MindStorm Photography Blog and Gallery

Travel Photography by Burt Johnson and Evelyn Johnson

Cuba 7 – Trinidad, Part 2

Trinidad - very poor family basket makers

We visited some Cuban homes while in Trinidad. One of the first things that struck us was how small all these homes were.  The home above (upper-left) is little more than the size of our living room in Ecuador, yet houses three generations.  Also, the people are so desperately poor, yet are always smiling and apparently happy to see us.  The grandmother (upper-right) weaved straw (lower-left) to make baskets (middle-right) that she sold for $3 each.  As a group, we bought our her complete inventory, so that grouping of baskets was empty when we left. The father, center, worked as a cowboy.

The little girl was shy at first (middle-left) and wouldn't talk.  One of our group gave her a ballpoint pen and she lit up, ran into the house for a piece of paper, and then drew pictures while talking excitedly for the rest of our visit (lower-right).

Trinidad, Cuba - sewing

We also visited two women's homes that knitted and sewed for a living.  The woman (in the left two) sitting in her doorway knitting a shawl with her tiny newborn puppy on her lap.  When asked, she allowed us to photograph her, then invited us into her home, where two of our group bought shawls from her.

Our guide arranged for pictures to be shot of the woman in the right two images in advance. Her home was so small (about the size of our guest bedroom at home) that only three of us could fit in at a time to take pictures.  She said that it took her between 7 to 14 days to make a single tablecloth, which she then sold for $15.  Again, several members of our group bought some of her exquisite table cloth sets, and her inventory was gone.

Trinidad, Cuba - tourist train

There is a steam train that runs through town.  Except it no longer uses steam (it is now diesel powered), and is now just a tourist ride.  We decided not to take the ride, but it did run near a road where we had stopped to photograph passing horse-drawn cart traffic.  The schedule said it would leave a nearby station at 9AM, so we all walked the short distance to the tracks to photograph its passing.

Around 9:30 a rider on a horse passed, and told us that it rarely comes before 10, and sometimes does not come at all.  We patiently waited, and a little after 10, we were collectively giving up and deciding to move on... just as the train could be seen coming in the distance.  Above is the train with the gaggle of camera toting tourists (unlike us, of course...!).  It came and went in under a minute.  Worth the hour's wait to see it? It was at least a diversion.

Trinidad, Cuba - doors

One of our memories from our visit to Trinidad in 2005 was the colorful facades.  Sure enough, they were still there. Some newly painted in bright colors, with others showing the wear of time.  Together, they tell a part of the story of life here.

Trinidad, Cuba - people at work

We were able to catch images of people at work along the streets and in small shops in town.  The shop in the center image mostly sold garlic, plus just one pineapple and one guava available.

Trinidad, Cuba - people in doorways

Many of the doors and windows were open, which allowed a glimpse into the homes.  As we remembered from our last trip here, it was common for people to just stand in their doorway or sit on the windowsill and pass the day.

Trinidad, Cuba - people

Here are more people, mostly sitting in the front of their homes.  The girl (top-center) was having a professional photography session done for her quinceañera, which is celebrated when a girl turns 15 in Latin America.

Trinidad, Cuba - people 2

There were so many interesting faces in Trinidad that we will close with just a few more.

Cuba 6 – Trinidad, Part 1

Trinidad, Cuba - Casa Particular

On our first trip to Cuba, we fondly recall Trinidad as our favorite city. After this visit, it remains our top choice. What has changed is the number of rooms now available on AirBnB, as well as the diversity of restaurants, the loss of the horse-drawn carts delivering bottled milk, and many more tourists.

In Trinidad, we stayed at a spacious and elegant Casa Particular. This was a beautiful colonial in the heart of town located within 2 blocks of the main square. The owners have a rock band (lower-left) called Duo Cofradia, and were away in Havana recording their new CD. The sister was taking care of the home and us, and made huge and delicious breakfasts each morning.  One decoration in the house that we loved were the two sets of photos shown on top, above.  Black and white narrow slices of the eyes of local Cubans.

Trinidad, Cuba - bicycles

As in most of the Cuban cities we visited other than Havana, bicycles are a primary means of transportation for most people. The man in the center image above, apparently just returned from the bay, where he had an impressive day of fishing.  I was not sure if he was taking them home, or to a market to sell.

Trinidad, Cuba - American Classic Cars

Our tour guide again hired some Classic American cars to model for us, both at sunrise in Trinidad Old Town (top row) and later at sunset on the beach (center and bottom-left).

Trinidad, Cuba - beach and tower

While waiting for sunset for the Classic Car shoot, we wandered around the beach.  The weather throughout Cuba has been hot (at least it seemed that way to us, though the Cubans were complaining that it was cold...), and the beach was a pleasant place to be with a gentle breeze. That night however, many swore at the no-seeums that bit them, and I can personally attest to five itchy bites on one hand.

We also had lunch at Casa Hacienda at the Manaca-Iznaga Estate (upper row), where some members climbed partway up the observation tower.

Trinidad, Cuba - band music

At lunch, this band named Manacanabo gave us a private session, and were quite good. (see video at the end for a short sampling of their performance)

Trinidad-cigars and garlic

We saw more men smoking cigars and other men leading their donkeys around in Trinidad than anywhere else in Cuba.  This was how these models earned their living, though. There were also several men walking around with strings of garlic around their necks (right-third down) selling garlic door-to-door.


Once again, horses were a very common form of everyday transportation here in Trinidad.  The center image above seemed comical with a bicyclist holding onto a horse-drawn taxi to hitch a ride.

Trinidad - sunset over city

We had many photo sessions for both sunrises and sunsets throughout our Cuba tour. We got up by 5:30 AM to capture the city before the people and traffic got in the way of our photos. In Trinidad, we found a rooftop that provided breathtaking views of the city (top-right, center, and entire left column) one evening, and we stayed to capture some "blue hour" images, after the sun has set.

Trinidad, Cuba - Typical street with horse

Let's end with a typical street scene in Trinidad.  Almost looks like a scene out of the "Old West" in the US. Cobblestone streets, brightly colored adobe homes built right next to each other. Some in better exterior color condition than others.  But right in the center... yep, a horse is drinking from a water trough in front of the house.

In many ways, Cuba seems like a look back into history.  Avoid the fancy high-rises of Havana, and the modern European and Asian cars that are now used by the upper-class wealthy Cubans, and you find the everyday back streets, where time seems to have stood still.


Mangcanabo Plays at Trinidad Restaurant from Burt Johnson on Vimeo.

While we were having lunch one day, this group came and performed traditional Cuban music for our table.  I enjoyed them enough that I bought a CD from them. (Note: The Vimeo link says this was in Havana. When I was collecting the videos for this blog, I goofed.  This group actually came to us in Trinidad...)

Cuba 5 – Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, Cuba - cemetery

We spent one night in Cienfuegos, a city located on a bay on Cuba's south coast of Cuba. This was mostly just meant as a stop-over between Viñales and Trinidad, and to give us the feel of a small Cuban town that few tourists see. One of our stops in town was at the La Reina Cemetery (above), where we were given a brief lecture on the history (bottom-left), while under the watchful eye of the "graveyard dog" (lower-middle).

This cemetery is the oldest in town, established in 1837, and is the resting place of the Spanish soldiers who died during the War of Independence.

CienFuego, Cuba - transportation

Much of our time in Cienfuegos was spent wandering around town, taking in the sights of the people in their everyday life and seeing the colonial-era buildings. I found it interesting to observe the modes of transportation they used. Gasoline vehicles were rather scarce (tuk-tuk taxi middle-top and motorcycle lower-right).  Horses outnumbered gas powered vehicles (upper-right and middle-bottom), while foot pedal powered vehicles were the most common.

CienFuego, Cuba - playing

There were kids playing in the central square known as Parque José Marti, where half a dozen shared two pairs of in-line skates, taking turns racing around the plaza. On the side streets, there were kids playing card games (upper and lower-left), and we also found one group of four men playing dominoes (lower-middle and lower-right).

CienFuego, Cuba - internet access

This was our second exposure to a central plaza absolutely jammed with young people, all staring at their smart phones.  Yep, this was the only internet wifi hotspot in town, and it seemed every young adult was here using it at once.  (See the Havana 2 post about details of allowable internet use in Cuba.)
Cienfuegos, Cuba - buildings


There were several Spanish colonial-era buildings that were of historical interest. Wikipedia noted that in 2005, UNESCO inscribed the Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos on the World Heritage List, citing Cienfuegos as the best  example of early 19th century Spanish Enlightenment implementation in urban planning. This is a fancy way of saying that the city is pedestrian friendly, showcasing a promenade with retail on both sides, Paseo del Prado, leading to the main square Plaza de Armas (aka Parque Martí). The statue is Benny Moré, a Cuban musical virtuoso. The weather helped by presenting an interesting background for photographing the elegant architecture as the day came to a close. We were also treated to a horse-drawn cart tour of the city at sunset, so our days have been packed.

CienFuego, Cuba - people

Cienfuegos was about the daily life of people though.  Far more friendly and willing to have us take their photographs than the people in Havana had been.  Everywhere we turned was another person who captured our attention... and of course, our cameras. Our guide had told us in advance that people in the rural areas were more welcoming and authentic than those in large cities, and this was proving true.

I never did quite figure out what the old woman's shirt in the center meant though. Can you?  "I'm having a bad bow day!" doesn't quite make sense.  I think I'm missing something, but there was no missing her!

CienFuego, Cuba - more people

It was fun watching people in their daily lives, interacting with the owner of the print shop (top-left), the boy sitting on the back of a horse-drawn cart (top-third), the musician sitting in the doorway (bottom-second),  and the ferry boat captain waiting for his boat to fill (bottom-right).

Cienfuegos, Cuba - harbor

Within six blocks of the central park is an active port, both domestically and internationally. Cienfuegos was known as the Pearl of the South, and was once a very wealthy seaport connecting trade between Jamaica and South America. It is still a stop for cruise ships, who want to showcase how the real Cubans live.

Cuba 4 – Viñales

Vinales, Cuba - tiles

After leaving Havana, we drove to Viñales, which is best known for their cigar farms, spectacular landscape scenery lined with steep-sided limestone hills (mogotes) and rural Cuban lifestyle. The major highway was mostly devoid of cars, with plenty of horse drawn carts taking workers to their fields for the day.  The countryside appeared very much as we remembered it from 12 years ago, when we last visited this area.

One of our stops enroute to Viñales was Fusterlandia in Jaimanitas, a sleepy little town that has recently become a tourist destination (with tour buses from cruise ships). One artist decorated many of the homes in this community with mosaic tile patterned in the style of Gaudi and Picasso works of art, as seen above.

Vinales, Cuba - cars

As we did several times during the trip, we stopped at the side of a country road for awhile to photograph.  The location was chosen primarily because it provided a good backdrop to capture images of passing vehicles. There was also a small roadside cafe nearby, which our driver, Alberto, visited to chat with the owner (middle-right).

While there, we did see a few of the Classic American cars we were hoping for (left column).  At one point, a funeral procession also passed (upper-right).  Note that there are eight vehicles in that image, only one of which is Classic American.  As I noted in the Havana blog, that is about the normal ratio of those cars to more modern European and Asian makes.  The one small motorcycle is also fairly typical.

Vinales, Cuba - cowboys

One afternoon in Viñales, we went horseback riding.  Other than one moment when one of our group got thrown from her horse, it was a standard tourist trail ride.  At the end, two of the trail guides modeled for our cameras, which allowed us to capture some wonderful portraits of cowboys. A bit later, we watched farmers plow their field using oxen, the same way it has been done for hundreds of years in this region.

Vinales, Cuba - kids and grandma

As I have mentioned, one of the benefits of going on a photographic tour, rather than a traditional tour, is that we stopped whenever we saw something photographically interesting.  At one point, we stopped at a row of small farm houses, with people out front.  The grandmother (middle) caught my interest first, while Evelyn gravitated to the kids in front of the neighboring house (left-top and right-top).  After we had paparazzied the kids to death, Jonathan (our tour leader) brought out two sunglasses he had brought for gifts in exchange for photos.  Immediately the two kids (top-middle two) put them on and modeled them for us to take yet more photographs!

Many horse carts traveled along this road, providing another source of interesting images.

Vinales, Cuba - cigars

On Thanksgiving Day (which, of course, is not celebrated in Cuba), we visited Finca El Arado, a Cuban Cigar plantation.  They gave us a tour of their farm, showed how they grow and process the tobacco plants, and told us the different types of leaves, and which are used for each purpose.  They then rolled cigars (center) and gave one to each of us to smoke.

Evelyn (upper left) and I puffed and puffed, but seemed to produce no smoke?  Clearly defective cigars, right? Our guides had no problem with their cigars though, with our Cuban photographer guide Joel even blowing rings (lower-left). Jonathan - our American guide/organizer - also enjoyed his cigar (lower-right).  Monica (middle-right) was the third guide  who traveled with us.  Vincent (upper-right), a member of our tour, was the most experienced with his cigar smoking.

After the cigars were lit, our hosts broke out a roast pig for our Thanksgiving lunch.  Delicious, but not quite up to Ecuadorian hornado standards.

Vinales, Cuba - cave

One afternoon, we got a guided tour of the Santo Tomás Cave. This cave system extends for more than 46km, though we only had time to enter the first three chambers.  One of the large chambers can be seen lower-middle, while the lower-right image above shows most of our group lined up for the image of our cave guide (lower-left).

While others were setting up there, I moved to a different location, and captured the guide from another vantage point (top).

Vinales, Cuba - sunset

We had several spectacular sunrises and sunsets during this tour of the Viñales area.  A fog developed over the valley below us, then the sky lit up crimson as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Cuba 3 – Havana, Part 2

Havana, Cuba - statues

We spent a few hours walking the area around the capitol building (left), which is modeled after the White House in Washington, DC. Our first sighting of it was in a painting at the Casa Particular we were staying at. It baffled us where the scene was from, since it seemed a combination of the US building and Cuba streets, until we came across the building ourselves.  As seen above, it is currently under renovation, so cannot be entered by tourists. Surprisingly, buildings right across the street from the capitol where totally dilapidated.

About two blocks from this street, there is a large sign spanning a street announcing "Welcome to Chinatown," much like similar signs we have seen in both San Francisco and Manhattan. We entered, and were surprised to see only one Chinese business in sight -- a Chinese bar directly under the sign.  When we asked our Cuban guide about it, he said that it was a historic sign, but there are very few Asians in the area any more.

There are many statues around town, with images above-right only showing a tiny sampling.

Havana, Cuba - buildings

One of our sunrise photo shoots took us through the various squares around Old Havana, shown above.

Havana, Cuba - people

Watching people is always a big part of visiting any new city, and Havana was no exception.  One thing we quickly noticed was that the central park in each city had hundreds of people sitting around staring at their phones (lower left).  Internet is still illegal in private homes, though a very few government owned cafes were allowed to offer such access starting in 2007.  In 2015, Cuba opened the first public wifi hotspots, which required a special card to access, at a rate of $15 per hour (remember, the official Cuban official wage is $25 per month), putting it out of reach of all but the most wealthy.

Since then, internet has now been made available at most central parks in most cities throughout Cuba. The cost has dropped, first to $10, then to $5 per hour.  A few months ago, it was lowered again to $2, and when we went to buy cards, the price had dropped yet again to $1 per hour.  The cards are difficult to buy though (we stood in line for almost an hour to buy some), and difficult to use (must enter two 10-digit numbers, and the card then becomes useless after one hour of use, requiring another card and set of digits to continue access).  However, every park was swamped with people accessing the internet on their phones from mid-day until well into the night.

Unfortunately, with that many people crammed in each wifi location, the internet performance was slow -- when you are able to log on at all.  It often took us a dozen or more attempts before we could even get logged in (typing all 20 digits on each attempt).  When we finally did get in, the effective speed was roughly the same 1200 baud of the modems we used in California in the 1980's.

Havana, Cuba - dancing

One highlight was a visit to Danzabierta, a local avant garde dance company.  Susana Pous is the artistic director and choreographer of the modern dance troupe, and has personally performed throughout the world.

They performed a number of compelling and innovative dances for us, with the above being only a small sample of 700 images we shot in that session.  Lower-right shows our photo group lined up on one wall happily snapping away during their performance.

Havana, Cuba - dancers modeling

After their choreographed dances, the performers modeled for us. Susana Pous is shown upper-right.

Havana, Cuba - waves

One day in Havana, we were driving along the Malecón and saw the waves crashing over the wall. I called out that we should stop and photograph the scene, which we did.  Again, this is a big benefit of being on a photography tour over other types of tours.  When there is something photographically interesting, we stopped and took advantage of the situation.

Cuba 2 – Havana, Part 1

Havana, Cuba - Skyline

After spending a night in Hanabanilla, we joined up with the formal photo tour led by Johnathan Esper, whom we met in Iceland in 2014, and Joel Hernández Marin, a professor of photography in Havana. We will be staying in Casas Particulares throughout our travels in Cuba, which are rooms in private homes. In Havana, we stayed in the Vedado neighborhood, which is in one of the wealthier neigborhoods. While the exteriors of the buildings appear shabby, the interiors have been remodeled and are immaculate for guests.

On the surface, Cuba has not changed much since 2005, when we first visited.  There has been almost no new construction, and buildings that were rundown then still appeared in the same condition now.  However, under the surface, there have been some major changes that are only apparent if you talk to the locals and ask.  When we were last here, Fidel was still in power, though in failing health.  Raul, his brother, was assumed to become president once Fidel stepped down.  Since he had been in charge of the military for 46 years, it was feared he would be even stricter than Fidel on controlling the populace.  Surprisingly though, he actually opened up parts of the economy and relaxed some of the harsher laws.

In 2013, Raul announced that two terms as president was enough and that he would not run for a third term. As such, Cuba will have a new president in 2018.  When we were here last, cars and taxis were not allowed to travel between cities without a permit -- they can now travel freely.  In 2005, people legally owned their own homes, but were not allowed to sell them -- Raul changed that in 2006 and people can now buy and sell their homes, which has led many to be converted into restaurants and short term rentals. When here last, gasoline was rationed, and we spent many hours traveling with a driver from gas station to station, trying to find someone willing to sell a ration coupon, so the driver could keep going -- now gas is unlimited, though very expensive.  In 2005, Cubans were not allowed to leave the island -- they are now allowed to leave, though most countries are rather strict on who they allow to visit, for fear the Cuban visitor will overstay their tourist visa.

Two of the more visible changes are the diversity of restaurants and rooms for rent (Casas Particulares mentioned above). When here last, it was legal to rent out rooms to tourists, but not legal to advertise.  As such, it was hard to find rooms. Each place we stayed had a "cousin" in the next city we were heading to, so our rooms were arranged the day of our travel through this informal network.  Now, many of them are listed on AirBnb.

In 2005, it was hard to find a restaurant open at night, and we had one taxi driver knock on the door of a home, asking them to cook a meal for us.  Now, there are a zillion restaurants in every town we visited, ranging from "basic fare" to extravagant feasts literally fit for a president. One of the restaurants (San Cristobal Paladar)  where we ate at had been visited by President Obama, and the owner bragged that nine presidents had eaten at his restaurant.  That meal was completed with a complementary (high quality) cigar -- which we still have, but are determined to smoke at some point.

Cubans earn between $20 to $40 per month.  That includes doctors, since all health care is socialized in Cuba.  Thus, a new "rich class" has evolved, which are those people who deal with foreign tourists, who will pay that much for a single meal, or double that for a room for one night.

Havana, Cuba - sundown fishing

Our second evening in Havana was spent on the Malecón, watching the sunset with the skyline as a backdrop. Many men (almost no women) were fishing on the wall, making for dramatic foregrounds.

Havana, Cuba - classic cars

Most people think "American Classic Cars" when they think of Cuba.  Yep, they are there, and we hired some to model for us on multiple occasions on this photo trip.  The lower right image was from a sunrise shoot in front of the Gran Teatro de la Habana, home of the Cuban National Ballet.

However, these cars are not as universal as most Americans believe. There are plenty of modern cars in Cuba -- just not modern American cars.  Toyotas, Hyundais, Hondas, Chinese-made Geelys are all very common.  The American vintage cars are mostly used for tourists as taxis, and rent out for up to $60 per hour (for a convertible), complete with driver, or $5 for a short taxi ride.  I did a count several times, and found that the Classic American cars account for about 1 out of 8 cars on the road around Havana and Trinidad.

Many are held together by "glue and bailing wire."  Opening the hoods of almost any of these cars shows modern engines from the likes of Toyota or Honda, and in one case a Chinese tractor engine was installed. Likewise the suspensions and pretty much every part of the car has been replaced since new.  Only the exterior body remains the 60-year old American classic.

Many Cubans cannot afford a car at all, so horses are a very common means of transportation in all the rural areas.  With gasoline costing $6 per gallon, a typical government salary of $25 a month puts cars out of reach for most people.

Havana, Cuba - classic car details

Each of the cars that were hired as models were well cared for with highly polished exteriors to be displayed for the tourists.

Havana, Cuba - classic cars moving

In addition to the cars we hired to model for us, we spent an hour or so photographing the Classic American cars that were driving past us near the National Hotel.  There were also several 3-wheeled, auto rickshaw-type vehicles (Coco taxis -- upper left) though we were warned they are actually the most expensive taxis in town.

Havana, Cuba - cemetary

As part of the exploration of Old Havana, we visited various churches and squares, and had an opportunity to drive to the Colon Cemetery (above) in American vintage convertibles. For each place, we were shooting in good light, and took long siestas when the light was harsh. Such is the difference between taking a standard tour vs. going on a photo tour such as this.

Havana Cuba Restaurant Dance from Burt Johnson on Vimeo.

We were about to leave after dinner at one restaurant, when a band started up.  We stayed to listen for a bit, and were about to leave again when this pair of dancers started strutting their stuff.  They were the highlight of the evening.

Hanabanilla – Welcome to Cuba!

Hava Casa Particular - Balcones

On our 2005 visit to Cuba, both of us got sick, with Evelyn's cold developing into bronchitis, so we've wanted to come back to experience the real Cuba for some time. When we got to the airport, it took more than an hour to get our luggage and clear customs. Then, we changed money into CUCs ($1 USD = 1 CUC), which is the official Cuban currency. There is a 10% penalty for changing US Dollars, but we had been warned in advance to bring either Canadian dollars or euros, so had saved Euros from our Europe trip earlier this year.

We were picked by a 1952 Chevy with a tractor engine (without muffler), and dropped off at a Casa Particular (private homes where rooms are rented out) in Old Havana (pictures above). Across the street was a Vietnamese Cultural Center, where they were celebrating until 2:00 AM, making sleep difficult. We could hear all of the urban noises from people talking on the streets below, tuk tuks (3-wheeled taxis, also known as Coco taxis), garbage trucks, and classic American cars rolling across the cobblestone streets below. Cuenca's cobblestone streets are relatively flat and safe compared to those in Old Havana.

Prior to the start of our photo tour, we wanted to experience another part of Cuba. Our tattooed guide, Monica, recommended a place where Cubans go for vacation, Hanabanilla, which she considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Cuba, and which has been untouched by tourism.

Cuba Hanabanilla Boat and View

After a 4-hour drive in another classic American Buick, we rolled into a village in the middle of a heavy rain. Our driver asked some questions and followed a barefoot boy up a dirt path. We observed the boy getting into a dilapidated metal boat, scooping water out of the bottom of the boat, and starting up an outboard motor which poured out black smoke. Our driver then pointed for us to get into the boat at the bottom of the grass slope in the middle of nowhere. The boat barely fit the two of us with our backpacks, but we puttered across a body of water for 30 minutes, then landed on a dirt patch (top right). The boy indicated we needed to climb the tree-rooted dirt path up to our room. This turned out to be another Casa Particular, where we were fed a home-cooked lunch, dinner and breakfast, and shared a bathroom with 3 generations of a Cuban family, three dogs, 8 chickens and roosters, and two turkeys.

We were experiencing the daily life of this family. The little boy had much fun dragging around the elderly dog by a rope around its neck, while the dog appeared resigned to accepting his role in life. The father was working on projects around the home with his machete, and hopping on and off of boats working on other neighboring projects. Grandma was sweeping the dirt yard, and hanging the clothes, while others were cleaning and cooking. At night, the family got together to watch local TV.

Cuba Hanabanilla family

The single bathroom was shared by the entire family, and they used newspaper for toilet paper. Toilet seats seem to be a rarity in many rural parts of Cuba. When Burt was asked whether he wanted a hot shower, he did not expect that 15 minutes later, he would get his bucket of lukewarm water in the bathroom. Yet, even though very poor, the people seemed genuinely happy.

Cuba Hanabanilla waterfall

On the final morning, we were taken by boat to the highlight feature of this lake - a 20' high waterfall.

The Magic Flute – Opera in Cuenca

magic flute opera 1-stage

We attended an opera tonight, Mozart's classic fairy tale (Spanish version), The Magic Flute, where Evelyn's Spanish teacher's daughter, Estefani Ortiz, performed both in the youth chorale and aerial dancing. This is only the second opera performed in Cuenca, and was easily on the same level as we've seen at the New York metropolitan with strong voices, mesmerizing set designs, enthusiastic musicians and performers.

Led by Michael Meissner, the director of the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra, the show ended with a well-deserved long standing ovation by all.

magic flute opera 2-intermission

The mayor of Cuenca, Marcelo Cabrera, and other dignitaries attended opening night. At intermission, there was quite a feast with free finger foods, wine, and rum.

Magic Flute Opera from Burt Johnson on Vimeo.


Festival de artesanías de América 2017

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - overview

November 3 is Cuenca Independence Day. Ecuadorians love to celebrate, and this 197th anniversary of independence from Spain was a chance for a 4-day holiday weekend.  The city puts out a booklet listing scheduled events through the end of November that was 66 pages long, and copies ran out in the first 2 days. There is no way that anyone can attend every event. However there was something for everyone.  We have already mentioned the Symphony in the Park, Moscow Circus, and art show reception we went to this weekend.

This was the 15th year that CIDAP has put on a festival of Latin American artisans.  This is a curated show, and the quality of the artisans is always quite high, so we enjoy walking the few blocks where the tents line both sides of the Rio Tomebamba.

CIDAP also has a long term display of exquisite Indonesian art, which is worth a visit even after the Independence Day weekend is over.

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - masks

Masks are always on display at this show, and many are of superb quality.  We know some people that have wall collections of masks such as these.

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - music

Music is another common element of the show.  Some music is from artisans who make the instruments and CDs they wish to sell, while others are street musicians entertaining the audience, hoping for some change to be dropped in their hats. There were also bands that we heard from our apartment window every night during the celebration.

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - wood

The wood carving artisans always create elaborate items for sale.  Some even continue to work in their tents, demonstrating how they create their art (lower-right).

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - art

One large plaza at Puente Roto is set aside for artists with their painting and drawings.  There are two spray paint artists in Cuenca (upper-left) that were also showing off their work today (upper-middle) -- all done entirely with spray paint cans and newspaper rubbed over the wet paint. There were also artists drawing caricatures.

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - crafts

There are many artisans who make crafts of various types.  Plus a few mime's that dress up and look like statues, unmoving until a coin is dropped in their can -- at which time they pop into motion (lower-left and lower-right).  The reaction of young children is often more amusing than the mimes themselves, as the kids jump when the "statue moves."

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - food

And then there was the food court section, which was much larger than in previous years.  An entire block of every kind of international food you can imagine, with a meal running anywhere from $1 to $5.  We ended coming back to this section a few times over the weekend, each time to try something different.

Festival de artesanias de America 2017, Cuenca, Ecuador - kids

There was also a small kid's section.  With so many children in Cuenca, I was surprised to see how small this section was, but it was still enjoyable to watch them create their own art or get their faces painted.


Fantasy Circus from Moscow

Moscow Circus 2017 in Ecuador - title

Every year during the Cuenca Independence Day celebrations, the Moscow Circus comes to town.  The image above was on the screen during part of the performance. The first poster I saw in town had some other posters plastered over the top of it, and all I saw was the image of Elsa (from Frozen) and the tag "Suenos de magia y diversion" ("Dreams of magic and fun").  I therefore told Evelyn I wanted to go see the Moscow magic show!

I had forgotten that the circus comes to town every year.  It was still an interesting evening, even if not what I expected when I bought the tickets (and first looked at them closely and said....  hmmm... I don't think this is a magic show after all...)

Moscow Circus 2017 in Ecuador - balance

The circus was on a theater stage at Pumapungo, instead of under a circus tent. Almost no verbal (so there was no language barrier issue), much like a Circus Soleil show.  Superb balance was a recurring theme for the evening, as seen above. In the lower row is a tightrope walker jumping over his team mates on a tightrope.

Moscow Circus in Ecuador - clowns

There was only one clown in the show, who "talked" with only a whistle.  He went into the audience and chose four young men as volunteers -- including the man sitting next to me.  He put the audience volunteers through a few comical dance routines, then sat them down on four chairs... and proceeded to pull each chair out leaving them apparently resting comfortably in space (right image).  He started to walk off stage, then returned, pulled one persons leg out and they all collapsed in a pile.

Moscow Circus in Ecuador - dancers

Other acts included a woman simultaneously twirling 8 hula hoops at one time (upper left) and various dancers (middle-right and lower row).

Another of the tightrope jumpers (upper-right) gave a rather interesting abstract photo effect, as he moved too fast for the camera. One tightrope performer had a bag over his head (middle-left), and his feet bound together, as he made his way across from one platform to the other.  At one point, he slipped, and it was touch-and-go as a teammate reached out to him, but he refused, and managed to regain his position and finish the walk.
Moscow Circus in Ecuador - kidsOf course, at any circus, the kids in the audience were a show unto themselves.  One girl (upper-middle) went in front of the stage and danced to the music, while others played with various light toys their parents had purchased for them while in line waiting to enter.

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