Cuba Reflections

Sunset over the Malecon, Havana, Cuba
Camera: Canon EOS 7D | Lens: EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM | Date: 23-11-2010 23:37 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: -2/3 EV | Exp. Time: 1/13s | Aperture: 16.0 | Focal Length: 15.0mm (~24.3mm) | Lens: Canon EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM

I’m safely back home with a load of photos to process, so this is just about my last post on Cuba. There’s probably one more to come on the technicalities of photography there, but I thought it would be good to round off my series of general impressions and “socio-economic observations”, if that’s not too pretentious a description of them! :)

  1. The people are very friendly, and are very happy to help if they can, especially if there’s a tip in the offing. However, as is often the case in planned economies there’s no real concept of customer service and little or no incentive to improve, or find real solutions to problems. One example was the fact that I had no internet service at two hotels, not because of any technical issue, but because they’d run out of the scratch cards with passwords, and would not restock for a week. Another was arriving at the Tobacco Museum at 11.00 to find that despite a headline “every 15 minutes” schedule, they were doing no tours between 10.15 and 12.00!
  2. Between the limited stock and the customer service issues, getting breakfast at a Cuban hotel a bit like a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Wrestle a magic glass from the keeper of the glasses, and you can ascend to the level of juice drinker. Seek the hidden coffee cup, and you may conquer the coffee machine, but only if it is replete with both dark and white liquids. They really should invest in a bit more crockery!
  3. Cuban drivers seem to have very poor lane control, and regard driving on the right as as sort of grand guiding principle rather than a tactical necessity. It’s really scary to be bombing (relative term) up the motorway and see a group of cyclists coming the wrong way on the same carriageway, but the bus driver didn’t appear to bat an eyelid.
  4. Lane control and the tap water aside, Cuba feels very safe. You can wander around freely, carrying an expensive camera, and at no time do you feel under any significant threat of direct crime or assault. There are no gangs hanging around on street corners. You may get pestered in some places, and if you left your wallet somewhere it might not be there when you came back, but it doesn’t feel like you’re at any risk of having a bag snatched or a pocket picked.
  5. There are lots of birds of prey circling everywhere, so clearly not too many chemicals in the food chain. This is a good thing, but may explain the patchy success of Cuban agriculture.
  6. There is an obsessive iconography of Che Guevara, which has displaced almost all other pictures and writing visible to the tourist. Che’s picture stares at you from every hoarding with a revolutionary slogan (that’s pretty much the only type), and from almost every T-shirt. Where they are selling postcards, there will be a rack of poor-quality colour cards of the views and famous buildings, and a rack of black and white 1950s images, about 95% of which are of Che. Pictures of even Fidel or Raoul Castro are few and far between. The only reading material in English on the island is biographies of Che Guevara, or the odd book of Fidel’s speeches.
  7. In Spanish the choice isn’t much wider! Havana must be the only airport where there are no newspapers or magazines for sale, just books about Che or Fidel, and a few other bits of communist propaganda.
  8. The music is almost uniformly excellent. The food is almost uniformly adequate but unexciting. There are exceptions (downwards) in both cases :(
  9. Writing a travel blog is a great idea, but only in a country where you can get on the internet!

And a few photographic statistics: 2074 shutter operations, 42GB of memory cards filled, about 970 images retained for further processing, and I hope to get around 100 which are good enough to stick on the web and bore people with at dinner! You have been warned. :)

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