Back in 2004, I went to Cuba with a non-profit group as an excuse to visit the county and take photos. It was the only way I could legally figure out how to get there. I stayed at a Baptist church in Havana and toured around to meet farmers, students, artists and politicians. I even celebrated my birthday on a beach in Varadero watching Canadiens do something Americans only wished they could, smoke cigars and get wasted on Havana Club.
Over time I lost track of the images I shot,and a story I wrote about the trip was deleted from the internet. But last night while trying to make sense of piles of old film, I came across a CD with these scans. The negatives, sadly, are still yet to be found
Looking through these photos not only reminded me of the joy of shooting the island on film (I didn't own a digital camera at the time), but also the surreal nature of being there in 2004. To set the scene, the U.S. was very much fully-engaged in Iraq and showing zero interest in normalizing relations with Cuba. Fidel Castro was still making sporadic public appearances, though they were becoming fewer and fewer, and they were of course always laced with anti-U.S. rhetoric.
Relations between the U.S. were not the coldest they had ever been, but they were still pretty frosty.
The Cubans I met all wanted warmer relations with the U.S., though they had realistic expectations about just when that would happen. Some 12 years later it seems like just yesterday I was there loading my Nikon FM, yet at the same time, it seems like a hideously-long time to have spent being cut off from such a vibrant and unique place, and people.
Thankfully, the winds of change — reason actually — have finally blown and Havana is open again.