1. Breaking Rules in Havana

Happy to share the view, but the story stays with me :-)

2. Picking Tobacco with Raiden

Wandering down a red dirt road outside Viñales with a bottle of rum and a few baseballs (great gifts for making friends), I met Raiden, a farmer who grows and makes everything himself, buying only salt and soap from the Cuban government.

After asking permission from his wife to enter their lands (and dodging a very angry Mamma Pig), I approached Raiden and his sons, repeating in broken Spanish my request for a nice spot to watch the "salida del sol" (Sunset?) over the mountains. Raiden was excited to see a foreigner on his farmland and invited me to work the remaining afternoon helping to pick the bottom leaves off his tobacco crop. Happily accepting his offer, I cracked the bottle of Havana Club, poured the first sip out "por los santos," a tradition in Cuba, and passed the bottle. 

The rest of the day and the next was spent with Raiden and his family, returning the next morning to learn how to prepare tobbacco for drying. Below, Raiden teaches me how to roll cigars

In a very special moment, the first rain in four months began to fall, building from a sprinkle to a brief, but intense downpour. Below, Raiden watches this first rain fall upon his fields from the shelter of his tobacco drying hut

3. Princesa

Exploring the Havana suburb of Miramar,  I came across an adorably ancient woman grooming fleas from her dog. I approached with a friendly smile and asked "como te llama de perro?" (I have no idea if this is correct Spanish, but she understood). "Princesa!!" she replied with so much love

4. Rock night at Tun Tun

Cubans LOVE music .... and in a country where everyone can dance and sing pitch-perfect (literally everyone, its almost frustrating how good they are), the ones who are paid to perform are phenomenal. I went with my Malecón friends, Sasha and Saskia, to a club in the Havana suburb Miramar for an unforgettable rock and roll show. The band covered American and English rock and roll, splicing in Spanish freestyle and just KILLING it - The crowd was so positive, so energetic, completely enraptured by the Rock Gods before them. Climbing to the top of the sound and light room, I got the whole room together for the shot below

6. A walk through the Havana suburb, Vedado

My favorite part of Havana...

The Butcher

Can you believe this is 2015?

Neptuno Street

6. Malecón

The Malecón is the seawall running the length of Havana and the number one place for hanging out, relaxing and socializing for Cubans of all ages. I spent many nights on the Malecón drinking rum, practicing my Spanish, listening to live music, making friends and watching the colorful scene.

7. Trip to the Lake

Punctuated by a beautiful sunset, cervezas, and spectacular view from a hotel outside of Vinales, a day trip to a nearby lake with new Cuban friends was definitely highlight of my trip. Warm, clean water, playing baseball with a stick, smoking harsh Cuban cigarettes and chatting the sun down. The next day we piled into a collectivo taxi and made our way back to Havana, stopping briefly in Pinar Del Rio, where I took the shot below.

 

8. Jazz Night

What started as a single guitar and some rum in the Cathedral Plaza of old Havana quickly evolved into a 5 piece jazz band parade to the Malecón for a night of music, laughs and salsa dancing in the rain.

9. Animals in Cuba

I love all animals, but meeting a 1 day old pig-in-a-blanket was the pinnacle of my Cuban critter safari.

608B3167.jpg

10. Trading Veradero for Santa Clara

After hearing a drunk Canadian proclaim "viva la revolucion!" over his third breakfast mojito for the second time that day, I knew Veradero was not for me.... the beach was exquisite, but the all-inclusive resorts were all-exclusive of anything resembling culture or adventure. I high tailed it after one night, leaving in a collectivo taxi with my new bus station Aussie friends, Keith and Aza.

Landlocked and located in the geographic center of Cuba, Santa Clara is a University town with an amazing sense of energy. Narrow streets are lined with pizza shops, ice cream parlors and little cafes, crowded with horses, bikes, motorcycles, cars and buses going waaayyyy too fast. I spent 5 days in Santa Clara, having planned only two, staying up too late with my new university friends, playing baseball in the main plaza till 6am, dancing, drinking and exploring off my hangover the next day.

Veradero was nice....

608B3215.jpg

But I prefer friends and adventures!