By Louis Bryant, III | OBSERVER Photojournalist

Cars have remained in service for several decades. Many of the reasons they remain functional is due to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Cuban people despite lack of resources and limitations on imported goods.

Whether you’re a tourist or a traveler, it’s easy to get mixed up into preconceived notions that fulfill the fantasy of a place. This is meant to entice and stimulate you or in some cases dissuade your interests. Due to the lack of clear information at times one can assume that Cuba is like many other central, and Latin American countries, but even for my brief stay we were able to see that there are many layers to peel back and discover the depth of Cuba’s rich culture and thick African ties. While traveling I always try to focus my experience on being present and extend myself to as much local interaction as possible.

Richard, classic car taxi driver poses after providing the group a ride.

Abakuá dancing ceremony in the Callejon del Hamel. A small alley packed with locals and a few tourists observe dancing rituals tied to Yoruba religion.

One of my first experiences was visiting Callejón del Hamel, and to the typical person who witnesses music and dance you would just think it was an expression of Rumba, but we soon discovered what we saw is the practice of a religion called the Abakuá** which has direct ties to Yoruba and West African religion.(see video for a sneak peek of the ceremony).

Drummers laying down the beat for dancing ceremony in the Callejon del Hamel. A small alley packed with locals and a few tourists observe dancing rituals tied to Yoruba religion.

The Abakuá dance traces back to the Yoruba religion of West Africa.

Good energy, vibrant dance, beautiful colors, and an African rhythm in the air create good times for our first stop on our trip.

I don’t know what stands out about me when I travel whether I’m 6 foot or always flash a smile as wide as my face or that I carry a camera or the combination of all three, but it does attract individuals at times sometimes in a negative way sometimes in a positive way Which is why as a photographer I’m always alert, but as a human being, I try not to let assumptions threaten my interactions with new faces. One of these faces I met at Callejón del Hamel, and after a little bit of time we ended up briefly chatting in as much broken Spanish as I know, I’m having a drink together while enjoying the festivities. I captured a portrait of him before I was to leave, filling up his entire face in the frame because I didn’t want the colors in the background and the people to distract the individual from the experience that we shared, so I photographed his face.

A kind fellow who shared a drink with me while we enjoyed the dancing and music of the Callejón del Hamel.

Briefly, speaking with the person on the side of a road who offered tourist rides around Havana, his car was decked out, and Coca-Cola red accompanied with (un)official logo in various places. His name was Osman, and one of the last encounters that we had, because he lived off the street that we resided in for the week, was witnessing him repair and bleed out his brake system for his 50s Chevy. He told me shops charge too much, and he does know how to do the work himself, it just takes time.

Osmel, taxi driver repairing his own brake calipers on the side of the road with a small set of tools.

Well, some people say time stands still here. Much of that has to do with the embargo. It is typical to see a car from the late 1940s and 50s driving around with a modern radio or upgraded tachometer, but the upkeep of these cars is a statement of resiliency that is beyond just keeping a machine alive. It almost represents how the country itself keeps rolling despite the lack of parts, it’s the presence of ingenuity and unity to progress.

Street scene captured while in Old Havana. 

Dr. Norma Rita Guillard Limonta – social psychologist, Afro-feminist, participant in the literacy campaign, creator of the lesbian campaign and a social activist for all groups that need her support.

The gentlemen were playing dominos on the side of the road and offered me an invitation to capture photos.

Emilio Ruiz Garcia, husband to Marta, poses for a portrait in his home after offering tea and biscuits when we visited his home in search of his granddaughter, Yuli.

Marta Martinez Calunga and Emilio Ruiz Garcia wave goodbye from their home.

Adelaida, fortune teller and tarot reader situated int he Plaza de la Catedral in Old Havana

It’s the people that make up the nation, not the nation that makes the people and with my days on the ground in Cuba the people I met were all gracious individuals. Despite experiencing a devastating hurricane which resulted in blackouts, shortages of resources, flooded areas and displaced people we were greeted with love and abundance with offerings that could fit in your hand, but not in your heart.

Cuba Photo Essay