Top 6 Surprises in Cuba Right Now

Islands photographer Ian Lloyd went to Cuba with no intentions of taking pictures. Lloyd, a Canadian, was on vacation, but he had to grab his camera — stating, “Cuba’s best story may lie in being there now. There in its emergence from a half-century of isolation. There in its rising (and crumbling) architecture. In its resilience and failures. The surprises kept coming.” Here, in his words, he shares them.


Stunning Architecture

“Cuba is sitting on the biggest wealth of 200-year-old Spanish architecture in the New World. Nothing was knocked down. It may be falling down, but it’s still stunning. And while some of it is being renovated, there’s so little money that renovations are slow. Very slow.” Ian Lloyd

The Best Recyclers in the World

“Nothing in Cuba is lost. Everything gets reused. This photographer plastered newspaper on the sides of his view camera to cover holes in its bellows. And forget digital or even film. He took pictures on paper, developing them in chemical trays while I shot him with my Canon 5D Mark III. Few Cubans have computers, so my camera baffled him as much as his technique baffled me.

Pride Amid Hardships

“Cuba’s past, present and future are tough topics. Not everyone feels comfortable speaking out. Older Cubans are more reverent and cautious. The youth are anxious for Cuba to move forward. Both groups, however, like their educational system, their health care, their sports and arts. But the surprise I hear is pride, along the lines of ‘Hey, we’re still here. Still standing in the face of hardship, poverty, Communism, the fall of Communism, censorship and isolation from the Western world. We’re still here.’ That sentiment seems to radiate from Havana’s most dilapidated streets, and from people of all positions in life. The government offers a license for most every job. Look closely at what’s hanging from the neck of this woman smoking a cigar. Her ID reads ‘licensed costumed character.’ Her cigar is larger than regular ones, and larger than big ones like Presidentes. She’s a costumed craft person. A licensed one. I later pass a fortune teller. Sure enough, she has a license for that.” Ian Lloyd

Resilient Arts

“I never imagined ballet in Cuba, but there’s a deep love for the arts here, punctuated by the renovation of the Great Theater of Havana. Thanks to Russian ties, Cuba’s ballet attracts the best dancers in the world. While I paid $25 for a ticket, locals pay $2 to $3, and they fill the house. Admittedly, I spot energy-saving fluorescents in the light fixtures, but it isn’t a surprise. I’d often have to duck under a tangled web of electrical wires when entering buildings. All of it decades old.” Ian Lloyd

Radical Entrepreneurs

“One of my cab drivers had been a linguistics professor, fully tenured. He quit his job at the university to drive a cab. His decision wasn’t a unique one. Professional positions don’t earn much in Cuba (doctors make $33 a month). They also face exceptionally tough travel restrictions outside the country. As a result, private businesses — taxi services, street vendors, renting one’s home to tourists — are growing like crazy.” Ian Lloyd

Expectant Youth

“Cuba’s youths surprise me most. Here are all these young people who get luxury goods sent from Miami, who are desperate to go into any Internet cafe they can, and who really don’t care about the 50-year-old feud between the old men. They just want the latest in music and fashion. I spot the men below on Havana’s Obispo Street, once a favorite Hemingway haunt. Today it’s a hip place where women tote Dolce & Gabbana bags and dress as if on Rodeo Drive. As I photograph them, a guy pulls up on a bike with a box. He opens it and begins selling ladies underwear. Women flock. The contraband being smuggled in is fashion. All this takes place in front of an Internet cafe where online access is restricted, yet its influence seeps through. For Cuba’s youths, the end of the embargo is a “when,” not an “if.” They have no memories of the Cold War. Their world is here. Now. And they welcome the changes ahead.” Ian Lloyd

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