Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2001/03/12

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Subject: Re: [Leica] Cuba (LONG)
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 20:48:19 EST

In a message dated 3/12/01 2:20:07 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

<< going to cuba next week anyone got any tips or recomendations?
 Brian David Stevens
 I spent a week in Havana in early December. Great photo-ops there, 
particularly if you like slowly decomposing buildings and old cars. I don't 
know if you are going to be staying in Havana or outside the city, but if you 
have a chance spend some time walking around the old town of Havana. I would 
primarily take wide-angles and a normal and maybe a short Tele. Havana has a 
typical Caribbean light. It is either bright sunlight and solid black 
shadows, or if you are lucky, overcast and mellow, flat light. Every Sunday 
at noon, there is a Rumba sermon at Callejon, a black section of Havana. Get 
there early as it tends to be crowded, definitely wide angle territory, I 
shot most of it with the Voigtlander 12/5,6 and the tight close-ups was with 
the 35/2. During the whole week and 10-12 hours a day on the street, I never 
got hassled by anyone for taking pictures and the local population was very 
friendly, of course they are trying to sell you cigars etc, but a polite "No 
thanks" usually sufficed. The "veterans" selling "Grandma", the local 
Communist newspaper are somewhat insistent on you buying one. It is not 
half-bad as propaganda goes and at 50 cents, not too expensive. I usually 
bought one in the morning and stuck it in a pocket, this showed the "vets' 
that I already had it and it made them back off.
 Take US$ along, small bills like 1's, 5's and 10's - a twenty represents a 
month salary to a Cuban and you might have difficulty getting change. Most 
everything you need is available in the DollarStores (as the name implies, 
only US$ or convertible Peso is usable there). The local peso (21 to a US$) 
is used by the locals, only time I used it was in the old Taxis, flat rate is 
20 pesos for foreigners and 10 for locals. The Coco-taxi's are fun, small 
yellow fiberglass three-wheelers that seat two and noisily careens between 
the old Cadillac's and De Soto's that lumber along the streets. Great 
shooting platform with a 21 or 28. Bring enough film along and be prepared 
for a thorough check of your luggage upon arrival! Mostly bureaucrats with 
not enough things to do at the customs. Are you going with a group or by 
 Cheap eating place is "Hanoi" in the old town, in spite of the name they 
serve Cuban food and good one at that. It is also a bit of a meeting place 
for locals with dollars and foreigners hanging out in Havana.
 It will be hot and muggy this time of the year - probably in the 80's and 
90's with humidity to match. Stock up on bottled water in the morning, you 
dehydrate surprisingly fast when you walk around and the tap water is not 
great. I hope you like coffee, the Cubans do, and they make a mean cup. Who 
needs defibrillators when you can slug a couple of shots of pure caffeine!
 Most of Havana is accessible by foot, it is only if you are heading out to 
Cojima or outside the city, you need either taxis or buses. Beware of the 
"Camel", this is the local "Mass Transit" system. It is a tractor trailer 
contraption that will hold 150-200 tightly packed locals and according to 
some Cuban friends it carries the same rating as the "late night movie" - 
Sex, Violence and Foul Language". It is also known for its pickpockets - they 
are admittedly non-discriminatory, as they will pick both the locals and the 
tourists pockets!
 Best place to get a shot of the old cars from the 50's is outside the 
Capitol Building at around 9 am. There are literally, 100's of them lined up 
there in the morning. There is a certain pride among the owners of the less 
run-down cars too. They will pop the hood and show you stuff. I usually gave 
them a $ for their effort and that usually got me free access for pictures.
 There is an interesting book market close to the harbor and the old Police 
station. Lots of Che and Castro books, but also some good photographic books, 
Korda's book on the revolution and Raoul Corrales book on Castro in 1959. 
Usually around $15, but well worth it.
 You can get from the airport in an interesting manner. Take a cab from 
Baladero (airport) to Matanzas ($15 fare) and then take the Hershey Train to 
Havana. This is an old Brill car train that slowly rocks its way to Havana (3 
hours for 50 miles), but it takes you along the old plantations and stops in 
the town of Hershey. This was part of Hershey Chocolate of Pennsylvania; 
their cocoa plantations were established along the route. Up until 1959, Cuba 
was literally run by United Fruit, Hershey, and the Gambesi family of New 
York. No wonder they got tired of it and threw them out. Even today, Castro 
would be re-elected if there were a democratic election in Cuba. His main 
support in 1959 came from the blacks and the farm-workers and even today they 
would agree that however bad things occasionally gets, it is better today 
than it was before 1959.
 I am envious of your trip and I hope to make it back in a not too distant 
future. It is a country that might lack some of the comforts of the more 
established tourist spots, but it makes up for it in charm and visual 
 Another thing, you will soon sink into the Cuban way of life. Why rush! Have 
another cup of coffee! I can do that tomorrow! It is not that important 
anyway! Good for the soul and occasionally makes for great shots of your feet 
on the chair opposite to you! You will also notice a blessed lack of cell 
phone. No idiot at the table next to you trying to impress someone else by 
telling him/her where he is right now and where he/she is going to be in the 
next 15 minutes. May their telecommunications never grow up. Havana's version 
of the Intercom on the entrance to an apartment building is to stand in the 
middle of the street and scream "CARLOS" at the top of your lungs until 
either Carlos or his neighbors lets you in!
 Don't forget a stroll along the Malacon, the boulevard along the water. 
Grand old crumbling mansions on one side and locals and tourists hanging out 
on the other side looking at the sea.
 Have fun and let me know how you liked it!
Tom A

Tom Abrahamsson
Vancouver, BC