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To Cuba by way of Salt Spring Island

To Cuba by Way of Salt Spring Island

Every once in a while an idea captures your imagination; it winds itself through your mind, gathering momentum as it grows until finally it ends up a full-blown dream.  That’s how the idea to travel to Cuba began to take form and unexpectedly led us to a cozy ocean side shack tucked in the woods of Salt Spring Island.

Our plan was to backpack through Cuba by bus, train, or by private car.  It was to be an adventure; a first of many future trips we planned to take together.  My husband and I are photographers, and Cuba, with its aged buildings, vibrant colours, and rich culture appealed to us.  We live on the west coast of rainy British Columbia so the idea of a few weeks of sunshine and tropical breezes lured us.  Two good friends planned to join us and for weeks the four of us lived and breathed Cuba.  We read everything we could get our hands on, booked our flight, and sorted out business at home for our absence.  Once a week we met and talked about our plans over drinks at a corner restaurant.  We never imagined that only days before we were to leave for Cuba we would find ourselves face to face with death, and that it was to change the course of our lives.

This is really a story about love; about the frailty of life and the power of love to reshape our path.  One morning shortly before our scheduled departure my husband suffered a massive heart attack.  I stood at the foot of his hospital bed not knowing if I would have the opportunity to say goodbye, but he recovered and we were given more time together, every day now somehow more precious, more tangible, but fragile.  Our plane left without us.  One evening we sat outside by the fire and heard the plane go by overhead with a heavy feeling in our hearts and a lump in our throats.  Our friends set off on their way to Havana and we took our already packed suitcases to spend a few days in Salt Spring Island, three hours and two ferry rides away.


The largest of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island sits amid spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.  Salt Spring Island embraced us with its peaceful beauty.  Its friendly people cheered us and its slow pace comforted us.  At nights we listened to old records on the turntable and shared a meal of fresh local bread, goat’s cheese and wine brewed on the island.  It was here in this beautiful place that Mark asked me to marry him one cool spring evening.

A few months later we were married surrounded by friends and family in our backyard.  Once again we dared to dream and booked two more flights to Cuba.  Seven months later our trip became a reality and after two cramped, sleepless flights, long waits in dingy airport lounges and countless lineups, we finally emerged from the Havana airport to feel the warm tropical air envelop us.

But that’s another story.


The Colour of Cuba

Nov. 2004

What a rush it is to be here.  We breathe in our first breaths of smog filled air, and as we drive into the heart of the city we realize that we have begun a true adventure.  Whole families share one motorcycle and the roads with us.  Crowds of people stand at intersections and hail down rides.  As we near old Havana we see camellos; semi-trucks hauling overcrowded buses, and faces stare at us as we stare back at them.

By the time we arrived in Old Havana, our throats and eyes were burning.  We drove through a maze of narrow, washed-out gray streets and suddenly our taxi dropped us off.  We arrived clutching on to a wrinkled sheet of paper marked “Julio and Elsa Roque, Casa Particular”, carrying overloaded backpacks filled with camera equipment, and a minimum number of clothes needed for our stay of almost a month.  We stood in front of a narrow, worn out apartment building with a hostel sign out front.  When we rang the bell a leather wallet suspended by a string dropped down from the second floor onto our heads.  Inside the wallet we found a key to the building.

We learned the routine quickly, three dollar breakfast at eight in Julio and Elsa’s kitchen before heading out for the day, and a tug on the string every evening when we came home.  A second tug on the string and we watched the wallet rise on its return to a second floor balcony.  Every night we collapsed onto our bed for a hot, fitful sleep, exhausted and exhilarated after a long day of exploring the great city.

Grayness, dust and the destruction of time seemed to be everywhere when we first arrived in Havana, but each morning as we left the apartment we began to see pockets of colour until the colour of Cuba was in everything around us.

Havana Vieja [Old Havana} is a bustling city in disrepair after decades of economic hardship which has left the city in decay.  This grand old city is always alive with sights and sounds as vehicles of all types compete for the roads with people of all ages and colours; a little girl with fair complexion and aqua coloured eyes, the rich brown skin and charcoal-black eyes of an old weathered man.  Everywhere there is a symphony of noise, a wall of sound that permeates the hours of the day; babies crying and dogs barking, neighbours calling out to one another, and every so often, loud music from a boom box as it passes by, and always in the background the sound of cars, trucks, and bicycle bells.

Late into the night, as we lay sleepless on our lumpy bed with the windows open to give us reprieve from the heat, the sound continues.  In the early morning hours all is finally quiet, the air is cool and for the first time since our arrival, there is a moment of quiet.  In a few moments, the rooster crows, a baby wails and the city starts a new day.

written by Elizabeth Kowal


After Havana we took a bus to Trinidad and from there another long ride through the jungle to Baracoa where we spent a week in the little seaside town.  I’ll do a blog post about that part of our trip sometime soon…






Pat Hildebrandt - Loved your blog, and that was an amazing story you shared. I had not heard the details before…


Seven years ago today was our own wedding day.  Every day since has been an adventure and today we celebrate just how lucky we are to have found a lifelong friend in each other.

A year ago we traded places and got in front of the lens.  These are some of the photos from our Beloved session with Morgaine Owens of Pure Light Studio.  Thank you Morgaine for these beautiful, beautiful images of us.

My Beloved Is Mine (You’re Mine)

My Beloved is mine
My Beloved is mine…My Beloved spoke to me
My fair one come away
It’s time to sing a love song
My fair one come awayMy Beloved is mine
My Beloved is mine…Oh My love in the secret place
Let Me see your face
Let Me hear your voice today
Let Me see your faceMy Beloved is mine
My Beloved is mine
Lyrics by Ray Watson


Cathy Empey - Happy Anniversary to a wonderful couple! Cheers to many, many more happy years ahead!

fran - happy anniversary!!

morgaine - can i claim the both of you for my Beloveds? your charm is infinite, and makes me happy. so, so lucky to know you. happy anniversary… may you have a long string of first kisses, quiet blissful moments and loud bouts of belly laughter ahead of you.

Rose Heppner - Happy Anniversary to two lovely people and photographers. I wish you a very happy and prosperous future. I’ve loved following all your work over the years, and your photos are phenomenal.

whitealbum - thanks so much for your comments!
love, mark + el

white album - morgaine, you never fail to make us smile. both of us! thank you, thank you for our perfect images, and always, thank you for your kindness.

Hornby Island Retreat 2013 | White Album Weddings. White Album Photography - […] week Mark stayed home and held down the fort so that I could take a well needed rest and travel to Hornby […]

this is our story – our wedding

Today is our anniversary and this is us. Six years ago and today.

On August 28 in 2004 we celebrated our own wedding with our six children standing up for us, and with our families celebrating with us and supporting us.  That has meant so much to us.  Because of what we do we are always reminded what it means to join two separate lives and two families into one.  It’s not always easy, it’s not even always possible, but it is life and it makes it beautiful.

Today, the…world has been transformed

–decked out with flowers and ribbons,

A feast, a celebration,

Rich with laughter,

Kind thoughts and recollections.

All in their best…Pam Brown b. 1928

photographs by Bruce Klassen, Ellie Schartner and Marilynn McEwen

This is us as we are today.  Photographed by Morgaine Owens.  full blog post on these to follow

Jennifer Rodriguez-Cruz - Ummm…WOW guys! Elizabeth, I am speechless- you are breathtaking! Absolutely breathtaking. (Mark, you look handsome yourself! 🙂
And such a cute post, you guys. Beautiful.

Susannah - I love this last photo! (Well, all of them are great, but I’d seen them before.)

Susannah - PS. A belated “Happy Anniversary”. I never remember dates on time.

admin - Thanks! Brings back some great memories.

“style me pretty”

We’re beyond excited to have Michelle + Taylor’s West Coast wedding featured on Style Me Pretty this week!  I LOVE, love, love Style Me Pretty and can never get enough of the amazing weddings featured on the site!  If you’re planning your wedding you should visit SMP often for inspiration for your own wedding.  Don’t be afraid to be unique and add your own individual style and personality to your wedding.

Check out the great post by Abby of SMP.  Thanks everyone for the comments on the site!

From their post…”These are quite possibly the most spectacular wedding photographs I have ever seen. Breathtaking. Beyond stunning….the images (and the beautiful bride) completely blew me away. And to make them even more special, the bride is Elizabeth’s gorgeous daughter. Swoon. “

Head over to the original Style Me Pretty post for the rest of the story.

white album weddings on style me pretty -

The details: (by Michelle G.) We weren’t worried so much about formal wedding traditions, it was more important to us that the day be meaningful for us and for our family.   We found the perfect place in the small coastal town of Ucluelet. After receiving a tip from a local resident we found a rocky outcrop in the Pacific Rim National Park on Wickaninish Beach. Mother Nature did most of the work for us. We took cues from the rugged coastline using a sand dollar on our invitations and programs from Blue Venus Invitations in Vancouver, B. C.  But the most meaningful part of our decor came while we were going through some of Taylor’s mom’s things shortly after she unexpectedly passed away.  We came across an old chair which she was in the process of refinishing.  I painted it turquoise to tie it in with the beach setting and we included it in our ceremony in her memory.  Some of our favorite pictures from the ceremony are of that chair sitting out on the rocks in the fog.


I found the dress while searching Style Me Pretty for ideas and as soon as I read your post featuring Saja wedding dresses I knew I’d found the perfect dress for me.  I took a road trip with my mom and sister to Portland, Oregon in search of the dress, and after trying just a few dresses I found my silk chiffon Grecian style dress. The dress is light and ethereal, and made me feel sweet and romantic, and the natural color was perfect for our West Coast setting.  I decided to pass on shoes all together at the last minute and go barefoot. Taylor chose a light grey suit by Hugo Boss. with a yellow and gray tie.

Our flowers were made by Hilary Miles Flowers.  I chose a wired bouquet bound in ivory ribbon with a mix of soft celery greens, whites, and ivory orchids, calla lilies, double lisianthus, and roses.  It was a little dicey transporting the flowers 6 hours in the heat of summer, but they made it without incident.


My most unforgettable moment…standing on the edge of the beach waiting to walk to the rock outcropping for our ceremony was one of the most meaningful moments of the day for me.  The fog rolled in just as everyone was gathering.  As I walked barefoot along the beach… seeing Taylor and our guests waiting up on the rocks was a moment I will never forget.   I was able to reflect on everything that had bought Taylor and I to this day, and my bare feet in the sand made me feel grounded and calmed any nerves I had had about not having written down my vows.  By the time I reached everyone on the rocks I knew exactly what I wanted to say.


As for photography, there was never a question about who would photograph our wedding. And there is no doubt that the pictures from the weekend captured all of the meaning and emotion of the event.  Our photographers were my mom and stepdad who run a photography studio called White Album Weddings.  My mom still says that she felt privileged to be able to photograph her own daughter on her wedding day, but in order for her to be able to relax and be a part of the important events of the day, my stepdad allowed her to put down her camera during the ceremony and helped document our amazing day.  The photographs still give me chills!

Venue: Black Rock Ocean Front Resort / Pacific Rim National Park on Wickaninish Beach / Photography:White Album Weddings / Invitations: Blue Venus Invitations / Flowers: Hilary Miles Flowers / Dress:Saja wedding dresses / Suit: Hugo Boss

Visit our original blog post: HERE

And the after session (horse):  HERE - I was wondering where you got his tie from, it is perfect and what I have been looking for for weeks now! This wedding is gorgeous!

Michelle - We got the tie at Harry Rosen in Vancouver, the brand is Ted Baker. There were about 1000 yellow ties to choose from!

M + T’s reception [part three]

Michelle + Taylor celebrated their marriage at a casual reception with family & friends at the chapel.  Thanks to everyone who helped make the wedding & celebration memorable!

On the menu: Chicken in Mole, Grilled Salmon, Herbed Potatoes, Grilled Herbed Zucchinni,  Baked Peaches, Sangria and Flan.

Dinner was followed by a Pinata for the kids and a fun Photobooth.

Floral arrangements were put together by Michelle using all local flowers and an assortment of vintage vases.

You can see the ceremony at Black Rock Resort in Ucluelet below this post or simply CLICK HERE.  Thanks to Kim & Audrey for assisting with photography and allowing us to relax and enjoy our guests.