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Jim Hughes has been an Isles of Capri icon for many reasons.

He owned and operated Jim Hughes Electric business on the isles until his retirement several years ago. He also has served as chairman of the Isles of Capri fire-rescue advisory committee. Several years ago, he escalated his photography hobby and made his camera go to work for the local residents.

For the two years it took to change out the infrastructure of Capri's potable water system, Jim followed the construction crew with his camera every work day from onset to completion. He also has photographed just about every event that has taken place to be sure that all of Capri's history in the making is kept intact. More recently, he joined a camera club in Naples to improve his skills and has traveled many places off-island in pursuit of photo opportunities. He has never ceased sharing his prize catches with his talented camera lens with his fellow Capriers.

Last week, Hughes sent some of the most interesting photos to the coconut tele to be shared with friends and neighbors. In addition to his snapshots, he wrote a story to accompany the photos explaining the events that he captured on film in his "trip of a lifetime" to Cuba.

This is his story.

Person to Person

"Since January 16, there have been several categories for Americans to travel to Cuba, each requiring a visa. Person to Person has been the most popular category and is offered by Friendly Planet Tours, the one chosen by our photography group. It was an all-inclusive trip, even including our Cuban guide. It was so memorable; I am planning to return in the fall. I took 2,200 photos of people, cars, streets, buildings and unique cultural subjects. To me, it was a trip of a lifetime and allowed me to see a glow on the horizon for the Cuban people after 56 years of darkness.

"The Cuban people see, with caution, a long awaited dawn with the opening of the United States boarders. Some say this as a way to open the doors to imports, exports, trade and improve wages. They see it as a means for improving their standard of living and their economy. Some are opposed. Those I spoke with who are afraid of the future know they will no longer be able to come ashore in the USA and have political asylum. They have been told they will no longer receive money and be allowed to stay in the USA unless they enter legally.

"Those 56 years of age and older seem to have settled into a life of socialism and think of it as more secure and consistent than revolutions. Those born after the embargo, do not know any other way and are comfortable receiving an allotment of food and a few CUCs (Cuban currency), and being able to earn a few more CUCs by driving taxis, selling sandwiches, souvenirs, or being a mechanic, an electrician plumber, or working for the state. Those born in the last 15 to 25 years have gone beyond the required 11 years of school and attended the university. I feel that the younger ones are the future of Cuba and their families. This group will bring Cuba from being ravaged by neglect to an economic era that could be like nothing of the past.

"I am hopeful that they will discover the untouched wealth of minerals and agriculture in their country, improve their infrastructures, and their means for employment. This might have a lasting effect on the tourism of Southwest Florida, if the snowbirds become attracted to a land of more economic benefits and more consistent warm weather.

"I took photos of the ingenious way in which the Cubans refurbished old cars brought in from the US. They made them look like new and called them "classic taxis." They take pride in driving responsibly so as not to get even so much as a scratch on them. These cars have the absolute right of way over everything else, and I swear I saw a dog look both ways before crossing.

"Schools are located in neighborhoods as needed. Girls wear red dresses with a white blouse. Boys wear blue pants with a white shirt. Grades 1-3 wear a blue scarf around their necks. Grades 4-6 wear a red scarf. From grade 3 to 11, English is taught. Kids walk to and from school alone at times. The neighborhood watches out for them. The doors to the schools are always open and have no security systems on them. The Ministry of Education funds the schools. A small monetary amount is charged parents for uniforms and food. Children are taught history of Cuba and other countries, Math, spelling, reading and geography, but in a conversation with a few girls at the lunch period, it seemed to me they thought the US only consists of California, Florida and Washington D.C.

"I did not see children talking on cell phones, and saw no adults talking, texting, or searching while driving. The kids played on the playgrounds, not on the video screen. They were seen playing baseball and other games they have seemed to have invented. In the evenings, I saw families out walking. Some fished from the seawalls, and a few others were seen diving and snorkeling. Most just came out to enjoy the cool evening. What a pleasant way of life!

"The only boats in the harbor are freighters or military vessels. It is against the law for a Cuban to step foot on a boat. There are about a dozen very small fishing boats owned by the state, that a very few, highly regulated, special men can use to fish commercially. These boats go out after sunrise and return by midafternoon. They are not out of sight and maybe a mile offshore.

"I found the restaurant food to be very good. Meat choices were chicken, pork, some fish and no beef. Salads are non-existent. A flan usually was served after eating and was delicious! At breakfast fruit was served, mango, papaya, pineapple, starfruit and bananas.

"Stealing, robbing, pick pocketing, cheating or other crimes are virtually non- existent. When our tour guide was asked about this, his answer was ... "drugs are highly forbidden and do not exist in this society, hence, no crime."

"We attended a cigar factory and watched as cigars were hand rolled into the finest ever. We were given a Romeo and Juliet cigar and shown how to smoke it. First a touch of Cuban coffee, then wash the pallet with fine rum. Next, light the cigar with a piece of cedar without inhaling. Then while holding it properly, inhale and hold the smoke in your mouth, tasting the aroma. Next, exhale but never draw the smoke into the lungs.

"Perhaps one of the most fascinating photos I took was that of a statue of the late Beatle John Lennon's rotten tooth. Story has it that a Canadian dentist, Dr. Michael Zuk, took some of the DNA off Lennon's rotten molar he bought at auction and claims he has a plan to clone and rear the bogus Beatle.

"This trip made me feel I had stepped back in time, but it also gave me a glimpse of a possible new and improved future for some of the kindest, most hospitable people who do not realize how poor they are. I hope to return in the future to explore the inland and mountain areas. Cuba is slightly smaller than Florida, 119 miles across and 700 miles long."

Contact Ann Hall at ahall7911@coconuttele.net.

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