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A rare bird’s-eye view of Cuba

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"Unseen Cuba" follows the success of two coffee table books that explored the beauty of the Yucatan.
“Unseen Cuba” follows the success of two coffee table books that explored the beauty of the Yucatan.

The photographer behind “Heavenly Yucatan” and “Magic Cancun & Riviera Maya” is now exhibiting a side of Cuba that is rarely seen.

Lithuanian photographer Marius Jovaiša is the first and only artist to receive permission from the Cuban government to fly over the country and photograph it. His work is collected in “Unseen Cuba” (Unseen Pictures, $99.95).

“I put a lot of my heart into this project,” the photographer told the Miami Herald. 

Shot from an ultralight craft, with stunning aerial views of the island from Cabo de San Antonio on the western tip to Baracoa in the east, “Unseen Cuba” is the culmination of almost five grueling years of Jovaiša’s life. He came up with the idea after the success of “Unseen Lithuania,” which sold 70,000 copies in a country of less than three million people.

Marius Jovaiša tours the U.S. to promote "Unseen Cuba." Photo: Facebook
Marius Jovaiša tours the U.S. to promote “Unseen Cuba.” Photo: Facebook

Having grown up under Soviet rule in Lithuania, Jovaiša expected red tape, but he had no idea he’d spend 2 1/2 years wrestling with bureaucrats.

In Cuba, armed with his books and plans and promises to pay for everything, he agreed with officials to hire a Cuban pilot and not import one from Lithuania, Australia or the United States. But acceptance was hard-fought.

Jovaiša eventually got the OK, with stipulations. No Cuban pilot was trained on the sort of ultralight he had shipped over from Australia, but a Lithuanian pilot was allowed into the country to help assemble it and to provide training. The government also provided a map dictating where he was allowed to fly. At first, all major cities were out of bounds.

Jovaiša, who admits he adapted a bit of a “ask for forgiveness, not permission” attitude, decided to start shooting, show the officials his work and apply for the permits again. The strategy worked: After a year, he tried again and received permission to shoot all the cities except Havana, which he was eventually allowed to photograph in April.

Jovaiša says his favorite sights were mostly around Baracoa.

“When the sun is low, and you see those endless little islands going toward the horizon with all the reflections, it’s so mystical for me,” he says, adding that he sought out the juxtaposition of manmade structures against natural beauty and that “I am a huge fan of morning mists.”

“Unseen Cuba” is for sale on Amazon.com.

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