According to www.tripcuba.org Varadero has, “…its incredible fine sand beach and warm, crystal-clear waters, making it one of the best beaches in the world.” I’ve lived near the ocean almost all of my 74+ years, but have never been much of a beach goer, so I can’t speak to use of the superlative in their description. It was picture postcard perfect though, and I do know something about that. Our group had taken a day trip from Havana, stopping in Matanzas for some education and demonstration of Santeria, and then on to Varadero. I have a vague memory that this woman, a member of our group, was an executive with the World Bank in Washington D.C., but don’t quote me. The older I get, the more memories I have, and the less accurate they are. More importantly, she had some great hats!
Up early, I walked down to the Malecon to watch sunrise over Morro Castle, guarding the entrance to Havana harbor. Just a few months earlier a student asking a technical question at a Nikon School mentioned he was preparing for a trip to Cuba. Asking him more about the trip I found out the total cost for round-trip airfare from Miami, a week’s stay in a tourist hotel in Old Havana, with breakfast, all transfers, and some tour guiding from a professor at the University of Havana, was barely more than it would cost me to stay home. It was a fascinating experience. Walking around at all hours of the day and night, with lots of camera gear (which almost put me over the ridiculous weight limit of 22 lbs. allow to be taken there), I never felt unsafe. or unwelcome. On the contrary, I’ve never been propositioned more. The decades long American embargo seems absurd considering people from anywhere else in the world can go there routinely; lots of contact and communication between people would have to be more productive and beneficial to Cubans and American businesses.
It was Monday morning and I was headed home from a weekend teaching Nikon School in Denver. There was fresh snow on the ground, mostly unmarked by human activity so far, except for how the snow traced and outlined contours. As we were boarding the flight, some crew member mentioned we would not be a full plane because the runway was not long enough for taking off in the cold with a full load. I’m generally an aisle seat guy, but there was an open window seat next to me, and the window pane was essentially clear of smudging and scratches, two things seldom true, especially simultaneously, and the abstract patterns on the ground were intriguing visually; a trifecta.
A few days earlier I had spotted this long, tree-lined drive that rose up into a large stand of trees that likely masked a home and farm buildings; the scene practically yelled at me, “Take My Picture!” At the first opportunity, I took three of my workshop students with me and went back to check it out. We talked about trying not to trespass by staying in what we assumed would be a public right-of-way close alongside the road where the driveway ended. A couple of minutes into walking up and down the roadside looking for the perfect (my perfect) angle, a car pulled over, stopped, and an older gentleman got out. As he approached, I figured we were busted and hoped we could get by with a quick apology. It turned out it was his driveway, his trees, the trees he had planted along the drive when he was a young man. He liked that we found the scene attractive, but did mention that now the trees were bigger and he wished he had planted them farther apart. He invited us up to his home. A hard-packed dirt courtyard, with heavy tree shading, and an assortment of chairs and tables made it clear this was the family hangout. He introduced us to his wife, his brother, his brother’s wife, and his mother. They served us cold drinks and snacks (not prepackaged). He took us on a tour of his beautiful home and art collection. I went through at least three rolls of film photographing this woman, his mother. She said something about a crazy photographer, but she was laughing, and I did not seem able to stop. All of this communication happened even though none of them spoke any English, and only one of us spoke just a basic amount of Italian.
Near the end of the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Judy Dench’s character says, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected.” Maggie Smith’s character replies, “Most things don’t. But, you know, sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”