Child friendly Cuba

Mamma mia, here we go again!

Once we had the kids a serious talk was in order. We had to decide how we would be traveling from now on. As everyone with children knows, there is life as we once knew it – and then there is life with kids. A whole new world unfolds with the added responsibility of making sure two little people are safe and sound at all times.

Whilst this may not be everybody's idea of safe, it works for us.

We decided to take the leap. Putting our hiking boots and backpacks on the shelf just wasn’t an option we would be happy with. So our quest began. Where to?

We wanted exotic, safe and fun. Preferably somewhere warm. And the more we researched, the clearer it became that Cuba seemed to match all those requirements.

Being an island with a communist rule, it is a different kettle of fish all together compared to other countries in the area. And although we may not be in favour of the Cuban dictatorship, it has to be said that it has laid the grounds for a society with very little crime. Cubans are in general a people with a high moral standard. They are friendly and grateful for information about the world outside their bubble.

So we got our Lonely Planet book and started preparing for our one month in Cuba.

We “did” Havana, Viñales, Remedios, Santa Clara, Cayo de las Brujas and Trinidad. Then back to Havana and the nearby beaches called Playas del Este. And of course we popped into Cojimar where Hemingway found inspiration for his classic The Old man and the Sea.

Trinidad is one of our favourite places. All picturesque and pastel coloured.

An adventure for sure. A bumpy ride in our little, red rental car. Apparently the street signs get nicked because scrap metal sells on the black market… so very few of those around. We could easily go on and on about our experiences. However, it all boils down to four things:

1 – The people of Cuba are brilliant, genuine, friendly people and we have never felt safer anywhere.

People may be weighed down by poverty, but they are still happy. Communism ensures everybody has health care and education.

2 – The Cuban food stinks. Yes. It quite literally stinks! More often than not it is way passed its due date, and to add insult to injury, they are limited to very few ingredients. There is the staple fare consisting of pork and beans, known locally as frijoles. Then they have eh, stale bread and a very poor version of the bologna sausage. This is not because the Cubans don’t appreciate good food. It’s simply because the country is so poor it’s lacking in basic cupboard ingredients.

One poor cow... there's not much cattle in Cuba, it's easy to see why.

There is of course the wonderful exception of lobster which is only available on the black market because it’s intended for export. And no one can take away their abundance of fresh fruit which make for healthy breakfasts. Everything else will give you stomach upsets. Guaranteed!

Casas Particulares are the Cuban version of B&B. Here at Cuca and Molina in Remedios, we experienced our very best homestay. And Cuca's home made mango jam, ahhh!

3 – Viñales is a place we’d return to any day. It’s rich in natural beauty, and still not on the main tourist trail.

Viñales is one of those places where you feel at home at once. Here our son is playing baseball in the hood.

Waking up to this is what traveling is all about, right?

4 – Finally, we strongly suggest you bring your own nappies if you’re traveling with infants. The local variety seems to be made to repel liquid rather than absorb it. (Ladies, this also applies to sanitary towels I’m afraid). It got really interesting when our one year old caught a stomach bug, no picture required.

To sum it up we all loved Cuba. It had the natural beauty we were hoping for, the drop dead gorgeous beaches, the friendly people, the photogenic bits like vintage cars and rustic housing. And most importantly, although we did get the odd stomach upset, we felt safe. And that’s a feeling that goes a long way in terms of traveling with the kiddos.

Try explaining this to your kids once Castro's gone.

Fancy reading more about our Cuban adventure? Well, we were both relieved and impressed with the absence of advertising. It struck us after a few days that our eyes were rested. How weird is that!?

Check out the ONLY billboards that tell Cubans what they should be doing.

How to become a travel journalist – 1

Today I am starting a new series here on photito’s blog…

Many people ask me how, how much, when and all sorts of other business related questions about being a travel journalist. It is a field many want to venture into, and as I’m sure you’re aware of, there is no easy way or a guaranteed method that will make you reach your goal.

I feel the need to stress that I have no recipe that will work wonders for you. However, my approach has worked for me, so it certainly can be done. I have no formal education as a writer, only as a photographer. It tends to be the other way around. Trained journalists tend to be able to take a decent photo. In my case, I’m a trained photographer who am able to write a decent article.

PLUS 


I believe this has worked in my favour. It creates appealing packages which are easy to use for the publisher. I have had lots of feedback from magazines about the photo material I supply being a cut above the rest. This will of course in turn save the publication the cost of buying stock photos.

Below is an example of the type of photographs I supplied with a text about the people of Cuba.

A contact sheet is a great way for the editor to get a quick overview of your images:

My husband and I met these people when travelling through Cuba a couple of years ago. They all had really interesting stories to tell. About communism, about Castro, about poverty and food shortage. However, their stories would not be printable without these strong, vivid portraits of their faces. In most cases it is still true that a picture says more than a thousand words.

First lesson – Be commercial

I will be getting more into details about what type of photographs the editors are looking for later on in the series. The first point I would like to put across however, is about how to actually make money as a travel journalist.

I believe most budding travel journalists aspire to National Geographic standards. We want to reveal beautiful places, and share with our readers what makes these places so special. Truth is that there’s nothing wrong in aiming high, but until you reach your goal of being published by National Geographic, you’ll most probably need some cash for bread and butter.

So. If you go to India, by all means, spend two weeks with a family living in the slum. Take all those wonderful images that convey a feel of the place. Get the information and enrich yourself. But along the way, try to think of a way to convey your story to the masses.

Travel magazines and some lifestyle magazines (i.e newspaper supplements) are the only ones publishing in depth stories with a strong documentary feel these days. However, there are lots of other publications that use travel articles frequently.

If you’re not sure where to start, get a travel piece together and start out by sending it to your local paper. It can be about a new cafeteria in town, about a botanical garden where you’ve taken stunning pictures. It isn’t necessarily the most exotic articles that are the easiest to sell!

Be prepared to get paid a modest amount, as local newspapers don’t tend to have a big budget for their travel pieces. However, it’s more about getting published and learning about the process than big earnings in the beginning.

But let me get back to your two weeks in India’s slum…

If you don’t succeed in selling your documentary style article to the travel magazine of your dreams – and even if and when you do succeed in doing so – chances are they will pay you between $ 1.000 – 2.000 for it. This will of course cover the costs, but won’t leave you with much change for your next plane ticket. So the key to successful travel journalism (as long as you’re a freelancer of course), is to squeeze your destinations and make two, three or maybe even four sellable stories from each trip.

You could always base your article on one of the people you meet. Convey a sense of their perspective.

If you have three weeks in India, and want to spend two of them experiencing the slum, you should come up with a strategy. Maybe something like this:

Week one: Get a feel of the place, talk to people, get cracking with the photographs, make arrangements to meet other people that may have something valuable to add to your article. Within the first week you will most likely have your documentary style article nailed.

Week two: Track down other tourists in the slum. Photograph them, and interview them about their experiences. This way you will not have to base your writings on your own experiences alone, and you can spice up your text with other people’s thoughts. This can easily become a travel article for the adventurous, something you can sell to a travel magazine back home.

Week three: Find a subject matter that interests you within your location in the slum. It can be saris, vaccination programs or food storage. It doesn’t matter, but it is often easier to sell a text with particular angle to it, than just an overview of a place kind of article. There are LOTS of specialized magazines that are interested in anything from cross stitching to thatched roofs. If you have an article with great pictures of saris – first hand tales from the depths of the Indian slums – people will be interested in reading about it!

Conclusion: If you succeed with the plan above, you will have three articles to sell from your three weeks in India. If you have any time leftover you could consider making a photo story on, let’s say, slum dogs. Sometimes travel magazines publish photo documentaries which don’t require much text.

Animals sometimes have interesting stories to tell...

Finally – get out there and be creative! Do lots of research before you go, and decide what you’re hoping to cover. It makes the job a lot easier than just wandering around aimlessly with a camera, hoping that something interesting will come your way.

Feel free to check out some of our recently published work from Marrakech, or how about finding out more about mainland Spain’s best beaches?

Fancy reading more travel journalism DIY tips? Check out part two of our series which focuses on how to move on from having a successful travel blog to getting your articles printed and published the old fashioned way.