Daryl Hawk photos
Explorer, international documentary photographer and Wilton resident Daryl Hawk touched down in the capital city of Havana on April 18 and set off on a 2,700-mile quest across Cuba to capture the soul of the once-estranged island nation.

“It was one of the most memorable two weeks and one of the most exciting documentaries I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “It was incredible.”

In Cuba, Hawk spent the two weeks capturing photos of the people, land, architecture and essence of cities such as Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba and Havana, as well as the rural Vinales region and the country’s diverse coastline, lowland plains and interior villages.

During his trip, Hawk said, he took around 5,000 photos. After returning home, Hawk spent three to four weeks organizing them into a presentation called “Into the Heart of Cuba,” which he will share at Wilton Library on Sept. 15.

Hawk said Cuba was “the perfect balance between beautiful light, beautiful color, and extraordinary people.”

“Native people are often very reserved and introverted,” he said, “but in Cuba, they were much more extroverted, outgoing and excited to see me.”

Hawk said the people of Cuba were “really, really friendly, outgoing, warm, inviting, very enthusiastic, humble, and very excited to see an American” — especially one traveling by himself.

“It was very unusual for them to see an American all alone traveling like I did,” said Hawk, who was one of the few Americans granted unrestricted access to Cuba.

“Most people who go to Cuba go in groups, and up until about March, Americans were only allowed to travel in groups.”

After President Barack Obama visited the island nation, Hawk said, he received word that Americans were able to go there and travel alone. This, he said, was the opening he had been waiting for.

“I’ve had Cuba planned for about 10 years, but I just couldn’t go because I’m known to always travel alone,” said Hawk. “As soon as I found out that you could travel alone, I immediately put together this whole trip and planned it out. It was a lot of work, a lot of research, but I was able to put it all together in just a few months.”

Hawk said the “key ingredient” to his successful trip was securing a good driver and guide, which he was able to do with the help of his neighbor, who happens to be from Cuba.

“The roads were challenging — a lot are rough and unpaved,” said Hawk, who rode around the country in a 1953 Chevy. “It’s not an easy place to travel around.”

Hawk said he travels alone because it’s important for him to be totally engrossed in his work.

“I really immersed myself in Cuba for those few weeks. I totally cut myself off from the outside world because I wanted to be in the moment, in the place, 24 hours a day,” said Hawk, who rented out rooms in people’s homes instead of staying in hotels in order to get a more intimate, personal experience and understanding of what life is like in the country.

Hawk said visiting Cuba was an “energetic” and “spiritual” experience with “non-stop visual stimulation from dawn to dusk.”

“Your senses go into overdrive,” he said. “It’s a real privilege to do what I do — to see life up close.”

Hawk said his goal is to “do the most in-depth documentary ever done on Cuba,” which means going back “at least a couple more times.”

“I’m going back again in December,” he said. “Even though I covered about half of the country this last time, there’s still a lot of areas — mostly in the eastern part called the Orient — that I need to get back to and document.”

To learn more about Hawk, visit www.darylhawk.com and www.hawkphotography.com.