Art was also a key part of the experience from handcrafts to graffiti to murals. Everywhere we went stories were being told. As Paul Simon, we saw "angels in the architecture."
My favorite new friend, Troy aka Dabba Dabba, showing off his cuba outfit on the hood of this gorgeous car.
Contrary to what one might think, Cubans love Americans. In several conversations we have had, although they are taught to hate us, as a people, they are very amicable and almost incapable of hating someone based on that propaganda. Everywhere we turned, we were greeted as "Amigos de Cuba".
Fear and loathing as the boys cruise through the heavily wooded parks where we found evidence of Santaria rituals in the public parks.
What can you say. That's my girl.
When Havana Club Rum is cheaper than water, the drinks were unbelievably good. Just 2 minutes after ridiculing Wiley for wanting a daiquiri, I switched to these lemon daiquiris which were probably the best drink of the entire vacation. And as for Emre, he pulled Cuba off in inspiring fashion. Look at that creepy mustache and floral print shirt. He's got CIA written all over him.
Havana is home to legendary spots of luxurious times of old, including the Riviera which was partly owned by Lucky Luciano. There is a lot of old mob influence and we regularly had Rat Pack music playing as we cruised down the highways.
The colors of Cuba are so bright. And so were we!
Emily just killed it with her Cuba styled outfits. Often wearing white with splashes of color was a great way to stand out and co-exist with Havana's bright pastels, and aged street corners.
The buildings of Cuba are absolutely gorgeous. Intricate molding, amazing terraces in both French and Spanish styles. But...
But most of these mansions have degraded into just facades. With the revolution, all of the wealthy left cuba, and so many beautiful buildings were left to decay without money for upkeep. The rich evacuated whole neighborhoods like Verdado, leaving mansions that are now multiple family homes. The contrast between external and internal is striking in all aspects of Cuban life.
Sitting in the squares of Havana gives a view into how the architectures come together. Relaxed, open and friendly.
A giant sculpture by Cuba's most famous artist, Kcho, is made out of rafts and parts of failed attempts to escape. His artwork heavily uses such imagery to create sureal scenescapes that capture both the hope and futility of the Cuban situation.
I had to post this one. This is Dabba Dabba (aka Troy) who clearly was upset that there was no Bordeaux on the wine list.
Cuban art is striking, colorful and blunt.
No one rocks a horse better than Emre. You can't help but look baller smoking a cigar on horseback.
Tobacco leaves are a primary crop with sugar. Fascinating to see the process in the countrysides of drying leaves and prepping them for cigar manufacturing.
In the country side, we had a Cuba Libre Naturals, made with honey instead of sugar. I highly recommend them. It's very clear how this drink made it's way among the farmers as it required so little yet was so refreshing.
A local farmer rolled us cigars sealed with that same honey and they were by far the most smooth and flavorful cigars I've ever had.
After our trek on horseback we spelunked into a cave that went back about half a kilometer to an underground river that we swam in. Unfortunately it was too dark to capture, but one of the most amazing and solemn moments was sitting on a rock shelf in this still underwater pond, with the reflection of the cave ceiling in the water giving the illusion that the water had impossible depth.
Emily on horseback is a sight to see. Of course, no one told Rebecca Minkoff that her purses needed to endure a trot or gallup. Here she is approaching the "house" where farmers dry tobacco leaves.
Wiley, of course brought his guitar and serenaded all those who would listen. It worked out in his favor as he got pulled up on stage on New Years to play with a local band. Needless to say, he killed it. Everywhere we went, we heard music. Down the side streets, in the squares, everywhere.
The stark imagery of Cuba is contrasted by the muted clothing of locals. With so many in poverty, the bare essentials were more norm, even in more elegant neighborhoods.
I just love this crew. That's all.
Although mostly the cars, the prevalence of American imagery as a symbol of aspiration was everywhere. Apple logos were everywher even though Apple products were not. It brought us back to a time where imagery and logos carried such power and meaning.
It seems everywhere is under construction. But on closer inspection, many of these construction sites are really just about supporting the structures from falling down. How long has this been up there such that such ivy has grown into it? The cultural importance of preservation was prevalent everywhere.
Cuba is a country with such color, such vibrancy, such resilience and at the same time so much pain. Walks through less touristy neighborhoods give a much fuller sense of the Cuba existence. In a thoughtful talk with Reuben, our AirBNB owner in Trinidad, he said, "The Cuban people are happy. I don't know why, but we are happy."
The architecture and detail within the buildings rivaled the edifices. These pictures only provide glimpses into the splendor and lavishness that must have been the Cuba of old.
Here I caught a reflection of and old building through one of the only more modern ones. Reminds me of an Ira L Black photograph that I liked a lot. Of course, his was better.
The art of Cuba is defiant and existentially challenging. Emily and I bought this piece by Javier Guerra, one of the most famous artists in Cuba.
The contrast between the bright colors and the cold realities are the essence of Cuba.
The outfits at the Tropicana were just out of this world. An amazing performance with brilliant splashes of color at every turn.
And dancing ladies adorning the walls of course
At the Tropicana, we saw garrish outfits, you know like when you need to go out in a dark place but want to be fancy - you must wear your favorite chandelier.
The decorative interiors everywhere we went were simply stunning.
This is the view from a Spanish style house from an owner who wanted to bring some of the architecture of the Alhambra to Cuba. As beach towns go, Cienfuegos has fabulous views.
Poverty manifests in so many ways. The happiness of these kids hoola hooping with tires is emblematic of Cuba.
And of course, there are lots of propaganda posters, although few that directly bashed the US as this one did. Mostly they were about the power of the "towns." The rebels took refuge in the mountains and united the people in those inaccessible towns. Empowering and honoring everyone, including the small town citizen was criticial not only to the resistance, but also to the valuing of all the people that support the agrarian society.
As you walk across ruin, you can find so much splendor.
Emily always looking her best, staring into one of our many beautiful sunsets.
At night, old streetlights cast yellow hues everywhere, taking you back to a time before the purity of modern lighting or the artificiality of energy efficient bulbs.
Old men would routinely gather to play dominoes, even setting up tables in active streets such as these. These men were more enduring than the cars and commerce passing them by.
Well, I would never sleep in this bed. Throughout Cuba, many collect important historical items or religious ones. We tried to connect with a doctor, who unfortunately is such an alcoholic that he was always out drinking and never made it home for several days. In a world where rum is cheaper than water, it was a reminder of the dark side of the industry.
So many beautiful sunsets that highlighted the pastels of Cuba.
The main cemetary in Havana is very much worth a visit. Here Emily leaves a wish based on a local legend.
Imagine this as the entrance to probably the best restaurant in all of Cuba. The experience encompasses it all. Would you expect to get rabbit pate with cotton candy and apricot gelee above? Yet that is the splendor hidden among the ruins of Cuba. Such a fascinating place to explore. And if you go to Habana, you must eat at La Guarida.
What can you say. Wiley and I are a piece of work.
As we headed to the airport, we stopped by Hemingway's house where they were feeding sugar cane, lime and pineapple through a manual press for use in creating mojitos. Needless to say, that's the best damn mojito we ever had.