In early 2018 I had the most amazing opportunity to photography the special moments in Cuba. Spending 3 weeks backpacking from coast to coast, I captured my entire journey and adventure. It was my mission to photograph the best of what Cuba has to offer, in hopes of one day working with the tourism board on future assignments.
Ahh, the capitol city of Cuba. Its full of life, vibrant colours, amazing architecture, and full of texture. Most people stay off on resorts in Cuba and don't get to explore the country. But those who do, at least get to see the wonderful city of Havana!
The Story Behind the 'Havana Colours' Photo:
These buildings are well known and easily spotted in the center of Havana. Right across from the Capitol building you will see a row of buildings of various colours. When I was exploring the city, I stumbled upon these buildings by accident. I stood in the middle of the street where the median was and framed up my shot. Cuba is known for their vintage cars, so I waited patiently for the right car of the right colour to drive by. This photo has been one of my most popular and most shared photos on my Instagram.
The Story Behind the 'Old Havana' Photo:
This photo was taken from the balcony from one of the Casa Particulars I stayed in, in Havana. A Casa is pretty much like an Airbnb or a hostel. A resident offers a room with a bed, or sometimes a few beds for guests to sleep in. They also offer home cooked breakfast with their stays. My host in this Casa also made the best homemade pineapple juice! I would buy 1L bottles daily. It became my addiction. In the mornings after breakfast with the family, I would sit on the balcony and people watch, seeing how others would go about with their daily lives in the core of Havana. So, what else but to document this? I stuck out my camera as far out as I could off the balcony and captured this raw moment.
Viñales is known for its mountain sides (Mogotes) and tobacco fields. It had to be one of my favorite places to visit, only a few hours drive West of Havana.
The Story Behind the 'Tobacco Farmer' Photo:
It was my last day in Viñales and I really wanted to get a photo taken on a local farmer in his field. I rode around on my bike through the dirt trails looking for a farmer. In the distance I found a man working away in his crops. This was my only chance as the sun was about to set. I got off my bike, and started walking through his field towards the farmer. He saw me approaching him, he looked confused as to why I was there walking through his field towards him. I approached him, said hello, and asked if I could get a photo of him. He looked back at me, not a clue as to what I was saying. I held up my camera and asked, photo? (and pointing at him). I had to ask a few times before he understood what I was trying to ask him. He smiled and nodded his head. Another farmer from his farm approached us, he spoke a little bit of English, and he helped me pose the farmer. The farmer stood proud and tall in his overgrown tobacco crops, the sun dipping low behind the mountains, looking deep into my camera. I just couldn't help but smile. I clicked away a few shots and showed the farmer his portrait. His reaction to this photo was priceless. I wish at the time I had a Polaroid camera, it would have been such an amazing feeling to be able to share a memory, and have a physical copy of his professional portrait taken. Maybe one day I'll be back and find the farmer.
The Story Behind the '3 Vultures' Photo:
It was the early morning on my second day in Viñales. I was walking through the National Park when I came across this cool looking tree overlooking the valley below. There wasn't a single tree all around, which made it even more interesting. I waited a few minutes for the sun to come up as I composed my shot. In a span of only a few seconds, three turkey vultures flew up and landed on the branches of the tree I was about to photograph. I snapped a photo and before I knew it, they flew off again. The photo itself was nice, but as soon as the vultures came and sat on the branch, it gave it a whole different perspective.
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The Story Behind the 'Parked' Photo:
This photo was taken right outside the front porch of my Casa Particular in Viñales, which is basically an Airbnb. If you want to experience the real Cuban culture and way of life, living in a Casa Particular is the number one thing I recommend doing. Not only do you get to experience the lifestyle of how Cubans live, but you are also supporting the locals by staying with them. Everywhere you go in Cuba there is always a picture perfect moment. This one happened to be literally on the front porch of my Casa. As I was packing my bags ready to leave, I saw this beautiful blue car parked just out front. I wish I could have views like this every day.
Caverna de Santo Tomás
The mountain in Viñales, also known as Mogotes, are full of caves that can be explored. Not too far from the town, is Caverna de Santo Tomás, recognized as one of the largest caves in Central America.
The Story Behind the 'Cave Explorer' Photo:
It took me over 1.5 hours of riding my bike mainly uphill to reach this cave, which was located about 18km outside of Viñales. In the heat, and on my old vintage bike, it was not easy at all. Luckily, I woke up early and got there the minute they opened up. From what I knew, there was no public transportation to the cave, and taking a taxi there and back wasn't the cheapest option, which is why I rode my bike. I signed up for my cave tour and went on the first expedition of the day. Because I managed to get there first thing in the morning, it was a group of only 4 of us, one couple, myself, and the tour guide, which he told us was very rare. In fact, he told us that he was working as a tour guide in that cave for nearly 20 years and had never had a group of only 3 people before. While exploring the cave, the tour guide told us the tour was over. But, since he never had a group so small before, he always wanted to go explore parts of the cave no one has ever been to before. He asked if we wanted to go explore, and of course we said yes! And there another adventure began. We tightened our helmets, and set off deeper in the cave. This was his first time going in this deep. Only a few people have ever managed to get to where we have been, and it was such an incredible sight. Huge open cave systems running for many kilometers. The best part was that we had to squeeze through tiny holes to get through the different parts of the cave. Even with our backpacks off, it was a tight squeeze as we crawled on our stomachs to get inside. When we were finally finished the cave tour, which lasted way over an hour, which should have typically been only 30 minutes, we ended up in a large opening where you could see the whole town below. We climbed up a steep section while holding on to a rope as it was slippery inside. I snapped this photo of one of the girls climbing up that section. Her orange pants suited the scene really well, and her head torch gave it that extra little touch.
MARÍA LA GORDA
Let's be honest, getting here was not an easy task. Only one bus once a day, to and from. There also isn't a whole lot out here either. Just a small resort hotel and a big beach. But the reason we came here was for some of the the best known scuba diving spots in all of Cuba. Unfortunately, I didn't get many photos while scuba diving as my GoPro failed on my, but all I can say is, the dive was probably one of my favorite dive spots I've ever been to. We saw an incredible amount of coral and marine life, everything from the various species of fish, HUGE lobsters and crabs, nurse sharks, and even a moray eel, swimming gently just below my feet - A frightening experience I will say, I did not see it coming.
The Story Behind the 'Surface' and 'Vastness' Photos:
When I first arrived to Cuba I met a small group of people at my hostel in Havana. We got alone fairly well and decided to journey together to Viñales. Little did I know, but one of the girls who tagged along with us was not only a highly experienced scuba diver (as too was I), but also a free diver. I told her that I was a photographer and had plans on going scuba diving in María la Gorda. After enjoying our time in Viñales we set off on the most wild adventure. After a 4-hour long bus ride over countless potholes, we arrived only 30 minutes before the first scuba dive session. After the dive, we had a couple hours to kill before going on our second dive. during this time I briefed my diving partner on the type of photos I was looking at capturing with her. We swam out far into the ocean (I obviously had flippers on as I struggled to keep afloat with my camera gear in the water and treading water. But this girl, she was a natural born swimmer. It was so amazing how she would be able to dive so deep under and hold her breath for these photos.
This gave me the chance to snap away so many amazing photos of her floating in the water. The top photo is of her rising up to the surface, with the motion of the bubbles in the water stimulating the rush. The second photo on the right is of her peacefully floating in the vastness of the ocean. We swam out a little further where there were no corals or rocks. I dove down as deep as I could, level with the model, and took photos as she just floated in the middle of nowhere. One of the most surreal experiences I've ever had. And how lucky was I to have met her in Cuba. If I didn't, I most likely would not have been able to capture these photos as I travelled to Cuba all alone and knew no one who was a scuba diver, let alone, a free diver.
What was even more amazing was the struggles we had with getting back to town. Where we were located was 15km away from the closest village. The resort near the beach was too expensive to stay for just a night. We were lucky that after the second dive we managed to bribe our way onto the staff bus and get a lift to the next town over. There, we found another Casa and stayed the night. It was such a small village that didn't even have a grocery store to buy food or juice. Luckily, our hosts made us an amazing dinner.
Trinidad is also a town in Cuba that many have not heard before. This town is very different from the other towns, and is just magical. What's even more amazing about this place is that it is surrounded by mountains and nature.
The Story Behind the 'Vegas' Photo:
I couldn't believe this waterfall existed in Cuba and how unbelievable it was. A few weeks back I met a young couple who was also backpacking across Cuba. We happened to bump into each other in Trinidad after realizing that we were neighbors in our Casa's. We took a trip up with a taxi to the mountains and went on a hike through the jungle. Lucky for us, it rained the day before so not many people were at the waterfall as the terrain was fairly slippery and muddy on the way in. A challenging one if you're not capable of such hikes. But, once we got to the waterfall, it felt like paradise. I stood on the highest rock ledge and captured the couple on a swimming out under the waterfall. It looked amazing from afar, but up close and underneath the water was even more incredible! The way the water has shaped the side of the rocks, and how they formed looked so amazing when looking straight up. If you get the chance, definitely see this waterfall.
Where in Cuba have you been or where do you want to go?
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