Miguel and the Organ

I was walking and exploring the city of Camaguey, Cuba for the first time when I met my new friend Miguel. I stopped  at a cafeteria for a glass of fresh juice. He approached and asked if I would also buy him a juice. The juice was only two pesos (ten cents)… of course I did.

He’s a young guy, under thirty I would guess. I pegged him as a hustler. He pegged me as a yuma.  He was right. I was wrong.

We communicated a bit ( I hesitate to say talked because my Spanish still is not up to speed). Miguel claimed to have a day off from work ….. construction.

It was after noon and I was getting hungry.

I asked Miguel to take me to a cheap restaurant. He walked me past a couple of touristy places and I kept saying no. I wanted some real Cuban food. He finally understood and we entered a house with three tables set up in the front room. We both ate congris, salad, and meat for under 6 CUC total.

After lunch Miguel insisted on taking me on a tour of the nearby church where he described every statue of every saint. I was impressed by his knowledge.

After the church tour I wanted to head back to where we first met so I could easily find my way home. Miguel took me another way. He wanted to show me something special.

As we passed an open garage he pointed out an old organ. I quickly followed him inside and as I started to photograph the owner appeared. The old man never spoke. He proceeded to pull the organ from the wall, open the panels, and load a sheet of music. I learned that the organ was from the year 1910. As the old man cranked the handle, the sheet of music followed its course through the inner workings of this relic and music filled the garage. I photographed as quickly as I could, trying to get all the angles covered. I even had time to shoot some video.

I thanked the old man and gave him a few CUCs

Later when I reviewed my images I noticed that the old man’s expression never changed.



La Loma de la Cruz

La Loma de la Cruz

At the northern end of Holguin, a stairway built in 1950 ascends 465 steps (irregular in width and height) to the top of a hill with panoramic views, a restaurant and a 24-hour bar.
A cross was raised here in 1790 in the hope of relieving a drought. During Romerías de Mayo, devotees climb to the summit on May 3 where a special Mass is held.

Taxis are available to drive sightseers to the top, but I wanted to be able to say that I climbed the steps. The climb is probably best made in the cooler morning hours, but I wanted the evening light. So in 90 degree heat and 90% humidity it took me 25 minutes to reach the top.


Oswal lives in the neighborhood where I always stay in Havana. When I see him on the street, he always tries to speak with me in English. One day his mother and father invited me into their home. The father spoke some English and wanted his son to learn. I emphasized how important it will be for Oswal’s future. In eight or ten years when he is looking for work, one of the many new hotels in Havana might hire him if he speaks another language. A restaurant or hotel job would give Oswal the opportunity to earn tips in the highly coveted tourist money. ( CUCs)

In October I brought a Spanish/English dictionary and told Oswal to practice and that I would check on him when I visited again.
Before I left for home, I received a nice message from his mother thanking me for encouraging her son to study:

“Hola Marco. Estoy muy agradecida por que gracias a usted Oswal se a interesado por el english.”

(“Hi Mark. I am very grateful that thanks to you Oswal was interested in the english language.”)

When I returned two months later I presented Oswal with a study guide.

I’ll visit whenever I get back to Havana and try to encourage him more. He’s young, and girls and cell phones will distract him, but at least he now has the opportunity to better himself.

A Simple Pen


There is no breeze. It’s the middle of the afternoon. It’s hot and humid. It’s the tropics, after all.

I stopped to talk with three ladies selling “refresco” out of a huge blue tank on wheels. The colored and flavored liquid they dispensed resembled unset Jell-O or, to date myself, Za-Rex. People brought their own bottles and paid a few pesos for the sticky, sweet syrup.

Two of the ladies were fanning themselves. I said to the other woman that she also needed a fan. When she replied that she didn’t even have a fan at home, I half jokingly said “Let’s go. I’ll buy you one”. I could not image trying to sleep without circulating some air.

She immediately took me up on my offer. It was almost two hours later before we found a fan. We walked in a huge circle from the west end of Centro Havana to Old Havana and back  before we stumbled on an out-of-the-way store that had new fans.

I thought she was going to cry when I presented the box to her.

Looking through her bag she said “I have nothing to give you, but please take my pen”

That pen now sits on my desk.

That pen reminds me of the struggles of every day life some people face.

That pen reminds me daily of how fortunate I am.




Street Play

Shirts, no shirts

Shoes, no shoes

One shoe on and one shoe off.

It’s a hot and humid August evening in Centro Habana, but nothing matters to these boys when it comes to having fun playing  fútbol.

They play across a narrow street in Centro Habana with open doorways serving as goals.

Balls bounce off walls and curbs, but the action doesn’t stop unless a pedestrian gets hit while sneaking past.