Exploring Havana in 20 Colorful Photos
My recent trip to Havana, Cuba was decided on a whim back in February. Diana (a travel blogger at MVMTblog) had mentioned her upcoming trip with a law friend on Twitter, and through some tweets and excited chatter, she extended the invitation to tag along and see Cuba for myself.
Sans Mr. Nerd, unfortunately, as his vacation days for the year were (at the time) tied up with a trip we were planning in August.
I jumped at the chance to go. Cuba is a hot destination for Americans right now—probably up there with Iceland. I'd heard amazing stories about how it was "frozen in time," saw drool-worthy pictures on Instagram that captured the essence of a people who've struggled under the weight of a communist society ... of a people who still managed to smile and celebrate the small pleasures in life: salsa in the streets, heavenly cuban cigars, sparkling cars from the 1950s that cost the same as a house.
I'd heard this all, so being a storyteller, I wanted to experience it all for myself. And I did.
Here's the story I was told in just two days, while wandering the sweltering streets of Havana.
• Vivid Buildings & Decor •
Brightly decorated buildings in Havana are commonplace. Despite their wear and tear, and some parts of the exterior literally crumbling off (as you can see below), there was something charming and beautiful about them. The paint, where it counted, remained pristine, as if the families who live there apply new coats whenever the colors start to chip and crack.
• Striking Apartment Complexes •
We passed a lot of apartment complexes like these (in fact, we stayed two nights in one in Vedado). Through the doors, we were greeted by a winding maze of dim hallways, all hazy with summer heat. Some of the ones on the upper floors had open windows (I don't actually think you could close them), and the apartments themselves were small, with a kitchen, a living room, and one bedroom.
Efficiency is the name of the game in Havana, but the buildings themselves? Total eye candy!
• Street Art & Graffiti •
You could say many of the buildings in Havana are street art in their own right, and I would agree. But if you look around while walking down alleys and through side streets, I guarantee you'll find innovative street art and graffiti that POPS! This piece of graffiti in particular (in the second photo) was interesting to me, as I'd seen the trademark "? ... 2+2=5" on multiple instances of youthful rebelliousness around Old Havana. It's worth keeping an eye out for these whispers of creativity!
• Food Stalls & Vendors •
Ever thought eating corn could be sexy? Neither did I, until I came across this street food vendor within the narrow streets leading in and out of Old Havana's famous plazas. The corn tasted OK, nothing to write home about, but the experience itself was absolutely bueno.
If this street vendor is too corny for you (pun absolutely intended), the coconuts you can find in Havana are not only laid out in vivid green carts, they're refreshing on a hot afternoon—of which there were plenty when we visited in May. Add a bit of rum for an extra buzz.
As a side note, I love how the owner of the coconut stall wore colors that matched the cart and his car. Talk about complementary fashion.
• Doors, Doors, Doors •
I'm not usually one to fall into the "take pictures of every cool door you see" trend, but Havana was a definite exception. I was stunned by the different paints and materials Cubans use to make their doors—literally the entrance to a building—look like masterpieces. Some shone like polished wood, muttering promises of hidden worlds to me as I walked by. Some glimmered with metallic paint or smoothly sprayed colors. And others hinted at plain metal beneath a bright facade. I often wondered whether they'd echo into the dark abyss beyond if I knocked.
• Random Trains •
Not sure what this was about. While walking from plaza to plaza, we stumbled across this lone train car parked alongside an unassuming building. I don't recall seeing a plaque or sign that talked about its history, but I was struck by the care Havana's taken to keep the train in pristine condition even though it's open to the public. No scratches, no graffiti, no defacement. It made me realize that Cubans honestly care about their belongings, despite overwhelming poverty.
If this were in the United States? It'd be fenced off and protected, barring against a "I can do whatever I want" attitude, where possessions aren't respected or handled with pride. Oh, the lessons Cuba can teach us.
• City Skyline •
Havana's city skyline caught me off-guard so many times. I didn't expect to love the sight of old buildings, some abandoned, others now used as apartments or who knows what. But then I realized, Havana didn't need tall, glossy skyscrapers to be beautiful. Its charm came from the colors, the carefully applied paint, the perfect symmetry that was so pleasing to the eye (even the pinks and blues in this picture are balanced by the white in the middle. Wow)! I stood at the intersection of two streets, cars flying past me with incessant chatter, and I soaked in the sun. The sky. The breeze from the ocean, and this unique city skyline.
• Window Shopping •
Like La Munequita Azul, an antique store smack in the middle of Old Havana, we passed many storefronts ... and did a lot of window shopping. Patterned bits of wrapping paper peeked at us from various windows. Handmade bags with carefully crafted bead work swung from hooks in darkened doorways. Wide-brimmed hats, packaged cigars, shoes covered with a thin layer of (perpetual) dust, and even puppies and kittens were all laid out on display to be browsed.
I'm not one to buy souvenirs, however, but I liked to look, watch people from all around the world stroll through open markets and in-and-out of stores. It gave the streets of Havana a cheerful vibe.
• Classic Old Cars •
You didn't think I was going to write this post without addressing these classic beauties, did you? Because whether you go to Havana for the 1950 Chevrolets or not, you're going to see them. You're going to see a lot of them. Honestly, when I first arrived in Cuba, I assumed the cars were touristy. I assumed they'd appear a few places in Havana, you know ... where it counted. But I also thought they were over-hyped in travel writing and waltzed into Havana under the serious conviction that I wouldn't see them as often as people claimed.
Well, friends. I was wrong. Sitting at a cafe, strolling the streets, walking along the Malecón—wherever we went, whatever we did, we saw them. One out of every four cars were from the 1950s, and they looked amazing. Just see for yourself (and if you want to take photos, go right ahead. The people we met were proud of their cars; we'd often catch them polishing the sides with a cloth or cracking open the hood to let the engine cool).
• Hanging Clothes •
One of the smallest things to miss was actually one of my favorites to photograph: families hanging out clothes to dry. Down every street and past every house, we only had to look up to see shirts, pants, and granny panties hanging from the windows. It's an easy (and free) way to dry clothes, to be sure, and I hang my own clothes outside in the summer on occasion. I just love the simplicity of it—the story it told me as I slipped by these residents like a ship in the night. The story of a quest for color, for hope, for happiness.
What story does it tell you, dear reader?