Some important notes:
- There are 211
pictures in this segment. It simply became too long and unwieldy, so we split it into two parts, with the second half coming tomorrow.
- Due to the amount of pictures, let your browser fully load before you begin.
- Most of our time in Havana was spent wandering the streets, observing and interacting with the locals, and photographing constantly. Consequently, there's not necessarily any rhyme or reason to the order of the pictures. I will try to maintain a more-or-less chronological order in this report, but there will be times when a certain picture will be out of place if it fits the storyline better.
- All the pictures are by me, except where indicated otherwise.
[Something Fishy] Unsurprisingly, we slept late the first morning.
We woke up around 10, davened, and blew shofar. We ate breakfast, packed up lunch, and headed out into a time wrap.
The street we were on was hot, humid, noisy, and dirty; a wall of sights, sounds, and smells accosted the senses. Antique classic cars, old Soviet clunkers, bicycles, and pedicabs all mingled with pedestrians going every which way. The buildings on either side, clearly once beautiful, stood crumbling. The rumbling of the old diesel engines mixed with the smell of unchecked exhaust; everything in sight was painted in bright pastel colors - the cars, the buildings, even the people. The cumulative effect of all this was frankly overwhelming.
It was now that we got the first real look at our building now - and... whaaaat ?. Our eyes slowly traveled from the ground floor's shuttered storefront, past the two residential floors, and up to - come again?? - a completely collapsed top floor. Like, literally: caved-in walls, roof gone, the sun shining brightly on the rubble. At least it looked better than the neighboring building: that one was already completely collapsed . However bad we thought it looked in the dark, seeing it now was just surreal. Our apartment was on the third floor, back left; Alexander lived on the top... floor? roof? Whatever it was had long collapsed:Photos by Something Fishy:"Sr. Alexander":After a minute or two of staring in shock, we collected our jaws off the sidewalk, and off we went to explore.
Considering that the tap water in Cuba is undrinkable (unless you enjoy cholera), our first order of business was to find some some water to drink and fill our bottles / Hydro Flasks. We found a little store around the corner from our place and drank up, filled up, and were ready to go.
We headed out in a random direction, and turned down a busy street:Some houses were gray and drab:The vast majority, however, were painted in all manner of bright and lovely colors:However, even the most beautiful of buildings was in terrible, run-down condition. This gave everything a wonderful patina:One of the most wonderful (and unexpected) parts of the trip was getting to interact with the Cuban people. Everyone we met was friendly, curious about us, and all smiles. The few that recognized us a Jews would shout "Judeo!" after us and then begin quoting random Bible snippets. Most everyone else was tickled to hear that we're from Nueva York and asked if we've ever been to Florida, as they have a relative/friend/hero there. In general they absolutely adored Obama, who was their only real hope in living memory to make their lived better.
We needed to be very respectful when photographing them; these were not animals in a zoo. We'd always ask permission first (we must have said "Un photo, por favor?" hundreds of times through those few days), and nearly always got a smile and thumbs-up in return. Now and then we'd be asked for a CUC in exchange, and very rarely did we get a no. If we did, it was always respected. [whYME]: Well, either that or we took full advantage of the 300mm range of our lenses .[Something Fishy] Most Cubans we met spoke little to no English, but we had some really interesting conversations with the ones who did.
The Cuban national pastime is to hang around next to the door of your house with your neighbors and schmooze for hours on end. The second best option is to sit on the little porch or by the window and stare down at the streets. It's unbelievable how many people we saw doing that, all around the clock (literally - we drove through town one night at 1 AM and every doorway was packed with people).
CITH shooting the breeze:Observing:Photo by whYME:Tired from all the schmoozing:Photo by whYME:This guy on the right beckoned me over: "I love Fidel! Cuba is the best place to live! US is a terrible place!". He then grabbed my shirt and whispered into my ear, "I really hate Fidel. But if you tell anyone I will kill you".Hard to blame him, to be honest. This is the inside of his apartment:This was all too typical. The vast majority of Habaneros live in multi-family apartments, most often in conditions such as this. Dark, cramped, the building literally crumbling around you. The government decides where you live, and that's it. Unless you have a cushy government job or work in the tourist industry you will be destitute for the rest of your life.
The funny thing though is that the Cubans are an incredibly happy people; the streets are literally filled with music. The guy above was far and away the only person we met who seemed bitter. During one of our conversations with a local I asked him out right: you people live in terrible conditions, you have nothing to eat, everything is old as the hills and falling apart. How are you so happy?
His answer was a musser haskel if there ever was one. "This is my life; Cuba isn't changing anytime soon. I could choose to be bitter and sad all the time, or I could choose to sing instead. I chose the second option. Now I have a good life - I'm always happy!"This guy outside a grocery stand chose yet another life-attitude:To this day I wonder if he knew what his shirt says.
Laundry was hanging everywhere. The expected:And the unexpected:Turning into a quieter street:Photo by whYME:A fruit stand, photo by CITH:Photo by whYME:A closed fishmonger's shop, photo by CITH:His scale:The store was closed, even though according to the hours of operation it should've been open:CITH and whYME shooting:In typical Havana fashion, the open doorway next door had beautifully designed walls...:...in a really bad state of disrepair:These kids were walking down the street carrying a bottle of rum:When they saw me they called their friends over, which resulted in one of my favorite pictures of the trip:"Victory!":With the brutal heat and humidity it didn't take too long until we needed to refill our water bottles, so we set out to find a grocery with a fridge who could sell us some agua fría en botella - cold bottled water.
This is where we were introduced to the fact that everyone in Cuba is a hustler. You want directions? 1 CUC. You want me to walk you there? 1 CUC. Do you know that there's a cigar fair tomorrow - what luck! I could take you there - for the low, low price of 1 CUC.
A few minutes and several CUC later we were in a grocery and stocked on as much water as we could carry.
The groceries themselves are really a sight to behold. You could buy whatever you wanted, as long as it was a green juice box, a cookie, or a bit of cheese:There were a number of interesting shops on that street. Bar Okinawa:Appliance repair shop:A florist:A restaurant (vote: pimp or not ?):Photo by whYME:Every now and then we'd come across some street art that had clearly seen better days. I really liked this monster, so I stood across the street and waited for something interesting to be eaten by it. It didn't take long and the little old lady whYME just photographed walked unsuspectingly right into its maw:Then came this taxi... thing:We never found what else that monster had for lunch, for at that moment sirens started blaring, coming ever closer.
We looked to the right just in time to see an old Soviet fire truck turning the corner:We hurried over for a closer look:It turned to be an air conditioning unit on fire, putting out an inordinate amount of smoke:Watching the firefighters in action was bizarre. There was not a fire hydrant or hose in sight; the only firefighting tools were a pair of regular fire extinguishers, one held by the sole firefighter working on the fire, and the other on the street as a backup. It was a sight to see how the firefighter was rationing his precious retardant. He'd give it a tiny shpritz, wait a moment for the smoke to clear a bit, then give it another shpritz. In this manner he actually manage to put the fire out with a single extinguisher.
Quite scary to know that the situation in Havana is so crazy that even the fire department doesn't have proper access to water.
Psst psssst!Waiting in the wings:"Bomberos", photo by whYME:A car emerging from the smoke:Once the fire was out we moved on, but not before getting a shot of this cool taxi:On average, once a day a building collapses in Havana. It's rare that there are any injuries - let alone deaths - as people are prepared and the location closed off ahead of time. Walking around town, the sheer number of buildings in various stages of collapse was staggering.Photo by whYME:Photos by Something Fishy:Photo by whYME:Photo by whYME:Photos by Something Fishy:Cuban Morgan Freeman ?The architectural detail on this terrace was clearly once stunningly beautiful:These days? It's literally being held together with bits of string:We did come across a work crew once:Photo by whYME:As well as a guy chiseling away at a facade:[whYME:] Once we started taking pictures the other guy (supervisor?) wanted in on the action as well. Photo by whYME:CITH & Something Fishy shooting. Photo by whYME:Most of the streets were quite clean, a few of them less so. Photo by whYME:Photo by whYME:Love the hat:This fellow was picking through the garbage:"No parking:"Quiet moment:Caged. Photo by whYME:"Kiddush-in-a-Cart". Only the herring is missing:Photo by CITH:There were stray dogs everywhere, mingling freely with the crowds. This guy conked out right in the middle of the street:The Rebbitzen going window shopping?The electricity in Havana is just something else:We stopped at a veggie stand for a spell:His scale:Something Fishy & CITH shooting: Photo by whYMEThis guy was sitting on the curb contemplating his lemon intensly. When life gives you lemons, I suppose...Photo by whYME:An unexpected message above the graffiti:CITH shooting:According to Google translate, this is the "Punch-Bowl State Park". Okaaay...This guy was beating his laundry with a surprising vengeance:[whYME] He did not seem happy to have his picture taken. Photo by whYME:When I said that nothing gets thrown away in Cuba I meant it. Have an old fan that stopped working? Boom - onion bowl!Chachkees and knick-knacks:Doorbell:Hauling concrete:Looking back to the Capitol, Photo by whYME:To own a car in Cuba you need to be somewhat of a mechanic. Photo by whYME:No, this is not a toy truck. Photo by whYME:We came across a group of men playing dominoes, which is somewhat of a craze in Cuba. In fact, "street dominoes" was invented in Havana. Apparently it became the most common way to play dominoes since.
They were more than happy to have us hang around and take pictures, as long as we treated them to a bottle of rum. That didn't sound like a bad deal at all, costing all of 8 CUC.The fellow sitting with his back against the wall turned out to have a nearly-perfect English. When I asked him where he picked it up, he was indignant.
"Me? I'm a structural engineer! I went to college!"
"A structural engineer? What's a structural engineer doing playing dominoes on the street at 2 o'clock on a Monday?"
His answer summed up Cuba in a single statement. "Why should I work? I'd get the same food coupons, healthcare, and allowances as someone who doesn't work. I'd rather play dominoes."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is communism for you. You were wondering why half of the buildings Havana are collapsing? Now you know.Photo by whYME:Photo by whYME:Photo by whYME:[whYME] Some people didn't need to be asked if we can take their picture, like this guy who was watching the game and begged us to take his picture. (Of course he then expected a CUC for his service.)
Photo by whYME:Photo by Something Fishy:I don't think this guy approves of the game. Photo by whYME:
As mentioned above, part 2 will be posted tomorrow. Enjoy!