Dawn patrol-we head out to photograph at 6:15 AM. It’s still dark and we follow one of our guide/photographers, stepping carefully to avoid potholes, broken side walks and piles of doggie dew as we maneuver the unlit and poorly lit streets.

The street we are taking is a popular shopping area by day and there are many interesting shops and the buildings are pretty attractive. We end up at the harbor area just as it begins to become light outside. There’s a cruise ship that appears to be getting ready to depart. In the distance we can see the lighthouse at El Moro. As it gets lighter and I’m getting hungrier we start back towards our hotel.

Breakfasts at the hotel were fantastic. A huge buffet with just about anything you could want.  I tended to start with fruit, some of which I was unsure of what it was. I’m pretty sure I had papaya, which was delicious. Some of the fruit juices were thick and of colors we don’t normally see in juices. Loved trying the pink, grey and green ones. Wonderful variety of breads. I’m not a big egg eater but one could have them prepared for you in a variety of ways. I did try the bacon and sausages, which were excellent. This was normally my big meal of the day.

This morning we had a three hour bus tour of Havana.  I nearly missed it because i was stuck in an elevator between floors for 20 minutes. Fortunately there was a hotel employee in there with me with a cell phone, because we could not get anyone on the built-in elevator phone .  Maintenance finally pried open the doors and I squeezed through the partial opening to the mezzanine floor. I was really glad to get out of that hot, humid elevator and onto the air conditioned bus. The first stop was at Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro, a fort guarding the harbor and a lighthouse.  An impressive structure, similar to that guarding San Juan harbor in Puerto Rico.  The big difference was the lack of any kind of OSHA type guard rails or encumbrances designed to prevent one falling to his death or injury. It was neat to climb down into some of the dark inner tunnels until you realized the floor you were walking on was litter with trash, dog poop, and multiple evidences of romantic interludes.

Next stop was a pretty square where there was a book sale going on and some big black women were dressed in colorful period dress and would pose with you for pictures for money. It looked a bit cheesy to me. But a few guys ponied up a few CUCs and had their pictures taken with the women and got big red lipstick marks on their faces to boot! There were some amazing old books, well over a hundred years old, in English as well as Spanish. I opted for a more recent picture book on the Bay of Pigs invasion. Where else would you get the Cuban perspective on this historic event?

Next stop was the Plaza de la Revolucin with another statue of Jose Marti. I was amazed at the lack of icons commemorating Castro, while there were plenty of images of Che and other “heroes of the revolution”. Of immediate interest to everyone was the line up of Coco taxis, which resemble something Barney Rubble would ride in. And the vintage American cars were everywhere!

Back at the hotel we had lunch and then  were introduced to our Cuban photographers, Edwardo and Alfredo,  and saw a slide show of their work. They are both shooting Nikons but not the real expensive stuff most of us are carrying. Still their work was impressive and inspirational. Just like clothes don’t make the man, cameras don’t make the photographer. Eduardo’s work can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJcJ75tHYy0

Next we headed out in groups to shoot some street scenes. One of my favorite shots was when we came across some boys playing ball in the street. One boy in particular was very animated and really into the game. Notice he still had his school backpack on. We found people very friendly and generally liked having their picture taken. Often just showing them the image on the back of the camera was enough to please them. But some did ask for money, gum, candy or other recompense.

We ended our excursion at the Malecon, the sea wall, where I got my next two favorite shots. The fellow playing the trombone on the wall must have been photographed by a number of us, though at that point during the walk when I came across him I had already become separated from the rest of the group. Later, during the critiques by our instructors, I saw that several others had also taken his picture. I guess everyone had given him a few CUCs (convertible pesos used mainly by tourists), because the next day we saw him and he said we had enabled him to purchase fish and oil for his family. Poverty was very evident and widespread.

After the instructor’s critique I went to dinner alone at a local restaurant. Shortly after I was seated a lone young man came in and I invited him to join me. Turned out he was a German radiologist living in Norway, who was here on vacation and biking his way around. We had a nice conversation about travels, world affaires, etc.  The dinner of fish and lobster was great and I found I like the Cuban beer, especially Buccanero.

Back at the hotel it was time to hit the sack because I was getting up early the next day for “dawn patrol”.