Alpha Whiskey likes to have a good time. So when a few female friends invited me to Cuba recently for some sun, swimming and pina coladas I simply couldn’t resist. A fascinating and beautiful country full of contrasts and colour, Cuba offered me such a welcome respite that I took far fewer images on this trip than I usually do, preferring to enjoy the company of my friends while killing infinite brain cells with pungent cigars and delicious cocktails soaked in Havana Club. But beauty is beauty and when I could manage a steady hand I attempted to capture a few postcards.
We started away from the capital, Havana, travelling west through the stunning valley in Vinales and indulging in a brief boat ride through the Indian Caves. We met a gentleman at a small tobacco farm who was kind enough to let me keep his freshly rolled cigar.
Surrounded by endless ‘buena vistas’ one of the best ways to take in the scenery was a few hours on horseback through the hills. Parched and thirsty, we stopped at a coffee farm to sample some alcohol, honey and guava juice; just what you need to keep you steady at the reins. A dinner at an eco-farm overlooking the valley at sunset rounded off a beautiful day.
I happily forgot all about the world for a few hours while frolicking at the lush white sandy beaches around Maria La Gorda at Cuba’s south west tip. Not one to languish on sand I absorbed all my rays while floating in the gloriously clear water.
The surrounding natural reserve, however, was eventually too enticing to resist, offering a wealth of species from bee hummingbirds and iguanas to small lizards and herons, and even bats in a cave. It was almost worth serving oneself up as a buffet of blood for the indigenous mosquito population. Repellent is a must.
Now there’s only so much heady chicanery one can endure after a few pina coladas so we headed back to Havana. A vibrant city resplendent with impressive architecture, anyone with an aversion to colour should definitely stay away. Much of the kaleidoscopic hues were courtesy of the city’s famous abundance of classic American cars, their irresistible lines and forms easily forgiving the modern Korean diesel engines under the hoods.
Havana, baked in heat and humming with ubiquitous air conditioners, is a city with a fascinating history, readily gleaned from a walk through its old town. Statues of conquerors and monuments to pioneers line the busy alleys and squares, walled by magnificent buildings, churches and cathedrals.
The seemingly squalid and dishevelled exteriors belie the ornately furnished interiors, often revealed at the summit of a precarious marble staircase. The city’s Unesco status inhibits any major development or renovation but also prevents the sacrifice of this distinctive aesthetic to a pervasion of coffee shop and fast food chains.
The people in Havana are friendly and welcoming, albeit a little too enterprising with their eagerness for your attention. I found people to be exceptionally obliging and kind and I will personally be eternally grateful for their help.
Inhaling a traditional Cuban dish called Ropa Viejo (Old Clothes), essentially very tasty pulled beef, was a fitting prelude to the Buena Vista Social Club, where a succession of talented singers and dancers regaled us into the night.
A great time was had by all in a country that is justifiably attractive to visit and it is little wonder that Hemingway found so much inspiration and solace here. The lack of internet and media distractions made it all the more possible to focus on the cultural and aesthetic delights before us. All these images were made with my trusty trifecta of brain, eyes and legs and composed and processed to my usual postcard style. While the sweltering heat sweated out my creative juices we were waved off on our departure by thunder and lightning. It made me think of a line from the song Escape by Rupert Holmes. ‘If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain’ then Cuba is the place to be. Go visit.