approaches to capturing what was around us. I learned from not only Michael but everyone else on the trip as well.
We left Havana and spent one night in Cienfuegos before traveling to Trinidad, a town in central Cuba. Our group all stayed together in a Cuban Casa (Bed and Breakfast). We had the entire place to ourselves. It was beautiful with a ton of character. Our rooms wrapped around a picturesque central courtyard, where we would eat breakfast every morning. The family that owned it were friendly and welcoming. Trinidad has similar style and character of the French Quarter in New Orleans. I found it to have a great deal of color with an artsy feel. Trinidad seemed to move at a slower pace than the hustle and bustle in Havana. At this point in the trip, I was really hitting my stride as a photographer. I was very comfortable walking up to people and taking their photograph.
The Classic Cuba trip was an outstanding adventure and left me wanting more. I got some great shots, learned more about photography than I thought possible, made some new friends, and most importantly got to see and experience a unique part of the world. The Cubans are an amazing people full of pride and character. This trip left me wanting to spend more time in the country to capture not only its timelessness, but the changes taking place as well.
Needless to say, six months later I was back in Cuba with PWA on their Eastern Cuba Photo Adventure and I enjoyed every minute of it. Stay tuned for a future blog post on this amazing experience. Thanks!
We Offer Six Amazing Cuba Photo Adventures
If you are interested in going to Cuba, we offer both photo and non-photo adventures to this amazing “lost in time” island nation. These include our CLASSIC CUBA and HAVANA only trips, our new VANISHING CUBA™ trip, EASTERN CUBA and our ULTIMATE CUBA trip which combines both our Classic and Eastern Cuba itineraries. And of course you can always organize your own PRIVATE CUBA group travel. Join us today for the adventure of a lifetime.
NOTE: See our recent blog post LEGAL U.S. TRAVEL TO CUBA for clarification on legal travel to Cuba for U.S. Citizens. Non-U.S. Citizens are welcome on all our Photo Adventures.