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Cuba – Day One

The tour was organized by Santa Fe Photo Workshops. The group met at 7:15 AM in the Carribean Room on the third floor of the Marriott Hotel Miami Airport. There were three instructors, Nevada Weir, Jennifer Selman, and my instructor, Raul Tuzon. Raul is particularly interesting because he is Cuban born but left as a young child and this is to be his first time back. You can google these folks and see that they are all highly respected, professional photographers with impressive resumes. It was a great opportunity to travel and study with them.

After receiving our travel documents and some instructions on what to expect processing customs in Cuba, we boarded hotel shuttles for Miami International Airport. Outbound processing was pretty much standard with the typical security scans etc.  Although this was a charter flight, the aircraft, a Boeing 737, and crew were American Airlines.  We were not the only group on the flight. I met a nice lady from Georgia who was part of a group transporting medical supplies to Cuba as partof a humanitarian effort.

Arriving Jose Marti Airport

From takeoff to landing at Jose Marti Airport was about an hour. In Cuba we went through several layers of customs and security. First was passport control where they took the entry half of our visa and photographed us with a small cam corder. “Welcome to Cuba” they said, then passed us to customs where we surrendered our declaration sheet. Picking up our luggage, then we had to show our luggage claim slip to an official to show we had the correct bags, then on exiting the terminal, we had to show it again.

Finally we met our tour guides and were shepherded to our waiting motor coach.  The coach was a nice big air conditioned one. Not new but  in decent shape. A short city tour ended at the National Hotel where we given time to explore and photograph. The grand old hotel was once owned and run by the US mafia we’re told.

Next is lunch at a local restaurant. Chicken, pork or fish are the options so I pick the fish, which is mild and served with fries. I enjoy a conversation with Agnes and her son Zack from northern California. She relates stories of her activism from attempting to save the redwoods to recently fighting Governor Brown’s decision to cut funding to school busing for rural school districts in the state.

At the Hotel Parque Central we get our room assignments and overall view of the week to come.

Pool at National Hotel

Once unpacked we head out to scout out and photograph the immediate neighborhood on our way to the hotel Saratoga where we received a presentation on the history and basic concepts of digital photography by Cuban Photographer Jorge Gavilondo. Jorge’s story is a juxtaposition of Raul’s. Jorge was born in Chicago and moved to Cuba in 1950 when his father decided to return to Cuba. The presentation was excellent and very professionally done. To see some of Jorge’s extensive portfolio, go to

Afterwards I headed out on my own to take a few night shots of the impressive old Capitol , el

Capitolio. I particularly liked the shadow cast by the front lit statue.

Capitolio Night Shot

Back at the hotel I had a quick pizza dinner and then crashed!

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