In 2005 I visited Cuba, back when I still backpacked with traveller’s cheques, a Nokia 3210 and umpteen rolls of film.
These photos were shot on my old 35mm SLR, and the square ones on my medium format Holga camera. I dug them out of my gran’s loft a couple of years ago and my dad scanned them.
Those three weeks in Cuba were probably the most disorganised I’ve ever been on the road, mostly thanks to my complete lack of Spanish skills and my friend being robbed of her passport and money within hours of arrival.
Multiple trips to police stations and the British Embassy in Havana ensued, but so did a fascinating journey from the verdant valley of Viñales in the west, to the vibrant Santiago de Cuba in the east, and from bustling Havana in the north, to chilled out Isla de la Juventud in the south.
The opportunity to stay with local families all over the country, in Casa Particulares, made for a unique and memorable experience. So did sharing a taxi with chickens, rum fuelled nights spent dancing in bars or plazas, and being woken up every morning by Lady In Red blasting out the loudspeakers at one bizarre local holiday camp.
I fell for the architecture, dilapidated yet emanating a faded magnificence. Wandering the streets of Havana and Trinidad kept me in awe for days.
Reminders of Cuba’s revolution and the impact of the US trade embargo were never far away. Colourful billboards dotted the country, adorned with the faces of Castro, Guevara and Cienfuegos, alongside rousing slogans. Huge anti-US billboards lined the Malecon in Havana, for all to see. Shop shelves displayed a meagre array of goods, yet how come all the birthday cakes? I found out later that the state provides a birthday cake for all kids up to 12. My Converse All Stars caused quite a stir in one small town, some boys following me around for ages trying to convince me to part with my ‘cool’ shoes.
Things have changed quite a bit since then. Private enterprise has emerged, Castro has passed on and relations with the US are thawing.
I think it’s time to return, some day soon, and take Del along for the ride.