Rad A. Drew Photography

Continental Divide at Dawn

Continental Divide at Dawn
Continental Divide at Dawn

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Update on Cuban Friends after Hurricane Irma and Announcements about U.S. Travel to Cuba

Game Face, Old Havana
© Rad A. Drew

Most of our Cuban friends living in Havana have contacted me since Hurricane Irma came through and everyone is okay. 

Painter Roly Castelliny had flooding in his studio in Old Havana but his home was spared. His mother, however, lost everything to the flooding. Reduced tourism is having a devastating impact on Roly's art business. He normally sells his work to tourists and there are very few tourists there now. Fellow artists are talking about how this will be one of the worst years for Cuban artists in recent memory. 

Cuban Painter, Roly Castelliny
© Rad A. Drew
Mercy Piedra, dancer with the International Cuban Ballet, only experienced power outages after the storm, but no other significant impact. Her friend and colleague, Patricia Santamarina Roca, is also doing well.

Mercedes "Mercy" Piedra, International Cuban Ballet
© Rad A. Drew
Patricia Santamarina Roca, International Cuba Ballet
© Rad A. Drew
Vivian Sanchez, our wonderful guide for several years now, weathered the storm and is doing well. Tourism, though, is down, which is negatively impacting her business.

Vivian Sanchez, Best Tour Guide in Cuba! :)
© Rad A. Drew

In Havana there was little damage from the hurricane itself, but the chest-high flooding caused a lot of damage, loss of personal belongings, damage to homes, and lengthy power outages.

My friend, Cuban photographer, Ramses Batista, wrote:

"... it was hard, there were 5 days with no power or water. I came out on both days we got hit in Havana to shoot. Every day for 7 hours sometimes with the water up to my chest. I was sad but impressed of seeing my people smile to the camera even when some of them lost everything inside their houses."

Ramses Batista, (Photo Credit: Richard Martin Photography)
Perhaps more devastating than Hurricane Irma, was last month's announcement from Washington concerning travel to Cuba. The mysterious illnesses at the U.S. Embassy and subsequent announcements about reductions to embassy staff, and travel restrictions have confused Americans about whether travel to Cuba is allowed or not, resulting in significantly reduced tourism. 

Group travel in accordance with current Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) guidelines is completely legitimate. 

U.S. travelers don't require a true visa for stays fewer than 28 days; instead, we obtain a tourist card (often erroneously referred to as a visa), and travel as a group under the OFAC's People-to-People designation. 

U.S. Embassy staff has been reduced, which will impair Cuban citizen's ability to get a visa to travel to the U.S. Those embassy staff who might aid a U.S. citizen traveling in Cuba are still in place. With my trips, our travel agency also has significant staff in Havana who are there to support us in the event we need any kind of assistance when traveling in Cuba.

Both of my scheduled trips to Cuba in November are on. They are not restricted by recent announcements about travel to Cuba. I have two spots open in each trip. The window for joining the first trip, November 5-13, is rapidly closing. If you would like to join this trip or the one scheduled for Nov 26 - Dec 4, email me here and I'll send you the info you need to register. 

Earlier this year, I established a site to collect money to buy hard-to-get paint supplies for Roly Castelliny. Before I leave for Cuba, I will use all the money in this fund to purchase painting supplies -- canvas, paint, brushes, etc. -- for Roly to keep him painting. Here's a link if you'd like to contribute to this fund. I've also posted Roly's paintings and am awaiting his price list and will post prices as soon as I have them.

Fisherman, Havana. © Roly Castelliny 
This may seem self-serving for me to solicit participants to travel with me, but it's the only way I know to actually serve people in Cuba. Our tourism makes a difference in the lives of people I know and love. Whether you go with me, or go with another photographer or other group, I encourage you to to to Cuba! Of course I would love to have you on my trip, but here are some other photographers who are also leading trips to Cuba in 2017 and 2018. Each is a friend and excellent photographer and tour leader. You can't go wrong going on any of these trips. Consider going to Cuba now. It may only get harder in the future. Go for yourself, but know you are also going for the people of Cuba who will benefit from your visit.

Trips to Cuba in 2017 and 2018:

Taxis, Old Havana
© Rad A. Drew