Looking Beyond Crumbling Buildings ~ Havana

Cuba Flag A land without ruins is a land without memories – a land without memories is a land without history.   Abram Joseph Ryan

Having grown up in Miami during the 50’s, I have iconic images of Havana, Cuba, a large Caribbean island located just 90 miles south of Florida.

Cuba, at that time, was Florida’s playground for the wealthy, which meant I would not be going for long weekends like some of my friends. I pictured Cuba through the media: The Tropicana Nightclub with its flashy, scantily clad dancers, its well known elegant buildings, hotels and wide avenues. Of course I remember the prevalence of American made cars in Havana, but also the mambo music that blared from car radios as teenagers cruised Miami Beach in their ‘57 Chevy’s. The well loved, “I Love Lucy Show” introduced us to Desi Arnaz, a Cuban American with his Latin rhythms and the ever popular conga lines we formed at every school dance. I was always mesmerized by the power of the waves crashing over the Malecon, the broad esplanade which stretches for four miles along Havana’s scenic harbor. Sadly, I also remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, my neighbors building bomb shelters and the air raid drills we were accustomed to.

Now, almost  60 years later, May, 2013, fotografer Ron (my husband who also grew up in Miami) and I travel to Havana through a cultural program and fall in love with this vibrant city and its warm, lovely people.

It is an opportunity of a lifetime.

It almost brings tears to my eyes.

As we approach the famous Malecon, the ocean is quiet today. No waves crashing, but still a perfect backdrop for all that is to come.

Havana Malecon

Turning on to the Paseo del Prado, the wide tree lined avenue on the way to our hotel, I notice the grand elegant buildings that once were. The crumbling facades, the layers of paint at attempts to cover its decay and I become aware of the many empty storefronts.

Havana Life

Life is teeming above the emptiness. It is where Havana’s people live. Windows and doors are wide open to welcome breezes. Each apartment is utilizing every inch of their balcony with clotheslines, bicycles, potted plants and maybe a chair or two.

Havana Life

Those eyes from above don’t miss a thing on the sidewalks and streets, always calling out to a friend, neighbor or relative. Some silently sit or stand and gaze out over the rusty railings alone with their own thoughts.

Havana Life

Havana Life

There is a pulse above…and a rhythm below. With the exception of the Paseo del Prado, the side streets are narrow. Fewer cars and taxis, but easier for the bicycle pedi-cabs to navigate. We feel the energy as locals go about their daily routine. We see occasional thumbs up which means “welcome” and usually hear an “hola” from someone.

Havana Life

After awhile, the decaying, crumbling buildings fade into the background as the Cubans themselves come into focus. Their resilience, sense of pride, loyalty to family is reflected in their eyes.

Havana Life

Havana Life

Havana Life-9

Life has been hard for many, but according to our Cuban guide, there has been improvement since the late 90’s.  It is evident in the restoration projects within Havana’s historic district, a UNESCO site, providing jobs in the labor force. Also, we are told restrictions are easing up regarding paladors, home restaurants as well as encouragement for Cubans to start their own small businesses, a major change.

Young people are not hesitant about sharing their hopes and dreams.

When I asked these three young girls what they wanted to be when they grew up, they replied individually, a dancer, a teacher, and a model.

Havana Life

There is beauty and color everywhere…among the peeling walls.

Havana Life

Walking is not just putting one foot in front of the other… it is moving the hips and not noticing or caring who watches.

Havana Life

Street dances and rumbas allow for the hips to sway and a release of creative energy for the young and the old.

Havana Life

The elderly, I’m sure, remember better times…but their souls are not crumbling. Cuba is complex. I came home with more questions than answers, but we enjoyed its pulse and vitality.

Havana Peanut Vendor

Photography by Ron Mayhew

Related article: Havana, Cuba, Not What I Expected and Much More.

About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
This entry was posted in Bucket List, Cuba, Musings, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Looking Beyond Crumbling Buildings ~ Havana

  1. great post, great images, but that final one is exceptional! z

  2. Oh Lynne…you captured the essence of Cuba! Maravilloso! My sister-in-law was married to a Cuban, and she has adorable Cuban grandchildren. It’s wonderful to read your vivid description of Cuba and see your husband’s amazing photography. Thanks for taking us on a virtual tour of Havana. I love all the old cars!

    • Thanks, Debbie. I am so glad we went on this trip.At first, I was so dismayed by the crumbling, old buildings telling myself this is the consequence of governments not playing well together. I really had to let it go while we were there and truly look beyond.Ron could stand on the street corners and take pictures of those old cars forever. He loved it.

  3. Lynne, you and Ron are so lucky to have been able to visit Cuba. I’m so envious. Ron’s pictures are wonderful and your words are the perfect accompaniment. I love the balconies with colorful clothes & Cubans whiling the day away. The chipped colorful painted buildings, the old cars, the people with their upbeat attitudes, these are things I would expect to see in Cuba. Excellent post! 🙂

    • Thanks, Cathy for your comments. One day I looked up at a balcony and two women were staring at me and wanted to know where I was from.I told them and said how beautiful Havana was and they said, “NO, America is beautiful…not Cuba.” Going without, standing in lines and using ration cards, I’m sure….becomes old….just like the buildings. That day to day existence can’t be captured in photos.

      • That’s true that the hardships cannot be fully captured in photos. Yet. They can be suggested through the essence captured in the photos. You and Ron did a great job presenting the true picture, even if it has a bit of a colorful and glamorous spin. 🙂

  4. silvana1989 says:

    Thanks Lynn for the wonderful tour of Cuba, I loved the combination your writing and great pictures of your husband but what I love most are the pictures of the people it shows the essence of Cubans. I love, I love !!!!

  5. What a wonderful post… the architecture and the colours, the beautiful people, and the sense of life lived intensely…the peeps onto peoples verandahs, the dancing, the smiles…what joie de vivre

    • Five days in any country doesn’t tell the underlying story, but Ron and I love to photograph street scenes and try to talk to people. Language is always a barrier, but some gestures are universal, especially the smiles. Thanks for your comment, Valerie.

  6. ilargia64 says:

    Hi Lynne!!! As somebody as already said, you and your husband always manage to show the whole pic of the places you visit…I like very much Ron´s pics, but I do adore your point of view, focused on people and their normal lives…I think both of you make a wonderful team and allow us to have the whole picture …Many thanks !

    • Thanks, Ilargia for your kind comment. We love to work together on photo projects and I love to write. We try to capture what is real, but five days doesn’t give one enough time to understand the complexities of a country.

  7. rigmover says:

    Great post Lynne.

  8. adinparadise says:

    Wonderful pics of a country I would so love to be able to visit, Lynne. Ever since I saw the movie Buena Vista Social Club, I’ve wanted to go there and experience Cuba for myself. I love the way Ron has captured the beauty amongst in the decay, and the vibrancy of its people. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • Thanks, Sylvia. By the way, The Buena Vista Social Club doesn’t exist anymore, but there is serious preservation of its music by Cuban musicians who want to preserve the music. We listened to one such group and they were wonderful. We brought home a CD from them and am glad. Americans can only bring back books, music and art. Wonderful trip. I want to go back. Five days is not enough time.

  9. gwynnem says:

    I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba and hope one day it will be easier for travel. Lovely post!

    • Thanks, Gwen. I am so glad we jumped at this opportunity. I would love to spend more time there. Five days is not enough time to understand the complexities and issues.

  10. The old man, on his balcony, just looking – that tells of the quiet desperation, of unrequited dreams perhaps. It was terrific to see optimism in the young people … I do hope you’ll be able to fill us in with little snippets about everyday life as you encountered it – as you said, your trip was the opportunity of a lifetime, one most of us won’t be able to share, except through your (and Ron’s) eyes/lens 🙂

    • My thoughts, exactly, Meredith, about the man on the balcony…quiet desperation. I took photos of other older Cubans who looked sad and lonely. The young are optimistic and there appears to be more opportunities opening up for them. ( So we are told) More “snippets” of everyday life to come.

  11. Madhu says:

    A fabulous post Lynne. Your narrative and Ron’s amazing photos brought Havana to life for me. How exciting to be able to experience the contradictions of this complex country first hand.

  12. I believe as writers/photographers, if we can evoke any emotion or thoughtful response from our readers then we have succeeded in trying to tell the story. But five days was not enough…in any country. I am taking your advice from a previous comment “take your time, Lynne “, and I am going to do just that. Reflection is important and I can see that in your posts on Cambodia. “Why?”

  13. Pingback: Havana, Cuba – Not What I Expected and Much More | Ron Mayhew's Blog

  14. restlessjo says:

    I love how you work together, Lynne. It fascinates me, because I so often work from my own photos to tell the narrative. I don’t think I could do it from someone else’s. You must be finely attuned. Great job. 🙂

    • So far it has worked out well. I use some of my photos as well as Ron’s but give him the credit because he is my tech. guy. I don’t know how to insert them, etc,let alone do the photoshopping. I don’t write around the pictures, I find the photos to match my words. I wish I had the ability to do it all and then I would probably post more than I do, which isn’t even weekly. I loved how you came home from your trip and did a post the next day. I work my blogs into Ron’s schedule.

      • restlessjo says:

        It’s an addiction, Lynne. It races around inside my head till I can get it into print and let it go. Strange isn’t it? But I’d go for quality over quantity any day, and you’ve definitely got that. 🙂

  15. Letizia says:

    What a wonderful journey you’ve taken us on, as always! The photos are amazing – I love them all but for some reason, I’m particularly drawn to the one of the older couple on the balcony.

    • That couple stopped me in my tracks. I had to take that picture. I would love to know their story. I can just imagine they lived their lives pre-Fidel which probably means that some of their family has moved away (to the states) which is the case of many senior citizens there. Thanks for your reflective comment.

  16. Beautiful photos and words!

  17. vb holmes says:

    Your copy and pictures are so refreshing as I, and I would guess, others, have such conflicting mental images of Cuba (derived from old movies when Cuba was a luxury destination and those of an impoverished, oppressed country ruled with an iron hand). A treat to see young people with hopeful, smiling faces. Nice work by team Mayhew.

    • To go as a visitor I had it easy. To live there is to use ration cards and stand in long lines. Very little in the stores or on the streets to buy. Yet, the young people don’t know anything else. They are always hopeful. We were told that Raoul seems to understand the stretching point of his people and is encouraging more people to open small businesses.
      To see the murals of Che, Fidel and Jose Marti on the walls of an elementary school is a reminder that The Revolution is to be taken seriously and to be proud of and loyal to. The children were happy to see us, the teachers ignored us. I appreciate your reflective comment, VB.

  18. Gorgeous pictures, Lynne – you capture the soul of the people beautifully 🙂

  19. Sandy & Ron Nelson says:


  20. You are an astute observer of people from you individual comments, Sandy. The older man in the hat is the subject of my next post. He is a peanut vendor.

  21. Tahira says:

    Fabulous, Lynne. And most definitely an opportunity of a lifetime.

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