January 16, 2015

Old Havana

" Havana is very much like a rose: it has petals, and it has thorns... So it depends on how you grab it, but in the end, it always grabs you..." (The Lost City)

Life here seems simple and slower. Everything operates in slow living mode. Cars – new and mostly relics from the past – alongside cycle-rickshaws, coco-taxis and horse carriages move at a leisurely pace creating a traffic-free city. Colourful cloths lines that decorate every wrought-iron balcony slowly swing on a gentle, almost undetectable warm breeze. Street dogs wander around the narrow cobblestone streets. In the middle of the Plaza Vieja, kids play baseball. Smell of rich coffee and freshly lit cigars engage the senses and awaken the free bohemian spirit. Live music, an essential ingredient to life, comes from every corner and bar; the signature tune of Chan Chan are slowly penetration the air giving rise to nostalgia and joy at the same time.

Out of the rooftop terrace of Ambos Mundos Hotel, home to Hemingway for seven years in the 30s, one can witness the Atlantic's waves crashing slowly against the seawalls while separating the island from the world by water and not only. Colonial buildings, most of them newly renovated (since my last visit, seven years ago), other still timeworn, faded in colour, speak of a past that was much more grandeur and vibrant. Wooden doors are open right out into the street and envelop a slice of life somehow different from what we know.

Life happens on the street here and people are watching. Whether from a vantage point of a doorstep, or a bench, or while waiting in a queue, but mostly from their balconies, people observe the world passing by their eyes. There is no hurry here (Cubans operate in a different time frame from the one we are used to – "Cuban time"). There is just life unfolding the way it is supposed to unfold and readiness of embracing it with an opulent joy. There is a presence of calmness and an absence of time that makes Havana pules with different energy and liveliness. There is this undefined flavour to the city – charisma, romance, beauty, charming classic cars and endless sunshine that makes you forget this is still a country that remains a bastion of communism and central planning, with different economic, social and cultural life. Despite the free education and the universal health care, Cubans face poverty and day-to-day problems – wage levels, double-currency system, shortage of basic goods, lack of transportation, limited access to information and Internet (beneficial to us as tourists), restriction for traveling and assembly, est.

But, there is also a tangible sense of change and hope for transformation impossible to be overlooked this time. "Cuba is changing", "We want change", we were told by the locals we met. In fact, a recent law allows more citizens to run their own businesses, and properties in the historic quarter now available to rent from the state creates a new wave of self-employment. I believe Cuban people deserve better choices: yet, I know from experience that social and economical changes take time and will happen slowly as everything here on this geographical location.
The big challenge, however, would be balancing modernization and preservation of authenticity and richness of Cuban life beyond money and possessions.

The slow pace of life, the captivating colours that burst the artistic souls, the tremendous beauty and charm in things that many would argue to be the opposite, the unspoiled nature and these people who are vibrant, filled with vitality and contagious zest for life, I hope will always stay the same.    


Dear friends, Happy New Year!
It gives you an opportunity to fill those fresh 365 days with whatever your hearts desire. May 2015 be the most exciting ever. I feel grateful and blessed for mine starting with this wonderful trip to one of the most fascinating places in the world. 


  1. Sylvia, this is a beautiful photo essay. Thank you for sharing. I wonder if life will be better there when the US gets more involved with trade. It's a beautiful city but sad to see how it's deteriorating. I hope this new year continues to be good to you.

  2. Such a contrast of a
    sad past and a hopeful
    future! Love the relics
    of times gone by, but do
    know that it's not an easy
    life for the people of Cuba,
    here in the present.

    Gorgeous pictures! Glad
    you got to start the year
    somewhere warm and
    delightful : )

    xo Suzanne

  3. Thank you for this post! It is only through the eyes of others that I have been able to see the landscape of Cuba.

  4. These are the most amazing photos of an amazing place Sylvia dear! Thank you so much for taking me there.

  5. Прекрасные снимки, спасибо за экскурсию!

  6. Fabulous photos, thank you for sharing! Wishing you a wonderful 2015 !

  7. Your pictures are absolutly wonderful. We are planning a trip to Kuba in 2016. Did you drive around? Where did you stay?
    Lovely hugs and a wonderful 2015 for you

  8. You lost me on this post. Beautiful as it is the people are still mostly oppressed.


  9. Happy New Year to you as well Sylvia! Beautiful photograps. A joy to look at!

    Madelief x

  10. I truly enjoyed your photos and essay. The closest I've been is Key West, and you can feel the influences of Cuba.


  11. I am so happy I found you! You have a great eye in catching street photography - I just love the little details that you capture. Thank you so much for sharing your talent.

    Big hug

  12. How thrilling! Sylvia, I just read both of your Cuba posts...my goodness...your photos and writing...just fantastic.
    I love how you describe life on "Cuba time"...I can relate to it... ;)
    The music, cuisine, architecture, warm people...a wonderful, mamorable adventure for you, I can imagine.
    Thank you so much....
    - Irina


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