Another (very long) day in Cuba

This was my most favorite day.  Liz and I went out on our own and we really got to see the real Cuba.  We began our day at Rena Perez's home.  She spoke to us the first morning giving us a total rundown of Cuba today.  She was born in Cooperstown, went to school in Paris and met her husband there.  He was in Paris after being exiled in the Batista regime.  He was called back after Castro too power in 1959 and she returned with him.  They raised their family there.  Her husband was essentially the diplomat to Russia for the Cuban Government.  She is amazing and it is obvious that she mourns her country daily as she bemoans what was and is.  The country is slowly sliding into bankruptcy, the buildings are crumbling, the marketplaces barely exist.  

We met Rena at her home and she showed us all the things that she pickles and makes.  This is a pretty smart way to keep the products when you don't have any glass jars.  The plastic bag is held in the bottom of an old plastic water bottle.  

Rena has her own garden in the back too.  She also makes cakes which she sells to the local hotel.

Rena took us first to her local marketplace where you can only buy things in pesos which is the local currency that tourists do not have access to.  You can see meat on the left, vegetables on the right.

Meat man.



This guy is taking coconuts and using a machine to grate the meat.  Then they put it in small cups and sell it.

Rena then took us over to the Mercado.  In 1961 this place was booming.  It was the market you had to get to at 5am to get the best products.  The place was bustling with all types of vendors.  Now it is completely destroyed and hanging by a thread.  This is a view of the marketplace from a set of stairs I went up.  The second floor is inhabitable.

Here are the meat men.

Vegetable guy with ifnger
This guy was laughing at me and obviously giving me the finger but in jest.  This picture gives you a good idea of the feel of the place.


Tomato sauce made by the vegetable lady and sold in recycled bottles.

When you leave to go into a different area this is one of the old buildings.  In the 60's large trucks used to back up into here and unload their wares for the day.  Look at it now.

In the back is the chicken sellers.  There were about 8 cages with roosters, baby chicks and other poultry.

This person bought one to take home.

Around the corner is the flower area.

Across the street is are a few other stores including ones where you can use your ration ticket.  Here is another butcher.

A sandwich shop.

A Government ration store to buy items.

This is what the streets look like in this area.

Then we drove over to another area that Rena wanted to show us.  We were lucky enough to walk into the Havana Culinary Institute.  The President was there too and he gave us some of their cookbooks and we got to talk to the chefs.

This is their stove.  

Here is where they conduct classes.  

Doll lady
Then we wandered over to a church.  In front of the church these ladies are allowed to sell the wares that they made for a few hours a day.  I bought two small dolls.  

Buldingacross teh street
This building is across the street from the church.

Inside the church.  Most of the churches were built here around 1905 and onward.

We took Rena home and stopped in the park near here home.  These trees are amazing.  Had to take a picture.

Outdoorslunch cafe laurent
Liz and I met up with the group at Cafe Laurent.  Beautiful outdoor porch.  

I went to see a few artists home while LIz exchanged her tickets.  She needed to get back earlier. This artist is Sandra Ramos.  She is very profliic and has a NY gallery.  She is allowed to travel freely and a large chunk of her sales go to the Government but that is the exchange for her life in Cuba.  Her sister showed us her work that hangs throughout their home.  Her first series was around suitcases as in you can't take it all with you.

Landofthe blind
I bought this piece called the land of the blind.  She uses this one elementary school girl who almost represents Alice in Wonderland in all of her pieces.  As this girl looks to the future, salutes the flag and wonders about life in Cuba in most of her work.

Liz picked me up after she was done and our driver took us into local neighborhoods.  This little boy was playing soccer in the square.

Apartment building near square
This resembles the apartment buildings around this square.

Then he took us to a Government shopping mall.  The place was packed.  Inside were stores that sold anything from boxes of tvs and blenders to shampoo and clothes.  This is all through ration books or pesos.

Then we drove outside of town to go to a wholesale farmers market.  The vendors are given goods from the farmer to sell to people, restaurants and hotels. 

The garlic man.

Check out those shallots in his trunk.

Pineapple man.

Cabbage truck.

These guys were happy to pose for photo.

These guys wanted to get in on the photo action too.

A real glimpse into the underbelly of Cuba.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Janet Hanson

    Riveting Joanne! The photojournalist in you is firing on all cylinders! Thanks for sharing and for daring to leave the safety of the guided tour!

    1. Gotham Gal

      our guided tour was from a woman who has lived there for 50+ years so this is her Cuba.

  2. William Mougayar

    I’m amazed at the number of old cars there. They must have a knack for maintaining these old cars.It is depressing to see the poverty and run-down status of many of these places.

    1. Gotham Gal

      They have an entire system built around maintaining the carsYes utterly depressing

    2. LE

      Same with the cars.My first thought was that given a fixed set of cars (and so many years) it’s amazing that they are able to keep repairing the cars.I guess they don’t have to many cases where cars are totaled and end up junked. They are also more likely to make it work no matter what the condition. Here you just get a check from the insurance company and it ends up in the junkyard.All those cars are the type without electronics so they can be repaired and maintained with just mechanical skills.If the revolution had come a bit later (when cars had electronics) the situation would be much different. Because modern day cars (and really even kitchen appliances washing machines and every day things) need more than mechanical skills to keep working. (Diagnostic tools and you can’t fix a chip that goes bad). An old mechanical device can be kept working with a machine shop that can fabricate parts and mechanics.Some things do wear out (like tires) so that they are importing those obviously.I know when I was in the printing business all equipment that couldn’t be sold here was all sent to south america where it was gobbled up, repaired and used. There are people operating out of Miami that just specialize in taking things from the US that we have worn out and sending it south.

      1. William Mougayar

        And these cars would be worth a fortune if shipped back to the US to vintage cars collectors.

        1. LE

          I don’t know about that because I would think that most car collectors wouldn’t exactly get into the wear and tear and patchwork on the cars.Also one of the things you will notice if you even watch movies using old cars is that the body panels are not clean pressed from the original molds. You can actually see the body work because the panels aren’t perfect they have been grinded and buffed where repairs have been made. This detracts from the value in a collectors eye. The closer to new the better.Disclaimer: I am not a collector so you could be right! (But I had a neighbor growing up and I used to take pictures of his cars which were near perfect).

  3. gchittim

    Thank you for these posts! When I was in 9th grade (in 1994) I was lucky enough to go on a church trip to Havana and San Antonio de los BaƱos. A number of the adults on the trip were able to solicit donations from American pharma companies to hand carry basic medications — antibiotics, blood pressure, analgesics, etc… In addition to delivering these to the undersupplied (but overstaffed) hospitals, we also spent time doing some Habitat for Humanity type work with a sister church. Luckily we were also able to act as tourists in Havana and the surrounding territories. One of the defining events of my life, and given that it occurred long before digital cameras, there pictures are bringing back amazing memories.

  4. Emil Sotirov

    Seriously moved by this post… had trouble scrolling down.

  5. Emil Sotirov

    Blogging at its best.

  6. AG

    It’s too easy to forget how people live in other parts of the world.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It certainly is.It is so important to see how others live outside your own backyard. That could even mean a trip to a new city an hour away

  7. TanyaMonteiro

    Fascinating place. Curious to learn more about Sandra Ramos. What an experience, thanks for taking me there in my mind.