Where Passion Meets Purpose

Where Passion Meets Purpose

Written by Orsolya Bartalis

I am truly excited with the latest news about people who are seeking travel experiences after the pandemic and are searching for a more meaningful way of travel. Slower pace, deeper connection and a way of giving back to the communities they visit. This is amazing news for the likes of sustainable tour providers like Simply Cuba Tours.

Sustainable tour companies themselves include activities that are aimed at environmental protection in some way. In our case, we focus on bird watching and diving to raise awareness of the eco-systems both on land and in the water. In the words of our Cuban founding partner, Yoanis Blanco Santos - ‘I feel it’s our responsibility to teach our children of the importance of preserving nature and protecting these vulnerable creatures. Only through instilling the love of nature in them do we have a hope for saving our environment.’

It is not only our children we wish to ignite the passion in toward nature, but also in those who are seeking experiences to reconnect with nature and to be her voice, which is why we partner with conservation photographers and ambassadors of sustainability to help us carry the message around the world. These amazing photographers are amazingly talented and highly passionate about their areas. Like Shane Gross, although he was raised in nowhere-near-the-ocean Saskatchewan, when Shane was a child, he’d dress up in a homemade scuba suit and deep-sea dive around the living room rug. He describes his younger self as being a “shark nerd.”

Whilst the road may have had some up and downs Shane never diverted off the path of following a passion and has dedicated the last decade to marine conservation. Shane has captured some amazing species on camera so far, one of them being the endangered Cuban Crocodile. The excitement in his voice explaining experiences like the most memorable time in the waters of Isla Mujeres where he was shooting the sailfish will get you riled up also. Whilst on the shoot Shane got to marvel at them feeding on a bait ball of sardines for over an hour. His eyes light up explaining such a spectacular experience.

The more time he spent capturing images of the ocean’s animals, the more he witnessed the challenges facing them. It compelled Gross to become a professional photojournalist, based on Vancouver Island, focusing on marine conservation.

“I look at science, but science is very cold. It’s hard for people to connect with it,” Shane says. “I believe photographs can connect, to bring the science alive for people.”

His passion is paying off! Shane’s work is being recognized with an international ocean photography award from the Save Our Seas Foundation — one of just four grants awarded around the world. Imagine having his talents and passion by your side as are diving in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.

We have passion for our seas, but also for our land! Yoanis himself is an avid birder, he knows the hills of Soroa like the back of his hands and loves nothing more than sharing the experiences with people, introducing them to Cuba’s bird life. You should see him, and the Cuban Tody have a ‘chat’, it is an experience.

Our other local birding guides include Nils Navarro the curator and illustrator of the Endemic Birds of Cuba book. The book contains illustrations by Nils as well as photographs and provides detailed and invaluable information describing the habitat, distribution, behaviour, and physical characteristics of Cuba’s 26 endemic birds, and another 22 species endemics to the West Indies. A perfect field guide when you are in Cuba and is a result of Nils's undying passion to document and preserve Cuba’s amazing birdlife.  This dynamic resource is a result of many years of dedicated research, persistent determination, and artistic brilliance. Nils also constantly spends time updating this guide, currently spending time in the mountains of Baracoa to ensure that the species that were on the endangered list are still around and hopefully even had their numbers increased.

When you couple the local knowledge and the skills of talented photographers, the images you come back from a trip are magnificent. When it comes to birds, capturing a Bee Hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird, in flight, you’d want to have the talented Liron Gertsam on your tour.

Liron may only be 21, but he is already an accomplished nature photographer. He’s been on CBC’s “The National”, CBC Radio One, or you may have seen his work in publications such as Canadian Geographic magazine, The Guardian, GEO magazine, and others. Don’t stop at publications! His work has been experienced by millions in some of the largest museums across the world, including the Natural History Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Liron uses his photos to educate on the importance of preserving the natural world for the continued health and existence of all who live on our planet. As a naturalist and photographer, he feels it is his duty to show people the essence of Earth, by thinking outside the box to create eye-catching images that connect people with the environment.

Liron’s work has been widely recognized and awarded, sweeping the youth category of the 2018 Audubon Photography Awards, and earning a highly commended designation in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. We love seeing Liron grow and build upon his passion and commitment to the environment.

We are so glad to have such passionate and driven people on our team, and we are inspired to go bigger and wider with our message, which is why it’s so fantastic to have Chase Teron as part of our team also.

Chase is extremely passionate about nature and animals and he hopes his photography and videography will drive positive change in the protection of sensitive ecosystems and habitats. He has also been vegan for 5 years to hold himself accountable each day to be a part of animal rights and climate change conversations.

Chase is an expedition leader and photography teacher guiding International clients all over the world, from the Arctic to Africa and now wondrous Cuba. Chase is a proud co-founding member of the Canadian Conservation Photographers Collective and his goal with this organization is to have an energetic team and network of conservation photographers who can come together and collaborate on Canada’s pressing environmental issues to make a greater impact to protect precious ecosystems.

These three amazing talents are only a few of the many talented and passionate individuals we partner with. Their values and purpose align with what we believe in and aim to achieve, whilst assisting our travellers in capturing precious moments.

Our vision started with a spark - a vision to share the beauty and authentic experiences of Cuba and inspire creative storytellers to look beyond the norm, and go deeper. We focus a lot on nature as we only have one planet, and feel we need to get the word out. As Yoanis explains ‘the closer I looked the more I found how little people knew about the amazing birds of Cuba and how sad that is leading to some of these creatures being on the verge of extinction. I cannot idly sit by and do nothing; thus, I want to tell their story through our tours and photography in the hope that the more people learn and understand, the better off our planet will be. I wish to ignite their passion to protect our environment.’

Hope we can inspire you to help us start a wildfire of purpose-driven travellers!

The blue bird image is from Liron Gertsman

The Cuban Crocodile is by Shane Gross

The Cuban Trogon is from Yoanis Blanco Santos

Owl art by Nils Navarro

Where Passion Meets Purpose Where Passion Meets Purpose Where Passion Meets Purpose Where Passion Meets Purpose

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