By Desmond Boylan
Recently I was at the beach on a very hot and sunny day in the province of Matanzas, east of Havana, when a group of tourists arrived in a bus. As I watched, two of them sneaked behind a bush, stripped to their underwear, slipped their clothes to their companions, and had a quick dip in the sea. They were obviously nervous, watching out so that they wouldn’t be spotted by their minders. I realized that they were Americans, and that by taking a swim and committing an act of tourism, they were breaking the laws of the U.S embargo. They were breaking the law in their own country, and they knew it.
United States citizens are now allowed to fly in directly to visit Cuba under a cultural program bound by strict conditions, the main one being that they are not allowed to practice tourism. By following the rules they will not be breaking the 60-year trade embargo imposed on the island under U.S. law. At last U.S. citizens are allowed to visit this forbidden country, listed by the U.S. as a sponsor of terrorism along with Iran, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea, but they have to behave themselves.
By Desmond Boylan
Absolutely no choice. This photography blog post has no pictures. (Part 1)
I was recently driving towards Havana on a small, quiet country road in central Cuba. As I came onto a long stretch there was a truck moving slowly ahead of me in my lane, that suddenly stopped on the right side. I approached slowly knowing that in Cuba there are big potholes, very scarce and slow moving traffic, and cows, horses, hens and even children crossing the roads at any time, always without looking.
I put on the indicator to overtake the truck, but I noticed there was some unusual movement off to the right among some people beside some small country homes.
I live in Cuba, cigar country by excellence, and I do like the smell and taste of burning cigars. I like the look of cigars, I like their tan color, and I like the way bugs and mosquitoes keep well away from me if I am smoking one. I like holding a cigar, I like the smell left inside empty cigar boxes, and I even like collecting the empty boxes. I really like giving good cigars as presents to friends who appreciate them.
In the rest of the world there is always an air of indoor exclusivity, mysticism, complicity, conspiracy, luxurious pomposity, deep conversation, relaxation and a feel-good atmosphere around cigars. In Cuba, cigars mean something very different; they are a celebration every day, all the time. Apart from the ever-present feel good and cool factor, cigars are a normal part of daily life, can be found everywhere and are accessible to everyone. Here, they are not exclusive, and can be acquired for any price from a few cents to around $25 apiece.
Cuban pruner or “desmochador,” Omar Aguilar, carries his ropes on his shoulder as he walks through thick bush in a forest of Royal Palm trees. He is cool, walks slowly like a tiger looking for prey, but he is not hunting for animals. He is hunting for a plant to feed pigs with. His job is to climb Cuban Royal Palms, the tall, majestic, hurricane-proof tree, and carefully lower its fruit to the ground.
The Cuban Royal Palm grows wild all over the island and offers food for animals, berries to produce palm oil, fiber to make waterproof roofs, strong rope, hardwood and even brooms to sweep floors.
Nobody in Cuba or elsewhere believed the international press would be photographing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro again, in 2010.
Since 1959 and even before, he has been killed and buried many times by rumors, reports in the media, his enemies and circles of opponents to him.