Havana Travel

Havana Travel

 

I knew on my first day in Havana last spring that I would be back to Cuba as soon as I could.   The classic cars, the crumbling colonial buildings, the Malecon…it’s photographer nirvana.   But it was the people that got to me the most.  Cubans are funny, thoughtful, and incredibly resilient.   And given the US embargo, which has had a devastating effect on Cuba, it amazes me how uniformly nice Cubans are to visitors from the States.      I’ll leave it to others to parse blame for the economic conditions in Cuba and what percentage of responsibility goes to the Castros and what should be assigned the United States.   What I am certain of is that we have as much to learn from Cubans as they do from us.

 

Cuba requires a little more thought than most trips where you can grab your passport and a credit card and you’ll be fine.   Do that in Cuba and you’re not going to eat because USA credit cards don’t work there.

 

Even though I could have flown directly from the US, I opted to go through Cancun because it was cheaper than the over-priced charter flights from the States.      $800 for a RT ticket from Miami to Havana?!   I’ll be glad when regular airlines are flying to Havana from the States.  Flights will be about half what they are with the charter flights.    I also went through Cancun because I love spending at least a few days on Isla Mujeres on the way back.

 

Entry into Cuba this time was easy.   Short immigration line.    As a courtesy to the thousands of US citizens visiting Cuba on the sly, Cuban Immigration either won’t stamp a US passport or, like in my case this time, they ask if you’d like a Cuban stamp.    “Yes, please.”  I’m on a general license and I want that stamp!

 

Money is a bit of pain in Cuba if you’re a US citizen. US credit cards don’t work in Cuba so your only option is cash. I brought $2000 in cash and ended up spending $1500 for  the two weeks.    Two people can easily travel in Cuba on $100 a day for food, lodging and misc expenses like taxis and tips. Meals at your casa particular will run you $3-$5 for breakfast and dinner is $7-$12. I ended up spending anywhere from $1 for a tasty meal of ham and rice and beans from a food cart to $20 for a meal at a restaurant on the Malecon with killer views and tasty mojitos.    I have seen a number of travelers comment online that the food sucks in Cuba.  This hasn’t been true for me.  Just ask other travelers or your casa particular host for recommendations.  Or check out TripAdvisor.    I’ve had some mediocre and one truly horrible meal in Cuba but for the most part when I’ve relied on recommendations, I’ve had good luck finding tasty food.

 

Tourists exchanging US dollars will take a 10% hit (The 10% penalty should go away once the embargo is lifted) and also an official 3% handling fee so it works out to $100 for 87 CUC’s.   I opted to exchange most of my money on the street for a much better .95 CUCs to the US dollar.   Slightly less legal but easier on the wallet.   Bring $100 bills as you will get a better rate on the street for large bills.   I’d be careful exchanging money on the street if you aren’t a seasoned traveler, though.  It would be pretty easy for the dude to grab your money and run off.

 

I recommend staying in a casa particular instead of the hotels.  They are much cheaper, friendlier, and a more authentic experience than a hotel.   I highly recommend the casa particular I stayed in, Consulado 106.   Fran was a great host and the location was perfect for exploring Havana.

 

We didn’t run into any other folks from the States on this trip.  My guess is because USA travelers are mostly coming over in tour groups so I wouldn’t see them because they’re on a controlled itinerary so they’re not someone I’d bump into at a coffeeshop or walking along the Malecon.   And I generally veer off if I’m about to run into a huge tour group.   I mostly met Europeans, a lot of folks from France and Spain.    Cuba was a lot busier than it was in April.  Partly because January is busier in general in the Caribbean.   But part of it has to do with the easing of USA restrictions on travel.   And not just because more folks from the States are visiting Cuba now.  The comment I heard the most from other travelers is that people want to see Cuba before folks from the States arrive en masse.   Seems we have a reputation.

 

If you’re thinking about going to Cuba, just go.  And Havana travel is amazing.  Especially if you’re from the States.   It always amazes me when I travel to iconic places, how quickly commonly held myths are dispelled.

 

  • Keep an eye on my blog for upcoming posts on my visit to Trinidad and Cienfuegos in Cuba.

 

Headed home from a day of fishing off the Malecon.

Headed home from a day of fishing off the Malecon.

Sunrise along the Malecon in Havana.

Sunrise along the Malecon in Havana.

Corner grocery store in Havana Vieja.

Corner grocery store in Havana Vieja.

This was our fav restaurant in Havana. Awesome vibe, great food, incredible drinks, and a bargain. We spent less than $20 for two entrees and lots of mojitos. It's called El Chanchullero de Tapas in Havana Vieja.

This was our fav restaurant in Havana.   Awesome vibe, great food, incredible drinks, and a bargain. We spent less than $20 for two entrees and lots of mojitos.   It’s called El Chanchullero de Tapas in Havana Vieja.

Sunrise in Havana. Most Cubans I met were proud of the Revolution. I saw several monuments like this in Havana but it wasn't as prevalent as I thought it would be.

Sunrise in Havana. Most Cubans I met were proud of the Revolution. I saw several monuments like this in Havana but it wasn’t as prevalent as I thought it would be.

I loved the laid back feeling in Cuba. These guys were playing chess in Plaza de Armas in Havana Vieja.

I loved the laid back feeling in Cuba. These guys were playing chess in Plaza de Armas in Havana Vieja.

Havana Vieja.

Havana Vieja.

I was struck by the faded symbols of the Revolution and the pay phones.

I was struck by the faded symbols of the Revolution and the pay phones.

We met Vincente when he rode in his taxi. We chatted for awhile after the ride ended. He was a little kid during the Revolution and his brother had died fighting with Che. I'm not sure what his take is on Revolution and it's aftermath, but he was proud of his brother.

We met Vincente when we rode in his taxi. We chatted for awhile after the ride ended. He was a little kid during the Revolution and his brother died fighting with Che. I’m not sure what his take is on Revolution and it’s aftermath, but it was obvious he was proud of his brother.

 

Chilling on the Malecon in Havana.

Chilling on the Malecon in Havana.

Sometimes you've just gotta take a nap!

Sometimes you’ve just gotta take a nap!

Looking out the front door of San Cristobal Cathedral in Havana.

Looking out the front door of San Cristobal Cathedral in Havana.

Kids on a Friday night in Havana.

Kids on a Friday night in Havana.

This is one of my fav Havana pics. The classic car, the colonial architecture and the perfect sky.

This is one of my fav Havana pics. The classic cars, the colonial architecture and the perfect sky.

cuba-car

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cuba

Isla Mujeres Sunset

Isla Mujeres Sunset

 

I saw this lady wandering around the shore while I was out “stalking the light” on Isla Mujeres a few weeks ago. I loved the light and the clouds but I really like it when I can get some humanity in an image. That’s now the main focus of my work.  When she suddenly threw up her hands in what looked like pure joy, I knew I had what was missing before in the shot.

 

I shot this with my fav camera, the Fuji X-100t.  Love the Fuji colors.

 

 

Pure joy on Isla Mujeres.

Pure joy on Isla Mujeres.

Posted in Uncategorized

I’m Gonna be a Grandpa!

I’m Gonna be a Grandpa!

 

I’m gonna be a grandpa.  My incredible daughter Meghan is having a baby in about a week. Wow!  Kinda hard to take in all the amazingness that’s about to arrive in our family.   I’ve already started planning our first family vacation with Adeline.   Someplace close for our first trip this Christmas.   Maybe Isla Mujeres or San Pancho in Mexico.   Or if she seems like she’s ready for a longer flight, the North Shore of Kauai.  I can’t wait till she’s ready for a trip with just the two of us.   Trekking in Nepal?

 

I had a blast shooting some maternity pics of my amazing daughter and awesome son-in-law. Knowing your daughter is with the person who is perfect for her is just an incredible feeling. And that my granddaughter will have these two for parents…lucky, lucky kid.

 

 

If you want to see the best wedding photographer in the world, check out Meghan’s work at Visual Poetry.

 

Gotta love Colorado. Sunny and 60 degrees in January.

Gotta love Colorado. Sunny and 60 degrees in January.

This is what love looks like.

This is what love looks like.

Denver Maternity Photography (6)

 

My beautiful, amazing daughter.

My beautiful, amazing daughter.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Sa Pa, Vietnam

Sa Pa, Vietnam

 

I love Hanoi.   The frenetic pace, the incredible street food and the colonial architecture.   But after a week in Hanoi, I was excited for a more chill pace for awhile.   Sa Pa in northern Vietnam was the perfect antidote for my city overload.    It was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  The hiking was incredible and it was one of my favorite early morning market scenes in Vietnam.

 

Sa Pa is the kind of place that’s so beautiful, you have to pay your dues to get there.   Most people travel to Sa Pa on the overnight train from Hanoi.   Which sounds like a great idea: sleep on the way and save a night’s lodging but the reality is a bit different.   I’m sure there are people who sleep on the train and arrive fresh at their destination.  I’m not one of them.  With two Ambien and a couple beers, I’m still not one of them.  The train lurches around every corner, stops and starts in fits…it’s like the engineer is napping up front and his five year old kid is driving the train.   And conspiring with the five year old driving the train is the lady hawking snacks.   She seems to know exactly when I’ve just started to drift off because I’ll be jarred awake by her rapping on the door.

 

I stumble off the train at 4am into a sea of touts.  Sleep deprived and unsure of how to get where I’m going.  This is exactly how touts want to engage a tourist.  I end up paying three times as much as I should for the hour long van ride to Sa Pa.   My bad for not doing a little research on this before I arrived in Lao Cai.

 

The folks at the Sa Pa Unique Hotel were awesome.   I arrived long before check-in but they let me leave my backpack at the hotel and sent me off hiking to a nearby Hmong village.    I didn’t want to do any trekking tours and the owner of the hotel never pressured me to do a tour and he was great about recommending off the beaten path hikes.   I would hike all morning and never see another traveler, only locals going about their day.    I would definitely consider staying at this hotel on my next visit to Sa Pa.  The view from my room was stunning.  And best of all, they bring a tasty banana, chocolate dessert thingy to your room in the evening.

 

A lot of people who visit northern Vietnam bitch about the constant selling by the Hmong ladies.  True, the constant “buy something” gets old but I bought a few things off a couple super nice ladies.  Then I would just chat with them whenever I saw them around town after that.   I learned a lot about their way of life from these conversations.   They never pestered me to buy anything again and I just gave a polite “no” to sales pitches from other vendors after that.     Plus, their wares are all handmade and super reasonable.

 

Prints are available for purchase at BHI Prints.

 

All images were shot with the Fuji X-T1 and either the 18mm 2.0 lens or the 35mm 1.4 lens.

 

The trekking in the Hmong villages near Sa Pa was pretty incredible.

The trekking in the Hmong villages near Sa Pa was pretty incredible. No need for a guide. And if you get lost or tired, just flag down a moto and catch a ride back to Sapa.

A Hmong village near Sa Pa. I loved meeting locals when I was out hiking.

A Hmong village near Sa Pa. I loved meeting locals when I was out hiking. Like almost every place I’ve traveled, once you get out into the countryside, people are more friendly.

Travel photography in Vietnam.

So peaceful hiking through the countryside.

Hiking near Sa Pa.

A Hmong villager walking to Sa Pa.

The Hmong ladies waiting to sell their wares.

The Hmong ladies waiting to sell their wares.

A couple tourists ensconced by Hmong sales ladies.

A group of tourists ensconced by Hmong sales ladies.

My brother succumbing to the sales pressure. :)

My brother succumbing to the sales pressure. :)

Teenagers are similar the world over.

Teenagers are similar the world over.

Headed to market at dawn in Sa Pa.

Headed to market at dawn in Sa Pa.

Sa Pa market at dawn.

Sa Pa market at dawn.

At the market in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

At the market in Sa Pa, Vietnam.

Hmong at market in Sapa, Vietnam.

Sa Pa, Vietnam.

The daily fog in Sa Pa made for cool, moody photos.

Posted in Asia