So, in my last post I forgot to mention that before we got to our lovely swim spot in the Bay of Pigs we had a little bit of an education at the Bay of Pigs museum. I studied ‘Superpower Relations’ when I studied History at school – it was all about the relationship between USA and USSR, which included the Cold War. One of the tiny snippets of Cuban history that got dragged into that was the Bay of Pigs affair. I found it fascinating to go around the museum at the site of the intended invasion and see what it was like from the Cuban point of view. It’s part of the reason I love to travel – when you learn history at school, there’s always a western swing to it, so I find it interesting to see the local perspective. It was only a small museum, but it was worth a visit to get some of the background to the social climate in the country at the time and the impact of an event on those who witnessed it. Little did I know at this point that it was the start of a pretty complex puzzle of the history from the view of each of the different provinces in Cuba. Along the way we learned quite a bit of history about the country and piecing together the events got a bit tricky for my rather relaxed holiday brain!
Anyways..back to the journey: after Cienfuegos we headed towards Trinidad via Santa Clara. Santa Clara is a must visit as this is where the mausoleum of Ernesto Che Guevara, national hero, can be found. It is a very solemnising and interesting trip. The mausoleum itself was small and poignant and the accompanying museum was full of facts, photos and artefacts from Che’s life from before the revolution and his time as a child right through to medical school and during his time leading the revolution up until his death. Here, I found out how he got the nickname Che: ‘che’ means friend in Bolivia (where he was born) and when he came to Cuba he called everyone ‘che’ as he was a friendly guy. So, they appointed that name to him!
What hit me whilst I was thinking going around the museum was how recent it all is. I’m calling it history like so many of us these days, but this was happening merely ~60 years ago. Without contextualising what else was going on around the world it was easy to think ‘yeah, this was ages ago’, but it’s not. This is still living memory for many people.
We also popped by the main town/city of Santa Clara – we had a look around the main square and stopped off for lunch at a tourist stop off (though still full of locals,) La Concha. The town was pretty and redone and in the centre of the square was the most notable thing about the place: a statue of Marta Abreu, a famous philanthropist. She is a most loved figure and no surprise as she is responsible for many of the notable building in Santa Clara and championed projects to help the homeless, fund construction of the power station that gave the city lighting and greatly improved sanitation in the area (amongst other things). All in all, she was a pretty great woman!
After lunch, we had two more stop offs before hitting the road and head up to Camagüey. Firstly the Communist Party’s headquarters, but only for the perfectly innocent reason of visiting Estate Che y Niño or Statue of Che with a male baby. This statue has smaller pieces of work incorporated into the clothes he is wearing which depict the important moments of his life, including what can be interpreted as the 38 men who died with him in Bolivia.
Final stop: another historic site – the one where Che and his ‘friends’ used Molotov cocktails to destroy a train of 300 of Batista’s army at the start of the Revolution. Their (rather successful) aim was to stop the army fulfilling the tasks set by their leader, who was seen to be a dictator and puppet of the USA.
Some really interesting stops along our journey, wouldn’t say they were all that relaxing but definitely interesting. I would say the best ones to go to are Che’s mausoleum and the Che statue. The square was not unlike other squares along the way and their wasn’t much to see at the train stop (though a nice stop off if you have the time).