It had rained all morning and by the time we parked in Bejucal’s town square it was soaked. Ankle-deep ponds had formed around the street corners forcing pedestrians to leap as they crossed (most unsuccessfully), while raging streams flanked the curbs.
Rubber-booted locals stomped against the downpour, splashing anyone that dared to walk close by. Cyclists resembling circus performers, balanced their rides with one hand while holding umbrellas in the other. Townspeople congregated in doorways or under awnings waiting for the deluge to break. Unlucky souls who walked without protection, trudged through the shower hunched over wearing tight, pinched expressions.
Thankfully, I was prepared.
Eduardo—one of the Cuban photographers leading our motley crew of Santa Fe Photographic Workshops attendees—lent me his waterproof poncho, leaving only my jeans below the knees and my sneakers to face the rain. I gambled that I would survive soaked shins and soggy shoes.
More important, my camera was safe, tucked inside my handy-dandy waterproof case slash hotel laundry bag. I’d made my handy-dandy DIY DSLR rain cover and I was worry free. It was a makeshift solution but it beat spending a gazillion dollars on a manufactured cover. It wasn’t the first time I’d made one and it definitely wouldn’t be the last.
It was our 3rd day in Cuba and our fist trip outside of Havana. Our “assignment” was simple: explore the town, make some pictures and have fun. And despite the watery onslaught, we did.
Bejucal is a small municipality 50 miles south of Havana and boasts two claims to fame: it was the terminal station for the country’s first railroad, and actor Andy Garcia (Godfather Three, The Untouchables, Ocean’s 11-13) called it home until he was five.
As you might expect, Bejucal’s vibe was different from Havana. The pace was relaxed compared to the capital’s frenetic energy, and its physical size and population was tiny. It was the kind of place I imagined everyone grew up knowing each other. The buildings were lower (only one or two stories) and far less ornate—no finely molded ceilings, no remnants of stained glass windows or sweeping staircases. What they shared was color and lots of it. Not even the dark skies could dim the striking hues that lined the city’s streets.
Head down against the assault, I ran from one awning to the next over a period of 2 hours, taking time to play conversational charades with the locals (my Spanish is pathetic), and take pictures when the feeling struck, and in Bejucal that was more often than not.
Below are some images from my adventure.
When photographing men in Cuba, you’re likely to see this right off the bat: a thumbs up or in some cases the ubiquitous peace sign. If some guy was really motivated, I’d get both simultaneously. Most of the time I would shoot though it until they got bored and did something less gimmicky. But in this case there was something about this man’s kind eyes and smile that won me over.
A colorful Cuban Cowboy. How could I not take a pic?
I wandered into a small vestibule of a building where a few men were hanging out, playing dominoes and waiting out the rain. I asked if I could take some photos and most of the men were too shy, except this guy who walked right to the door and struck a pose. Not this pose. He started with something a bit James Bond meets catalog model, but when he started to smoke, that’s when I grabbed this shot.
As you can see, the kids in Bejucal are very introverted.
This man was one of the sweetest people I met during the trip and I could kick myself that I can’t remember his name. I thought I wrote it down, alas I did not. He had one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever photographed. He just oozed kindness.
Three puppies unphased by the rain. Every now and then one would open an eye to see what I was doing, otherwise they never moved an inch.
One of many cyclists who whizzed by me balancing umbrellas like circus performers.
A very sweet, immensely shy young man that I met inside an empty event venue on the edge of the park. It took me a few minutes to coax him into a photo. Normally I wouldn’t push but I got the sense he actually wanted to be photographed, he just felt odd about it. Eventually he sat for me for me 10 minutes but it was this contemplative moment during a short break that I liked best.
The turquoise bars masked a walk up bakery window where Bejucal residents stood in line to buy loaves of freshly-baked goodness. This guy, loaf in hand, purchased his seconds before but couldn’t wait a minute to smoke his stogie.
Gotta love it: two guys riding a tractor around the city square. I liked the way the vehicle looked against the green and red of the building as they drove past.
I’m pretty sure this guy was walking down the middle of the street so that he could avoid the little rivers that ran parallel to the curb.
Serendipity. That’s what you call it when you’re shooting an old, green vintage car and another old green vintage car drives by on cue. Bonus: When one of the passengers decides to open the door and scream, HOLA!
An extremely nice couple that let me spend 15 minutes photographing their car.
An hour into our Bejucal visit, the rain started to lift. Not all the way mind you, but enough that you could walk around without feeling you were taking a shower. This guy planted himself in the park at the center of the square with a glass of red wine and waved me over to take his photograph. I wholeheartedly obliged.
I was photographing the blue house across the street, patiently waiting for a person or car to come by that would add to the shot. I was so focused on God knows what that when this purple gem rolled by. It wasn’t until later when I looked at the camera’s LCD and realized fellow photographer, Donna Aceto, had been waving at me the whole time. She’d hired a Bejucal taxi to take pictures of the town from its interior. If you’d like to see her fabulous favorite, click here.
*The images above were taken while an invited guest of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. The writing and sentiment are my own.