Traveling from Madrid, Spain to the next sister city on the list we arrive in Havana, Cuba. An obvious link here would be the shared language – Spanish – though English is also spoken throughout the island nation as well. Residents of Havana are referred to as Habaneros (yes, like the pepper which originated in the Amazons), and Havana is the Caribbean’s largest city at around 2.1 million residents.
The United States has a longstanding relationship with Cuba, though it chilled in the late 1950s and early 1960s – perhaps a little background is due here. Steam power arrived in Cuba around 1820 and by ~1840, there were six vessels operating on both coasts of the island to transport its commodities. The railroads came in the 1830s, and by 1850 the telegraph had been introduced. American machinery was the driving force for ‘development’ in Cuba, so Americans started to settle on the island during the 4-5 months of the sugar harvest and then returned home for the remainder of the year. Soon the American settlers got into the business of buying local sugar and coffee plantations as well as cattle ranches and tobacco farms. By 1860, there were 2,500 Americans living on the island-nation full time. The panic of 1893, which was fueled by an economic depression in the United States, sent many more Americans to Cuba because of the extremely low-cost of land; and by 1905, there were nearly 13,000 U.S. citizens living on the island.
Another significant incident that connects the United States and Cuba is that of the Cuban Revolution which started in July of 1953 and culminated January of 1959, led by Fidel Castro. Once the Batista regime had been overthrown by Castro and his allies, U.S. President Eisenhower recognized the newly formed government, but relations started to cool soon after. Agrarian reforms and nationalization of industry were the first signs of a strained relationship; and as state action began to consume private businesses, the U.S. stopped buying sugar (hello, corn syrup) and stopped providing oil. The Bay of Pigs invasion further isolated the two countries leader’s chances of compromise. The recent transition of power from Fidel to Raul Castro has led to some governmental philosophy changes, and perhaps the two countries are on the path to reconciliation; but only time will tell.
Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th Century as a shipping port and it served as the conduit for products from the New World to Spain. The British took Havana in the Seven Year’s War in 1762, though as part of a treaty, Spain regained control of Cuba in exchange for present-day Florida. In 1898, the Treaty of Paris ended the Spanish-American War and resulted in Spain turning over control of the island-nation to the United States. And in 1902, Cuba was granted formal independence.
Havana lies on the northern coast of Cuba to the south of the Florida Keys. It enjoys a beautiful, year-round tropical climate that is ripe for tourism. In 2010, the city welcomed 1.2-million visitors, up nearly 20% from just five years before. Old Havana is known for its amalgam of western architecture, and a stroll through it will show you the influences of many of the world’s Western countries. Havana is also home to an abundant population of classic American cars from the 1950s and 60s. Referred to as ‘yank tanks’ or ‘maquinas,’ roughly 60,000 of these nostalgic beauties still patrol the roads of the city and island. In 1962, the US instituted a trade embargo and Cubans could no longer receive replacement parts for the cars. So the work ethic and ingenuity of Habaneros came into play as they had to become resourceful and manufacture their own parts, adapt them from other machines or cars and come up with unique solutions to keep the cars rolling. Due to government wage caps, Habaneros typically work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Cutting hair in the street, filling spent lighters and selling old clothes door-to-door are just some of the ways they can earn extra money.
Havana is a place of nostalgia, beauty, diversity and rich culture. With numerous festivals, performing and visual arts, it is a city that will keep you occupied and interested for quite some time. Its architecture alone would be enough to keep any aspiring photographer busy for an entire vacation!