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In the Shadows of Revolution

Travelling to Trinidad via Santa Clara.


We loved Havana, but we were certainly delighted to leave our horrible old town accommodation. We had booked a sightseeing transfer through Taxi Vinales and they arrived bang on time to pick us up. As we had paid for a sightseeing tour, we had a driver and an English-speaking guide. The guide was a lecturer in Cienfuegos University and a part-time guide. As he was nearing retirement, he was planning to stop teaching at the university and become a full-time guide. He was pleasant and easy-going. The driver was a young man who spoke Spanish and no English. He was suffering from agonising toothache.

With Taxi Vinales it is possible to follow a set sightseeing tour or make up your own. We made up our own purely because we wanted to see Ernest Hemingway's house on the way. This turned out not to have been such a great idea. Hemingway's house took a long time to find and when we got there, it was closed due to a public holiday. This would not have been a problem if we could have at least seen it, but as it is set far back among trees, we could not even do that. Our Hemingway experiences were now - a visit to his favourite bars - El Floridita, famous for its daiquiris and La Bodeguita del Medio, famous for its mojitos. Both of these were shut, because we were too early. We meant to go back but never got round to it. Also a trip to Hotel Ambos Mundos to see Hemingway's room. It was shut! We saw his photo and had a daiquiri. Now we rounded it off with a trip to his house Finca Vigia, for which we had to miss out going to the Bay of Pigs, only to find it shut and not a cocktail in sight. Oh well! You can only laugh and move on.

Whenever we go anywhere, we find it amusing that people always manage to home in on the one thing we have not done. This started with a failed attempt to see the water puppets in Hanoi and has blossomed ever since. My husband said of Cuba: 'I bet everyone asks did you go on a vintage car ride.' We didn't and no-one asked about it anyway. Instead they said: 'Did you do the Hemingway Trail?' We just tell them: 'Yes, but he was out.'

At the closed Finca Vigia.

At the closed Finca Vigia.

At the closed Finca Vigia.

After Finca Vigia we hit Cuba's main highway. It was very quiet and very lacking in traffic. The scenery at first was a bit flat and samey, but got much better later on in the journey. We passed quite a few fields of sugar-cane and some citrus groves. Later on the journey we passed an old steam engine that used to transport sugar-cane.

Typical scenery on route.

Typical scenery on route.

The Ranchuelo.

It took quite a long time to reach Santa Clara. Santa Clara is the capital of the province of Villa Clara. It has a population of nearly a quarter of a million. Santa Clara is strongly linked to the Cuban Revolution, as it was the site of the last battle of the Cuban Revolution in 1958. The fighting here began when a guerrilla column led by Ernesto Che Guevara attacked the city. Guevara captured the garrison at Fomento, then destroyed some of Santa Clara's railroad tracks. This led to the derailment of a train full of Batista's troops and supplies. At the same time, a second column led by Camilo Cienfuegos defeated an army garrison at the Battle of Yaguajay - a place near Santa Clara. When the revolutionaries gained control of Santa Clara, Batista fled Cuba and Castro seized power. Our guide was from Santa Clara originally and remembered as a child hiding under a table, terrified by the sounds of gunfire all around him.

We began our sightseeing at the Che Guevara Mausoleum. Che Guevara was born in Argentina. He was from a reasonably wealthy family. He went to university to train as a doctor. Then during one of his holidays, together with a friend, he embarked on a motorcycle trip around South America. He was shocked by the poverty, hunger and suffering he saw all around him and this experience prompted him to become a Marxist striving for political change. He recorded his experiences in a series of diaries. Guevara first met Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico City and sailed with them on board the yacht Granma to start the Cuban Revolution. Guevara is strongly linked with Santa Clara as he married a woman called Aleida March from Santa Clara. She was his second wife. His first wife was a Peruvian Marxist called Hilda Gadea. This marriage ended in divorce. Guevara had five children from his two marriages. After the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara, played a prominent role in the post-revolutionary Cuban government. He later went off to the Belgian Congo to fight in their struggle for independence. Then he headed to Bolivia to promote rebellion there. He was captured by Bolivian troops and executed in 1967. He was just thirty-nine years old when he died.

Guevara's body was missing for many years. Then, in late 1995, retired Bolivian General, Mario Vargas revealed that Guevara's corpse had been buried near an airstrip in Vallegrande. In 1997 a team of Cuban geologists and Argentine forensic anthropologists found the remains of seven bodies in two graves. One of these bodies was identified as Guevara, the others were his fellow rebels. The bodies were flown back to Cuba and placed to rest in a specially constructed mausoleum in Santa Clara. There is a statue of Guevara on top of the mausoleum and a copy of the last letter he ever wrote to Fidel Castro is depicted here in stone.

Inside the mausoleum, on one side are the tombs of Guevara and his fellow fighters. It is necessary to show respect here, no hats, no talking, no photos. On the other side is a museum of Guevara's life - again no photos.

Che Guevara on his memorial.

The last letter written by Che Guevara to Fidel Castro.

Standing in front of the mausoleum.

Across from the mausoleum.

After visiting the mausoleum, we went to the armoured train which was derailed by Che Guevara and his men. I would have liked to see the centre of the city, too but we did not really pass through it, just through the outskirts. The carriages of the armoured train display exhibits about the revolution, but they were all closed, so we just photographed the train.

At the armoured train.

At the armoured train.

In celebration of Castro's ninetieth birthday.

At the armoured train.

The bulldozer used to damage the tracks.

I noticed this statue of a mother and child near the armoured train.

After visiting the sights of Santa Clara, we went to the Don Quijote Restaurant for a buffet lunch. There was a wide choice of food and we were entertained with live music as we ate. The only negative was the toilet was disgusting, though of course this may not always be the case.

Don Quijote Restaurant.

Live entertainment.

Lots of food.

After lunch we drove through beautiful mountain scenery towards Trinidad. On route we passed this lovely riverside bathing area. I just photographed it through the car window so there is a bit of reflection on the shot.

Beautiful bathing area.

Before going to Trinidad we visited the Valle de los Ingenios - the Valley of the Sugar mills. We started by going to a former sugar plantation called Manaca Iznaga. The estate house here dates from 1750. It belonged to two brothers Pedro and Alejo Iznaga. They were from the Basque Region of Spain. They used slave labour to work the land and grow sugarcane here. They also bought and sold many slaves and grew very wealthy as a result. The house here is now a restaurant. It is possible to see some of the tools the slaves had to use to extract the juice from the sugarcane. In the grounds of the estate, stands a 44 metre high tower. This once housed a bell which signalled to the slaves where they should be and when. The bell is now at the foot of the tower. The tower was also a watch tower from which the slaves could be observed to make sure they were working and not trying to escape. There are portraits of Pedro Iznaga and his wife in the house. Amazing that a place which must have been a hellhole for the slaves could actually be so beautiful and peaceful now.

Manaca Iznaga.

Manaca Iznaga.

The bell tower and pots used in the extraction of the juice.

Some horseback riders rode up when we were visiting.

The bell and the tower.

On the balcony of the house.

On the grounds of the plantation.

Our guide in the barbeque area.

Slaves would have to turn this for hours at a time.

Paintings in the house.


Portrait of Pedro Iznaga.

Finally, we went to a view point over the Valle de los Ingenios, although it means Valley of the Sugarmills, there are very few mills remaining. The view is beautiful though. After that it was straight to Trinidad and our next accommodation.

View over the valley of the sugarmills.

Valley of the sugarmills.

Our guide demonstrates some more tools for extracting canejuice.

Me and the view.

Peter and the view.

Climbing to the viewpoint.

Posted by irenevt 22:12 Archived in Cuba Tagged train che cuba mausoleum revolution hemingway ernest guevaro armoured

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Interesting piece.


Cuba is an interesting and eye-opening place. You should visit if you have not been. All the best, Irene

by irenevt

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