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I just got back from our 2015 Cuba tour, and as usual, it was a remarkable experience. After being there 4 times, it was nice to revisit friends made throughout the years and even nicer to be walking down the street and see a musician friend open up his door and yell, “Tonito!” Our CD store friend, Tamara, upon seeing her walking in Trinidad shouted, “Tonito!” I got the same greeting at a local music club, a local restaurant bar and even by Elaine at the reception desk in Havana. It’s very far out, to say the least. Of course, as a jazz drummer, making new musician friends is always great. At the Cultural center in Trinidad, Philip taught me a conga pattern (I need to practice), then showed us around the various rooms, where Philip and I engaged in a spontaneous jam session w/ shekere’s, that was video’d by John! Thx JB! Great memory.

When teaching our location workshops, we always make it a point to tell students that when walking on rocks (e.g. Acadia, the Smokies) to watch where they are stepping as it’s very easy to step on an uneven rock, while looking elsewhere, and immediately fall. Well, guess what?? We have the exact type situation on the cobblestone streets of Trinidad. The streets are very uneven and are ripe for falling if one is not paying attention. As I was rushing back to take out a group, I stepped from the sidewalk onto the cobblestone street, not looking down, and felt my foot slip. Knowing what was happening, I dropped to one knee immediately in order to minimize whatever injury, if any, would occur. I was helped back up by a cuban who happened to be in the right place, and I briskly walked back to the hotel. But….I knew something wasn’t right. Long story, short….I sustained a small fracture. Luckily, we had a couple of nurses, concerned clients, and a pharmacist on our tour, so my initial help got me home. After an X-ray, I’m in a “wooden” shoe for 6-8 weeks.

We went out at dawn more than in previous years. The mixture of natural and artificial light was very cool. (Tip: In order to take advantageous of mixed lighting, I have the WB set to sunny, which allows the light to mix without any correction).

It’s a good practice to look at and analyze everything you see in every medium in order to expand your visual palette. One of my favorite movies is Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s a very dark movie about real estate salesmen, and is actually used as a training movie for salesmen. But, the reason I filed it away in my visual memory bank was for the stark juxtaposition of bleakness and vivid color. This is precisely why I like going out at marginal times of day when street lights (usually tungsten) are on, coupled with stairwell lights (tungsten, fluorescent, gaslight), and the dawn/dusk sky (in this case, pale blue with wisps of pink clouds). Here’s an example:

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With the ever increasing tourist trade, photographing at dawn and dusk are the least populated and, to me, the most interesting in terms of light.

Here’s a few tips for anyone thinking of visiting Cuba (Havana and Trinidad):

1. Always have CUCs (coins) with you primarily for tipping.

2. Also, instead of tipping ($), consider bringing “gifts.” (e.g. skin creme for the ladies, baseball hats, baseball cards, crayons/paper, pencils, diapers, drum sticks, guitar picks, etal). Keep in mind that almost everything we dispose of is of use to the incredibly resourceful Cuban people.

3. Learn key Spanish phrases (not difficult) to illustrate your interest in them and their culture.

4. Before taking their picture, ask permission (Una photo, por favor?), or if even minimally conversational, engage in a short dialogue. If they decline, say “ok” and walk on.

5. When you have a shot set up and someone is walking into it, or opens a door, don’t hesitate. Press the shutter! These spontaneous images can be a photo highlight of the trip.

5. The streets are uneven, especially the cobble stone streets in old Havana, and even more especially, the cobble stone streets in Trinidad. Always watch where you are walking. (refer to 2nd paragraph)

6. There are no emission standards, and you will probably see the veil of pollution over Havana as you fly into and out of the country. It shouldn’t be much of a problem as long as you DO NOT have your windows open in your room when there, especially if you’re inclined to let in some fresh air when sleeping. There is no fresh air in Havana.

The Cuban people are immensely talented, intelligent, politically aware, and are very excited about our renewed relations. Americans are known to be the most generous, thoughtful, and kind of all tourists. Over the years, Americans were not held in the highest esteem. That has changed on this trip, although a couple of young Cubans wanted to know if Obama was controlled by the mafia or if the mafia was controlled by Obama. No joke. I said that neither was true, but what do I know?

Here’s a gallery from our 2015 Cuba Tour:

 All in all, a trip to Cuba is, I would say given proximity and the easing of  restrictions, a mandatory trip for photographers. One can only imagine the changes that may ensue when travel becomes easy from the US, but it will certainly be a bit more crowded, and perhaps some of the old cars may be bought up by collectors.

My advice? Go within the next 2 years if not sooner. It will take a little while for the infrastructure to catch up with the impending boost in tourism from the States.

The experience each time was like stepping back in time. Always incredible.

MILFORD, CT SEMINAR NOTICE: Our site was down for seminar registrations during a portion of our remake. For anyone who tried to register for the Milford, CT Creativity Seminar and could not, the site registration page is now OPEN For Business!

Thanks for taking the time and we’ll see ya online!

Tonito