is a temporary article describing travel to Cuba excerpted from a post
I made on Photo.net:
Did you have to stay in the official
hotels, or was it easy to get into a family run Casa?
When you enter the airport in Havana, you will have to list a state
run hotel as the place you are staying at for the first couple(?) of
nights (they want you to give money to Castro). Sometimes they will
escort you to make sure you are actually staying in these places. Most
of the time they won't bother though.
You will have no trouble getting a casa particular. As soon as you
step foot in Havana, jineteros (hustlers) will try to hook you up with
a casa or a paladar (private restaurant). Their fees are tacked onto
your rent or dinner so politely tell them you don't need any help if
you want to save yourself a few dollars. In dealing with jineteros,
one of their first questions will be "how long have you been in
Cuba?" At which point, you should tell them over 2 weeks or else
you will be seen as a fresh target for a hustle. Don't be worried too
much about the jineteros though, the Cubans are so charming, even their
hustlers are likeable although they may get to you at times.
Did you get by without speaking much
I speak conversational Spanish learned from my Mexican friends but this
is very different from the way Cubans speak Spanish so it was somewhat
difficult the first couple weeks. Cubans speak very
fast and some consonants like the "s" sound are sometimes
silent. Reflective of their proud culture, they will also look at you
funny if you say "¿mande?" which they see
as being diminutive. They use the words "¿como?"
Basically, they will be able to understand your Spanish but depending
on who you are talking to, it will probably be difficult for you to
Anywhere in particular you went that
The entire country is extremely photogenic. Everywhere you go from Havana
to the countryside looks like a great picture. Bring lots of film (or
Were the cuban locals friendly?
Among the friendliest people on earth (close tie with Brazilians IMO).
When I got bored, I would just walk around and strike up a conversation
with someone and this will usually led to an invitation to their home
or a party. They are very open, charming, curious about Americans, and
laid back. Despite the poverty, there is almost no crime and you can
tell they respect each other and other people. There's a big sense of
community (one of the few good things of communism) and they know all
their neighbors and raise each others kids.
How did the people react to requests
to photograph them?
More so than most any other people Cubans are very open to being photographed.
Your biggest problem may be getting a candid shot because they love
to pose and smile for the camera. Sometimes they will ask for money
but they don't expect anything from anybody really.
I don't shoot film anymore, but just
to make this a better archived thread: Were you able to buy film there
You can buy film at the photo shops (Superia, some Velvia, etc..) but
there's not much air conditioning in Cuba so it's best to buy your film
ahead of time because you don't know how long it's been there. Disregard
the regulations on how much film you can bring in because it's never
What about AA batteries?
No problem in Havana.
Any specific airport/travel troubles
in relation to photo equipment/film?
No hassles at the airport as of early 2001, I'm not sure if anything
has changed though. One important note: Although there is almost no
crime in Cuba, pilfering of luggage at the airport is a problem. Lock
up all your luggage. Many people will even seal their luggage in plastic
wrap (actually a pretty good idea).
If you weren't staying in an "official"
hotel, what was the electricity situation?
Even in casas, you can get electricity. I think it was 220 but not sure.
I had no trouble keeping my PDA charged with it's 110/220V charger.
From what I remember, the prongs are the same.
Would someone be able to plug in a battery
Yes if it takes 220V.
Any particular visa/permission issues
from your particular country (I guess this really only applies to people
from the USA)?
In the US, you can get permission by going through a photo workshop,
having relatives there, if you're a journalist, or if you have good
reason to be there. The law actually doesn't prohibit you from traveling
to Cuba, specifically it only prohibits you from spending more than
$8(?) a day there (effectively prohibiting travel though). Otherwise,
there are no barriers to entry really. There's no Visa required, just
a Tourist Card which is easily obtained at wherever you are buying your
plane ticket (the card is $15).
Any other hints or suggestions?
Have fun, getting to see Cuba now is a unique experience. Get to know
the people, they are great. Don't let the hustlers get to you, talk
to them with a smile and you will actually enjoy the conversation. You
will be propositioned quite often, be aware of the consequences of your
actions. Rent a car and head out to the countryside if you can. The
countryside is gorgeous and you will have the roads all to yourself.
Don't develop any film there, I had a roll of E-6 turn out 2 stops under
because exhausted chems were used. Have a mojito at La Bodeguito del
Medio. It's a touristy thing to do but it's popular for good reason.