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Sun, Salsa & Beautiful Graphics in Cuba

Getting inspiration, fresh energy and regularly changing my perspective are extremely important to me - especially as a brand designer. So I decided to spend the time around NYE 2022/23 in Cuba, more precisely in its capital city Havana (or “La Habana” as the locals call it).


I went to the Caribbean for the second time within a year, because: you just can't get enough of the Caribbean joy of life! I was also able to expand my dance skills in Salsa and Rueda de Casino accordingly.


Follow me to exciting Cuba in this blog article.



COLOURFUL ARCHITECTURE AND DEADLY PAVEMENTS IN HAVANA


Communism and dictatorship have left their mark on Cuba - also in terms of architecture. An adventurous mixture can be seen in its capital: ramshackle houses that collapse here and there, and some (though few) beautifully preserved buildings.


In Havana, it is actually safer to walk on the street than on the sidewalk, because it is quite possible that balconies on dilapidated buildings simply fall down and bury the sidewalk (including pedestrians) alive underneath. A sidewalk in Havana can become a death trap.



The wonderful, bright colours in the "graffiti" are far less dangerous. Look at those beautiful gradients! The street signs are also a real feast for the eyes and remind me of the street signs I discovered on my trip through Colombia in 2018.



As a brand designer, this UN1CO logo caught my attention, too. A clever mix of letters and numbers. What a great logo design!


un1co havana


GETTING TO THE NYE PARTY IN A COCO TAXI


The combination of communism and dictatorship makes the Cubans true improvisation artists. This was evident in many ways - fortunately also during our ride with the Coco Taxi from dinner to the Club Jardines del 1830, probably the most legendary club in Havana - located by the water, open air, simply beautiful.


coco taxi havana


Unfortunately, after filming our ride with the Coco Taxi, the very vehicle broke down due to (probably) old age. After hearing a few sad, metallic noises, nothing worked anymore. “My brother will come with another Coco Taxi and take you to the club,” the Coco driver assured us. And that's exactly what happened just a few minutes later.



INTENSE DANCE TRAINING IN CUBA


During the day we went to dance trainings with Cuban professional dancers for about four hours a day. Salsa, Rueda de Casino, Rumba, Afro, Son and Cha Cha Cha were on the program - two weeks packed with training, which I had rarely experienced so intensively before, at the Mari Suri dance school.


By the way, Salsa was not originally called Salsa, but Casino. The US-Americans simply made Salsa out of the term Casino. Oh well….


mari suri dance school havana cuba

Besides all the dance training there was also a percussion workshop to get a better understanding of different rhythms and claves. A very nice and funny official from the Cuban Ministry of Culture showed us how different clave rhythms work. By the way, I thought it was wonderful to see how a Cuban official can look like. :-)





My absolute favorite dance is Rueda de Casino. You dance in a circle as a couple, constantly changing partners, there are new commands and figures being announced and danced spontaneously. This creates a great group dynamic, which is just so much fun.



I was particularly grateful and happy that I was able to meet Juanito in person, the inventor of Rueda de Casino. What a lovely man in a suit and hat! I just had to say "thank you" to him for inventing a dance that brings so much joy to me and so many other people around the world. "Muchas gracias de mi corazón, Juanito!" is all I can say. It was a great honour for me to dance in Ruedas in front of him.


juanito rueda de casino

In addition to Latin American dance steps, there are also a lot of African influences in Cuba. Elements of Afro and Rumba are often incorporated into Salsa or Rueda. I was able to observe authentic Rumba and Afro dances in the Callejón de Hamel. An ecstatic mood that is second to none!





EL DINERO

Money is a special topic in Cuba. One particularly fun thing, but one that initially shocked me quite a bit, is the currency symbol. For example, the US dollar sign $ is also used for CUP (cuban pesos). So a cocktail doesn't cost 200 US dollars, but 200 Cuban pesos. Even if inflation in Cuba is extremely high, it's not that high.


money in cuba


"BIG BRANDS" IN CUBA

On my roundtrip through Colombia in 2018, I had already experienced that big brands like to be copied (e.g. Starbucks in Medellín). Here in Cuba, too, I came across local brands reminiscent of Apple and Coca-Cola. How would my iPhone have felt if I had taken it to this Apple store for repairs? Hmm....



Let's take a look at the logo of the Cuban Fiesta Cola. The swirl of Coca-Cola is reflected in the F of Fiesta, the swirl of the L in in Coca-Cola is subtly copied over into the F letter of Fiesta Cola (marked red in the photo below).



Or how about Pringles? The Caribbean version is called Mister Potato, produced in Southeast Asia, imported to Mexico and brought to Cuba by mule (completely legal, by the way), declared at high cost and sold in a living room shop.



In the picture below you can see original goods in another living room shop - original goods are available, albeit very rare and outrageously expensive.


shopping in kuba


VAMOS A LA PLAYA

Besides all the physical exercise of the dance training, we also had to relax here and there - for example on the Caribbean beach or in a wonderfully refreshing river.



beach cuba




cuba


MANGONAS TRAVELLING

How did my trip to Cuba come about? I was in a dance class at home in Innsbruck (in the Salsa Advanced 2 course at Salsa Libre to be exact) and spotted a poster on the wall: New Year's Eve in Cuba with Mangonas Travelling. Even though I'm usually the most unspontaneous person ever, I took a picture of this poster and booked the trip the next day.


Thanks to Maria and Nadine from Mangonas Traveling for this unforgettable journey! There are even more insights on Instagram.



Copyright photos & videos: Helene Clara Gamper, Mangonas Travelling, Adrian Argudin Valdes

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