A Jennings County resident who visited Cuba several years ago is using her collection of photographs to help others understand what daily life is like in the country.
Collages of images selected from the more than 6,000 photographs Ellen Olmstead took at various sites across Cuba will be on display throughout March at A Perfect Day Cafe in North Vernon.
“I just thought since Cuba is in the news now, people might enjoy seeing what life is really like in Cuba,” said Olmstead, a Hayden resident, who took the photos during her motorcycle tour through Cuba in 2013.
“I selected photos that I think will give a true image of the Cuban people,” she added.
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Olmstead and her companion Don Miller joined 16 other bikers for the 14-day motorcycle tour across Cuba.
“Normally, I ride my own bike, but since I didn’t know if we would ever be allowed to return to Cuba, this time, I rode on the back of Don’s so I could take as many pictures as possible. Everything was just fascinating,” said Olmstead.
Officially titled The Republic of Cuba, the collection of islands less than a 100 miles from Florida’s shore is most often simply called Cuba. Since 1959, when Fidel Castro took over the island nation and established a socialist government under tightly controlled military leadership, relations between the United States and Cuba were strained and sometimes hostile. Travel to Cuba was difficult and sometimes forbidden by one or both governments until President Barack Obama lifted the ban on U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba in 2009.
“The head of the Cuban Harley group was our tour guide and we were allowed to go about everywhere,” said Olmstead. “I didn’t notice any restrictions or police or military interference. The people were so friendly. They didn’t have much in the way of material things but they seemed happy.”
Their motorcycle tour through Cuba began in Havana and then moved to Cienfuegos, Trinidad Camaguey, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo City, Baracoa and Santa Clara.
Called a People-to-People Exchange, the tour included visits to schools, hospitals, senior centers, a sugar cane factory, a guitar factory, a crocodile farm, museums, tobacco farms and artists colonies.
“Life around the cities didn’t seem so different. It was kind of like it was here when I was a kid. But when you got into the country, things were very different,” Olmstead said. “Sometimes people were using animals to plow their fields because they didn’t have tractors. There weren’t many cars either, and people piled into any kind of transportation they could find just to get around. But everywhere the people seemed happy.”
Avid motorcyclists, Olmstead and Miller have taken several motorcycle tours around the world visiting five European countries, Australia and many spots across the U.S.
“Of all the places we have been, I would really like to go back to Cuba. I would go back in a heartbeat. The people just seemed so relaxed and friendly,” Olmstead said. “After we had been in Cuba and we landed back in the Miami airport, I looked around and saw everyone in the airport wrapped up in their electronics and nobody was friendly. I felt we had landed on a different planet. All at once, I really missed Cuba.”
WHAT: Display of photographs taken by Hayden resident Ellen Olmstead of her motorcycle trip through Cuba.
WHO: Open to the public.
WHEN: Normal business hours, 7 a.m. until 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, throughout March.
WHERE: A Perfect Day Cafe, 221 E. Walnut, North Vernon.
HOW: No purchase in the cafe is required, just drop by.