A 1959 in Cuba

Photos by David | Words by Amber

I hadn’t heard from him in 51 hours and was about to collapse into a puddle of nerves from the worry. He is the kind of person whose phone is an extension of his hand and on a typical day it was not uncommon for us to exchange a hundred texts. “The internet there is horrible” people would tell me. “He was probably up late and can’t be bothered.” And then there was the “No news is good news!” line of reasoning.

Logically I knew they were right but emotionally I was unconvinced. “Are you guys taking any trips this summer?” my sister-in-law asked over dinner. “Probably going to the East Coast at the end of the summer.” I said, trying to act casual. If he’s still alive… I thought to myself.

Small street-side store

He was alive, of course. Despite the mosquitos and sunburns; despite the unsanitary water and food way out of his comfort zone; despite the scarce showers and horrible internet: he was fine. These things were not, as it turns out, generally life threatening.

Not only was he alive, he was really living; smoking Cuban cigars with Cubans, swimming in pitch-black caves, driving hundreds miles on remote backroads and, most importantly, taking tons of photos. Classic cars are David’s life-blood and in Cuba they are everywhere you turn your head.

Taking photos in the street

Life is different in Cuba. There are stray dogs everywhere and people are kind to them. All kids are strictly required to go to school. Only Cuban citizens are allowed to buy real estate and, just a few years ago, even Cubans weren’t allowed to buy and sell homes. The average per capita monthly income is $20 but a basic modern used car is $50,000.

Another far departure from our world in America (where nothing so small as a meal goes unphotographed) was the quizzical looks David got while stooped over his camera. What … are you doing? They pinched their brows and stared, trying to see what was noteworthy or worth someone’s time to photograph. Obviously this is due to what the typical day to day life is like there: classic cars and colorful old streets are ubiquitous while cameras are not. But reaching a little further, it is also a reminder that we so easily fall into habits and miss the beauty that surrounds us everyday.

The old cars of Cuba are undeniably something special. Even having never been there, though, I can tell to be wary of glamorizing the aesthetic; it is the product of an undoubtably complicated and arduous history. But pieces of it are indisputably admirable, the parts that are authentic and classy and wholesome. The cars, for example, are so well taken care of. They are not just trophies that sit in someone’s garage, they are usable cars that are kept running for decades. From a generation that prioritizes cheap and expendable, it’s heartening to see such longevity.

You really don’t have to be a car person to appreciate the timeless beauty of Cuba and it’s classic cars.

Old cars everywhere

“Oh he’s in Cuba?” commented my Puerta Rico friend. “Nice…. wait, isn’t it hurricane season?!”

“Yup!” I laughed, “That’s part of the draw- the sky’s will be amazing!”