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Midwest Travel Photographer • Visiting Cuba On A “In Support Of The Cuban People” Visa

For this blog post, I’ve asked my wife Judy to be a guest blogger. Judy and I took a trip to Cuba to celebrate Judy’s 50th birthday, so I thought it would be great to get her thoughts and insight on our trip and Cuba. Judy usually lets me sway her into indulging my travel desire to include schnitzels, pilsners and visiting my family in Germany, but this being her 50th birthday trip, our destination was up to her. Judy is fluent in Spanish and has a strong desire to learn about other cultures. With only a long weekend available for our trip, Cuba rose to the top of the list. Being a photographer, taking pictures is always important to me and Judy is nice enough to allow me to bring along some gear and spend some time behind the camera. But she has also taught me to put the camera down and live in the moment. It also helps that Judy is visually friendly and is nice enough to pose or walk through a photo when I ask her (that’s Judy in the top photo)

Thanks for looking and thanks Judy for being my first guest blogger!

Mike

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For my 50th birthday, Mike took me to Cuba, which has been on my bucket list for years. Maybe he wanted to make his wife happy, but the colorfully preserved 1950’s cars, and tropical old-world images definitely tilted the scales.  

In order to travel to Cuba, American citizens must visit with a designated purpose; travel purely for the reason of tourism does not qualify.  We travelled under the category of ‘in support of the Cuban people’, which means the majority of our time should be spent in activities directly benefiting the Cuban people.  Cubans who have extra space, or can offer a unique experience to visitors advertise their services through platforms such as Air B&B, and we either connected with them directly or with family members living in the US who helped serve as intermediary.  

From the moment of our arrival, it was clear we weren’t in Green Bay anymore.  From the absence of billboards pushing goods or services, the spotty internet service, and buildings sporting propaganda laden verses from its adopted son, Che Guevara, Cuba was unapologetic in its stark relief from its neighbors 90 miles to the north.

The first home we stayed in was located in the heart of Old Havana; this is the oldest part of the city exemplified by ornate but crumbling buildings mixed with beautifully restored structures.   We stayed in Havana for the first half of our trip, and enjoyed the sounds of salsa and abundant rum cocktails.  The family with whom we stayed was friendly and accommodating, and while our room lacked the comforts of American standards – imagine a 6’2 man in a 6’3 room – Doña Elena made up for this with her warmth and concern for her guests. This was definitely true of all of our hosts: they welcomed us into their homes, made delicious breakfasts and were generous with assistance.

The second half of our trip was spent in Trinidad, which is a UNESCO Heritage site.  This beautifully preserved colonial city offered stunning views from bell towers, colorful buildings and all night dancing, which sadly was past our bedtime. It is also home to a national park which boasts a 200 foot waterfall and cave swimming.  One of our most memorable experiences was a tour of this park with a young man who was a doctor, but could support his family better by giving daily tours of the park to nature lovers from all over the world.

Cuba was an adventure, and while it wasn’t without challenges  (i.e. lack of seatbelts, difficulties finding household items, two currencies to keep track of, did I mention spotty Internet?), it definitely was worth the effort to go.  I’m grateful to Mike for being willing to experience life outside of his comfort zone. I think we were rewarded with some phenomenal photos.

As Mike would say “Thanks for looking” and I promise our next adventure will include bier and schnitzel.

Judy

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