Celeste van Rooyen - Photography

The travel chronicles : C U B A

Every time I go traveling I think by myself : could there be a destination to top this one?
I actually have so much to say on this topic of traveling but I’ll try to keep this one short.

I love to wake up in a new city. With that, I also love to disappear sometimes where no-one knows where I am, with only the unknown – anything can happen – adventure ahead. Just the thought of breathing in the vibe of new cultures, new experiences/learning and the feel, finding and documenting of total freedom and inner peace, makes me secretly happy.
Traveling is soo important!! For many reasons you will only realize afterwards. It provides a different kind of EQ or IQ, called: street/life smarts. Life lesson: I especially believe that couples should go traveling together before getting married – it make or breaks you!

When I close my eyes, and think back of what was my highlights and what is CUBA really…

I FEEL:
the humanity and personality as a whole of the cubans that is formed by history and lack of outside influence. I told myself to shy away from writing about politics but let me just say one thing: Every country has its problems. When I was there, I wondered what is better: Living in a country where you have no fear for crime and receive free medical and schooling but have no money to further ambitions or to leave your country; or, to come from a country where everything is expensive, nothing is free and crime changes the way you live and think – a different kind of freedom and restriction.

I HEAR:
the music and vibe of the city: Everywhere From the tourist areas where live bands perform salsa, till dark alleys where the sound of happiness echo for miles. Brigitte (the key person who crossed my path and steered me the cuba way) was right: “Cuba is one of few (if not only) poverty stricken countries where music and art is the way of living and contribute to the city’s ambience.”
Thanks to Charmain’s tip we went to the oldest must see cabaret show: TROPICANA

I SEE:
the old cars everywhere – I feel like I’m in a movie – amazing how the buildings and cars and many things are still as it was back then – you can just imagine your still in that time warp. Around every corner you have guys working on their super polished cars!

I TASTE:
the best beer in the whole world: Crystal

I SMELL:
the real sweet cigar smell everywhere; its addictive. And you get so use to it that when you don’t smell it anymore you quickly become aware of your recent fortune and irritated that it was not there anymore!
Which brings me to the highlight of my trip: The cigar tobacco factory. WOW. Why is it that it’s the moments where I could not take ‘the shot’ – the images that got away – that stays with me the most & I remember the clearest. This is the only place where I was not allowed to shot images and the place that I wanted to document the most!! The repetitive movements, the tired expressions, colour schemes dark and musty, texture of hands and leafs etc. Any idea how much work goes into a cigar? How the different parts of the plant are being used for different reasons in making the best cigar in the world? For a salary per person of 20 dollars a month. (average salary of Cuba). It’s like wine, once you know what goes into it, you have new found respect for the product. How interesting that Cuba has 8 cigar factories that produces about 20 000 cigars per day. The workers have a reader that reads the morning newspaper to them and in the afternoon reads any interesting info for 45 more minutes. How classic was the tour leader (as you would find all across the country) that provided the info with a cigar in her hand and from time to time, puff from it. Luckily I got a shot of her and the outside and entrance of the building.
Mike my travel partner noted: “where in the world do you see that the only street litter are cigar buds.”

My route was from Dubai (Air France) (and yes people don’t let the embassy tell you any different : if you are on a discounted ticket you DO need a schengen even for transit), France, Cuba Habana, Trinidad to trek with horses, Varadero and back to Centre Cuba Habana. To do next time, a very important must see area that I did not have enough time for is: Viñales (with real plantations and houses and rocking chairs unique to the area)

Accommodation: Don’t stay in hotels! The CASA’s have a little sign on the outside of the doors. If Elsa (Elsa y Julio Roque between Colon & Trocadero Str – Consulado 162) does not have space for you, then she is well connected and will for sure hook you up with one of her friends all over Cuba. She would be the main contact point though due to her excellent English. Otherwise we also stayed at: Alicia Beaton, Crespo no 10, El San Lazaro y Malecon, Tel 8641520.

Travel photography tips:

1) A camera attract attention. Always ask – show respect! Put others’ needs before your own! People are still human no matter their situation. The people in Cuba did not mind having their picture taken. Take some soap, toiletries, pens and old clothes with you as your going to want to give something at some point.
2) Do your research: learn everything about the destination, history, learn some Spanish, and while you do that, from magazines, internet etc. see the angles of images taken of that destination by others. I also start with the internet: Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. But still nothing beats word of mouth. Even in normal day to day life. Saying that, there is some important travel lesson that I always come across over and over again all over the world even in well spoken English countries: When you ask for information, no matter what your gut says or what the person might say or look like, ask the same question a few times to different people in different ways and then decide what to do. This might just save you a lot of time, money and heartache. Double check everything.
3) You need to move around to find your subject but sometimes I just go sit in a corner a bit out of the eye and let my subjects move pass me. Rather do something than regret everything.
4) See how Seasons, sunsets (very important), day and night, can change the same image into a world of different looks and feels. Always look back, even up and down.
5) Use all your styles to capture feeling: composition, panoramas, vignette, silhouettes, blurring movement, glaring against the sun + your own style. There’s no rules really but as in all types of photography, photography is light and understanding and applying this, with planning and vision, you cannot go wrong.

I guess you had to be there and I hope I provided you with some essential info to build your own adventure and to get a bit of feel for the place. I think the whole country is an UNESCO world heritage – have to experience it before change comes. It’s just one of those places where a camera is just not enough: take a video camera.

Now, when I close my eyes, and think of a place of peace, my heart longs back to my Grandfather’s farm in the Boesmanland. Home is where the heart is. I’m really grateful for my fortunes.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? Life is about the journey, and balance and not always the destination.

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8 comments to The travel chronicles : C U B A

  • Mike

    Amazing!! I can still smell the place! It’s still part of me.
    And these are just a selection of the photos Celeste took – there are so many more fantastic images.
    I really feel you are conveying Cuba with these images..i LOVE the light in the Barber shop…makes it SO real!
    Potato Seller Man is still such a huge memory…what a human being.
    Iconic, epic, real life and I’m so pleased we got to see it, even just for a moment…and that your camera managed to capture some of these moments. Suppose that is what it’s for!!
    XX

  • Jean Sebastien

    Brilliant and Vibrant! Bravo for the dancer shot, this would have been a hard one to get!

  • Stephenie

    WOW!!! and wow again Celeste. These pictures of Cuba is amazing, specially the ones with the guys playing dominoes. the pictures are truly mesmerizing and i now feel like i have travelled to Cuba via them….
    Keep up the good work.

  • Tazzi

    Wow……one can always rely on Celeste to best portray the ‘feel’ of a place or event in her photography.

    I have never been to Cuba – have always wanted to go.
    The first thing that struck me was how, in this day and age, Cuba can still have this “Grease Lightning” quality about it. Not only obvious in the cars, but as Mike commented above, take a look at the picture of the Barber shop…..the chairs and the woman’s hair style!!

    Not forgetting the picture of the ‘green-eyed lover boy’……..now who does that make you think of at a glance? A young John Travolta maybe?? All that’s missing is a black, over gelled, C-shaped curl plastered to his forehead!!

    Beautiful pics Celesty Poo………..I was drawn to the pic of the room with all the pictures on the walls for some reason??

  • celeste van rooyen

    Thanks guys! I hope I don’t get in trouble for ‘potato man’ having a thumbs down while showing the book. He was actually talking about Rahoul here and not about the main man. Wish I had a video camera for the place – an essential piece of equipment. Wished you where all there with me. Image that! xoxo

  • Marius

    Good shots Celeste,

    I like the way you use different composition styles and multiple frames. The background on many of your shots tell different stories relating to Cuba.
    Technical camera work is great, the shots where the subject is intentionally out of focus create great craftsmanship and finally good variety using different colours schemes. Loads of shots with stories, emotions and humour, well done.

    Surely you have a better shot than your second photo?

    The “women smoking a cigar” is a classic shot.

    Good Job!

    ;-)

  • lynn

    wow celeste, these pictures are amazing.

  • Vanya

    Unexplainable! You are great! In a great place!

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