Words & Photographs by Hannah Fitzpatrick
No matter what you hear about Cuba, nothing can quite prepare you for the island’s infectious sounds, sights and smells. Waking on our first morning, with the heady lift of sweet tobacco, the sensual heat and compelling music even at 7 a.m., Havana instantaneously captured my heart.
The capital of the largest of Caribbean islands is breathtakingly beautiful in its own idiosyncratic way, any photographer’s paradise. Once you look closely, through the noise, the crumbling colonial facades evoke a sadness. Years of neglect have damaged this city’s splendour and you have to look closely to notice and appreciate corners of beauty and find peaceful moments off the main thoroughfare. The streets are loud, with locals busying themselves with the day’s tasks and chores, and it takes a few moments to get to grips with the flow of this crumbling city – from the bright flashes of pastel-coloured Chevrolets darting around street corners, to other-worldly Banyan trees, there are numerous different personalities to the city you can capture.
This series of images captures the Cuba I wanted to share. One image was taken just off a side street in a deserted saloon which we stumbled across. I was captivated by how the light fell through the window from the bustling street metres away, yet inside the stench of stale tobacco and roasted coffee hung in the eerie emptiness.
Our next stop was Vinales, which was a welcome release from the headiness of Havana. The air felt easier to breath out here amidst the shadows of colossal, limestone structures which are common to in the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba.
This small town, surrounded by dusty red farmland, consists of one main bustling high street where all the action takes place. The side-streets are lined with low bungalows, washed in bright primary colours whose gardens overflow with lush banana and guava trees, and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming – particularly after the welcome mojito at our casa particulars.
Cuba has an immense amount to offer and is a stark but irresistible look at a country who’s twentieth century history is quite unique. Ignore those who encourage you to go ‘before it all changes’ – the country will only benefit from some much-needed investment.