Where Time Stands Still






As much as I wrote that Cuba is changing in my last post, this doesn’t occur for people in the countryside, that is, the majority of Cubans. So it is for the family of farmers I have followed closely over 20 years, the family of Nuñez who lives in the beautiful valley of Viñales. Here life stands still, with only few changes happening over the decades – mostly changes that follow the life cycle, such as people been born and dying.

Paradoxically the town of Viñales itself is maybe one of the areas in Cuba that is changing the most. A few years ago, it was a little, sleepy town, a serene secret that only a few outsiders knew about. Today it’s definitely no longer a secret; every tourist coming to Cuba seems to want to go to Viñales, to experience its irresistible beauty and laid-back atmosphere. Where only one restaurant existed a few years ago, today the main street running through the town is lined up with restaurants, cafes and pubs catering to every taste. When I first visited Viñales there were only three hotels on the outskirt of the town. Today supposedly more than a thousand private rooms run as bed and breakfasts are available for tourist seeking to Viñales.

Nevertheless, tourists stay within the beaten tracks; what the guidebooks recommend or what the tourists have picked up by their fellow peers. Outside of the beaten tracks, not much is felt by their influence. As is the case with «my» family. The Nuñez’ live only 15 minutes drive outside the town, but they have not experienced any of the major changes happening there. Yes, once in a while a tourist stumble by their farm, but mostly they live their down-to-earth life and don’t feel much of the developing boom happening only a few stone throws away.

As always I feel almost unbelievable welcomed by the family. As I have written in posts in the past, they have almost become a second family for myself. Whenever I go to Cuba, I try to visit them. The pictures here are but a few I took when visiting my family this year.

77 thoughts on “Where Time Stands Still

      1. These are an excellent environmental portrait of ‘your’ family, Otto. Perhaps a way you can give back to them would be to sell some of these images and give them the proceeds. 🙂

  1. I was wondering, as I looked at the images, how you got so close to these people. Now I know; they are just a different type of family. I love the photo of the two women, and the first one with the hat. Agree there are many stories about these people that could be told.

  2. Yea, good stuff and good photos. I love the last one. Imo Cuba is going to change a lot now…unstoppable,,,everyone wants what we have and learning from our mistakes is not on the cards..they are going to do it all over again, history repeating itself constantly. Maybe it is better for the Cuban people that they do get some luxury and more freedom now.

    1. Well, changes are always unpredictable, but, yes, hopefully they will be to the better. Unfortunately, when it comes to luxury and freedom in other parts of the world it seems to be for the fortunate few.

  3. Oh my! These people do look so poor, and you can see the hardness of their daily lives etched on their faces. I really hope that there will be some improvement for them, and as Paula said, “that they do get some luxury and more freedom now.” It’s time. Great photos,Otto.

    1. I don’t think they will ever achieve anything close to luxury, but some improvements would be good. On the other hand they have something we have often lost, a big heart and being able to enjoy the small moments.

  4. I, too, love these family photos that you share. I can almost feel and smell the warm, damp air. And like others have said, I find it amazing that you show a connection with these people even though they aren’t necessarily looking at the camera.

  5. The color in these photos is just incredible Otto. They really are exceptional! I didn’t realize you’d been visiting with this family for over 20 years. I have previously commented on how your respect for people shines through your photography, and I think when it comes to the people of Cuba, it’s possible to see how you relate to each person as a member of your extended family, and they have welcomed you into their home. I wonder if you have any concerns about how a more open tourism is going to affect this “home?” I am so pleased that restrictions have been lifted, but wonder how American tourism will affect in ways that probably won’t be for the better. Bringing American dollars into an economy comes with other consequences, as you know. I hope to one day visit. I have always thought it was a fascinating country.

    1. Yes, tourism, whether American or other, does have a both positive and negative side. Hopefully some of the money will trickle down to my extended family and others in the same situation. And hopefully in the process they won’t lose their connection to the natural world. Thank you for a very thoughtful comment, Debra.

  6. I met the Nunez family back in 1994! Recognize the house. I remember the old man of the house (is he still alive?) rolled cigars to us on his thigh, he had grown the tobacco himself. And they gave us home grown coffee, sun dried and fresh roasted, it was the best coffee I have ever tasted. How fabulous to see these pictures! 🙂

  7. I love the way you bring out the humanity of people you photograph. I once spent a night in the jungle in Thailand staying with incredibly poor people, but the warmth of the people and their generosity remains in my heart all these decades later. An indelible experience of the kindness of people, however poor they are.

  8. Thought-provoking images. You help us to see their lives from the outside, but I wonder what it would really be like to be in their stead if only for an hour or two. The change of perspective would be revealing and I’m sure we would see ourselves very differently.

  9. Fantastic photos Otto, and it must be a great feeling to know that you have a home-away-from-home in such a great place as Cuba. I like your description of “Here life stands still, with only few changes happening over the decade” as it brings to mind many special places in the world where life, while difficult, is lived quite well.

  10. They are all magical – so intimate and revealing the beauty of their subjects. The last one feels mystical. It captures the feelings about Cuba that you write about. It is a privilege to witness your artistic vision, Otto.

  11. sorry, i have a head cold and am a bit punch drunk and that picture of the old lady with the blue scarf on her head.. i have to say that it looks like Madonna and Sean Penn haha sorry sorry

  12. Beautiful photos and story Otto, I have always wanted to visit Cuba, maybe one day,but for now your photos tell a wonderful story, the wood, the shapes, the lifestyle and scenery is just beautiful. They look like very hard workers, with and on the land, such a wonderful strength…..humble and hardworking. How wonderful to have been visiting for 20years. I will need to go back and look at the past images. Some may be film?

  13. Fascinerande bilder och historia…och en gåva att få komma så nära, att bli en del av familjen:)
    Jag tror nog att “din” familj har det mycket bättre än de som lever av och med den tilltagande turismen. Svårt att vara fattig förstås, men livet är säkert mycket rikare än hos turistarbetarna…bättre att vara fattig och stolt än att vara slav under mammon…kanske?
    Har följt dina äventyr, men har varit dålig på att kommentera…bättring följer, jag lovar!
    Allt väl här, även med dig hoppas jag!?

    1. Alt vel – og du trenger ikke å unnskylde deg. Er glad hver gang du tar turen innom bloggen. Og så tror jeg du har mye rett i dine tanker om det enkle livet i motsetning til de som ligger under for mammon. 🙂

  14. I really appreciate your post about Cuba, your description of its people and the impressive pictures, which tell a lot. I think your relationship with your friends there is very precious. I wish you many more trips to this country.

  15. When I lived and worked in upcountry Liberia, we used to laugh about groups coming from the U.S. for one-week, “in-depth” tours of the country. More often than not, they either sentimentalized the life of the village, or found it abhorrent, and in serious need of an upgrade: that is, they wanted it to be more like the U.S.

    What strikes me about your photos is that they don’t sentimentalize, and they don’t portray the materilal circumstances of life harshly. A long-term relationship with people helps to avoid those twin pitfalls. As a result, we get a more nuanced, more realistic view of your family’s life.

    1. I think for most tourist it’s easy to fall into the pit you are talking about. Like Norwegians travelling to their holiday resorts in southern Europe, only to seek out Norwegian food and Norwegian fellow travellers. We want what we know, don’t we. Thank you for a very poignant comment, Linda.

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