For some people, Cuba is a curiosity, a communist country where the look of the place belies the complexities and the richness.
Alice Short, an assistant managing editor for the Los Angeles Times, and Catherine Watson, a veteran travel writer, recently returned from Cuba. It was Short's first visit and Watson's fifth.
In articles in the print section of Sunday's Los Angeles Times and online this weekend, they compare their experiences in a country that brims with contradictions. Both comment on a sort of demolished beauty that may obscure the richness of the place.
In this video, Watson recounts a tale from her first visit to Cuba in 1999. Driving with a friend, they realized they were lost and stopped to ask directions of a man raking leaves. He took their map and explained they were going the wrong way.
She was surprised that "someone doing menial labor could read a map…because in a lot places in the U.S. I've been we can't," she said. And she recalled seeing men who were plowing with farm animals. But, she said, they were wearing bifocals.
Short said that many of the people she met were highly educated. Her tour guide had a degree in economics and spoke five or six languages. A restaurant manager was similarly educated.
"There's a lot they got wrong and a lot they didn't get at all," Watson said of the Cubans. "But healthcare and education they did, and that's an amazing story."
Their articles plus photography by staff photographer Brian van der Brug plus reader photos make up the portrait of the island nation.