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Climbing in Cuba: Behind the Scenes

By Holly Wilmeth


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In the January/February 2012 issue, we featured Holly Wilmeth’s photos from a trip to Cuba she took with writer Majka Burhardt, as well as Tara Guertin (AFAR’s director of photography) and Tara’s sister Erin Guertin. Holly shot the beautiful cover image for that issue (above).

We wanted to share a few more of Holly’s images and her entertaining descriptions too.


National Spanish Ballet
The National Spanish Ballet School is in the old National Theatre right next to the Capitol in downtown Havana. The building itself is exquisite, large rooms that remind one of a time long ago when Cuba danced in splendor. The students practice on shaky wooden floors and use shoes taped together with adhesive, and yet the instant the pounding starts and the twirls and jumps commence, I was rapt, standing there in awe at the beauty these figures express, at their perfectly chiseled bodies, and the way they move to the music. We spent an hour with the dancers, and just as we were heading out the door, this was the last shot, a young couple dancing in front of those gorgeous windows.


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Vinales (three hot ladies in front of the old car)
From left: Majka, Erin, Tara. Skirt lifted just a little there by Erin to show off the car’s license plate. Three beautiful ladies just standing in front of the old car, all colors matching, palm tree in the back—it looks like we really put some effort into thinking this one out. Well, it was actually a shot taken after a long day clinging to the walls and rock-climbing in Vinales. We were all cleaned up and looking fresh and heading to the main square to get mojitos.


Climbing: What Not to Wear
This is me, in my cobbled-together rock climbing outfit. I came to photograph, not to climb—but I had to be ready to get up close. Well, first day out my pants ripped, dangling from over 250 meters above the beautiful agricultural landscape of Vinales. And I was left with nothing but my shorts, and since we had to literally cut our paths through the jungle, long socks were a must. Yes, they have dots. But they saved my skinny legs from getting all cut up.


Boy at Barber Shop
I was going into this barber shop to deliver some photos I had from other customers from a previous trip to Trinidad. I walk in and there are twins getting their first hair cut on their first birthday. I’ve been shooting twins in Cuba for the last two years, and couldn’t resist it. This little guy wasn’t too happy about getting a hair cut, though his brother didn’t mind.


This old printing press office was closed, but they opened it up for us and we spent a good 20 minutes looking through all their old letters to try and put this together. You never know what you might find while snooping about.


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Casa de la Musica
That’s Tara and Erin dancing and shaking and moving and looking pretty darn good. They were walking down the Havana streets in their high-heeled shoes—you should have seen the guys looking over their shoulders. In this image you can see Erin at the right, she is giving every little salsa-shaking instinct a good try as her man whoops her right and left. Tara is twirling and twirling. The Casa de la Musica is this dark bodega where anything that is white shines bright, and where this band of boys will get up on stage and play loud salsa music every day until way past midnight.

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