Rural Cuba really takes you back to the '40s and earlier. It's a relaxed life centered around friends and family. We visited a tobacco farm where workers, mostly women, dry and roll those famous Havana Cigars.
Eastern Cuba, the Oriente, where the Castro brothers were born and where the revolution began, is much different than Havana and the Western side of the island. The landscape is mostly jungle, sugar cane, small rural villages and families living alongside the river. They do farm, but their tools and transportation are from the early part of last century: horse and cart, human labor, hand made plow and other simple tools, and small family vegetable fields. Baracoa is located up in the rainy part of the Oriente while Santiago, further south, is dry. The U.S property, Guantanamo, is here, but is highly guarded.
My December, 2015 trip began in Santiago de Cuba where we spent the afternoon photographing the people at work and play We stayed at Hotel Casa Grande across from the park in the center of the city. It is a reasonable hotel, but expect the unexpected. Electricity/ air conditioning is what you pray keeps working. Santiago sits up above the Atlantic coast and it's a short walk down to the beach. It's an incredible experience (because "experience" is how I describe all of Cuba) and I highly recommend spending time there.
After a couple of days, we drove north and East to Baracoa, another town on the Atlantic. On the way we skirted Guantanamo, an area we have all heard of and that is still leased by the U.S. for $1.00 per year.
On the way to Baracoa, Carlos took us to a place where the river ran shallow so that we could spend half a day walking upstream to photograph the people who live in the villages that line the river. He engaged a villager to fashion some walking sticks for us out of bamboo. I don't know what we would have done without them.
Each morning mothers bring their children to the river to bathe them and to wash their clothes. They all were exceptionally friendly and the children were likely amused watching us tip toe through the shallow water fully dressed and leaning on our walking sticks for balance. It might be the one thing they remember about the "crazy" Americanas.
I have photographed Cuba several times every year since 2010 and most of the trips were led by Santa Fe Photography Workshops (www.santafeworkshops.com) They include many of the top cuban photographers on every trip which makes my experience so productive.