Enigmatic Cuba

 

Spotted clouds dotted the skyline casting shadows over vast green landscapes. Mountainous foothills hugged the edges of homes tucked on the fringes of Santiago de CubaCuba’s second largest city, located on the southeast part of the island. Flying over turquoise waters, from Miami, Fla., to the once closed off island (at least to the most US citizens) I was intrigued with all I would learn and see.

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A wash room in the 1893 Colonial House which now houses foreign travelers in downtown Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. http://www.ambersigman.com

Live Afro-Cuban jazz echoed in the streets. Horse steps sounded on old cobblestone roads through the long vintage curtains of an old colonial home. Unable to afford cars, many locals ride horse carriages to work in the early morning in Santiago de Cuba. Nearly everything in Cuba is an antique; from the tiles on the floors, to the dinnerware, and the century-old rocking chairs. Even plastic bags are something of a rarity.

Enigmatic Cuba fascinated me with its many layers of history. What many Cubans lack in technology and material items, they make up for in with a rich and resilient human connection, perhaps a side-effect of a long and adverse history.

We mainly hear stories of the Cubans who come over on home-made rafts seeking refuge, but we rarely hear stories of the Cubans who stay on the island, who simply live there. There are 11 million of them.

They seemed to have a rare sense of togetherness and connectedness- interacting face-to-face, not so distracted by the machinery of the industrialized world. The islanders fix goods, and re-use them. Things aren’t so disposable in Cuba. This all-together creates a certain kind of magic about the people of Cuba.

“In no other culture that I can think of, is everyone equal and poor, yet lively, and colorful; where people make music in the streets,” a fellow traveler said before tucking herself into bed in an old colonial house built in 1893, in downtown Santiago de Cuba down a beautiful cobblestoned street.

If only those walls could speak.

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Taxi driver Antonio Hernandez with a special permit to bring foreigners outside of city limits drives past small towns in Sierra Maestra mountain region after coming back from the beach. © Amber Sigman Photography

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A man rides horse back near the small village towns in the Sierra Maestra mountain region outside of Santiago de Cuba. Unable to afford cars, many still ride horse carriages in the city to work. © Amber Sigman Photography

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Locals and foreigners at La Gran Piedra outside of Santiago de Cuba. The lights of the island of Jamaica can be seen in the evening from the top of this big rock which is said to weigh over 63,000 pounds. © Amber Sigman Photography

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A little girl waits for her mother to walk her to her class in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Education is very important in Cuba where children are fed two meals per day. University is free . © Amber Sigman

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A man transports food rations of rice by bike, shipped in from Vietnam for the local people near the port of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. © Amber Sigman Photography

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