Santa Clara – the centre of all things Che.

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It’s about 62km from Cienfuegos to Santa Clara.

We again had Oscar as our taxi driver and this time he brought along his son, Oscar Louis, aged 15.

There was no school that day so he came along for the ride. He was studying English and hoped to go to university to become a doctor.

Well that was his father’s wish, I am not sure if it was Oscar Louis’s wish, as he didn’t say much.

There seems to be a strange system of supply and demand in Cuba.

There certainly isn’t an over supply of anything but many places only deal in small quantities of a few items.

We went to a couple of bars that only served cocktails and no beer. Another cafe that only had coffee and nothing else. Then there was the Mercado (supermarket) that had ample supplies of alcohol, shampoo, soap and detergent but no bottled water.

In 1689 Santa Clara was founded by nine families from the coastal city of San Juan de los Remedios. The main reason for the move was to get away from the notoriously ruthless pirates of the Caribbean.

Santa Clara is in the geographical centre of Cuba and well away from the coast and the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow and his motley crew.

Today Santa Clara is the centre of all things ‘Che’.

Like the other cities and towns in Cuba, Santa Clara is built around a park with grand colonial buildings on every side. Unfortunately Parque Vidal also has the excruciatingly ugly Hotel Santa Clara Libre, a town planning blunder of monumental proportions.

About two kilometres from the city centre is the rather large Che Guevara Mausoleum.

This houses the remains of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and 29 of his fellow freedom fighters, killed in Bolivia in 1967.

Che Guevara played a pivotal role in fighting the Batista regime, especially the derailing of the freight train, carrying soldiers and ammunition, on December 23, 1958.

This was a turning point in the Castro brothers guerrilla war against the US backed Fulgencio Batista government.

There is a monument to celebrate this event, The Tren Blindado, that’s situated on the spot where the train was derailed.

Apart from becoming the universal symbol of rebellion, Ernest was also a doctor, diplomat and military strategist.

Above all he was a young man looking for a fight, and he wasn’t happy unless someone obliged him with a cause to fight for.

After his success in the Cuban revolution he took on a rather sedentary life as a government leader and diplomat for the Cuban Socialist Party.

This more sedate life in Cuba wasn’t to his liking so he travelled to Congo-Kinshasa and then Bolivia, where he was eventually caught and killed, apparently at the request of the CIA.

This had the effect of turning an angry young man into a social icon and martyr.

The CIA weren’t that bright.

I do wonder how Ernest Guevara balanced his life’s choices of being both a doctor and a soldier.

Che is treated like a god in Santa Clara, which has more to do with the Castro regime than a popular belief by the local population.

Getting into his mausoleum was harder, and more complicated, than visiting the tomb of Ho Chi Min in Vietnam.

And that wasn’t easy.

We returned to Parque Vidal in the evening, as this seemed to be the liveliest part of town.

There was a dozen or so young men and boys on rollerblades playing a type of tag. There were obviously rules to this game but I couldn’t work them out.

The next day we went in search of more Che Guevara history and testaments to his greatness.

Our first stop was the Tren Blindado, the famous train derailment monument. At the entrance stands the original bulldozer, that was used to tear up the tracks, ironically this is a US built Caterpillar. It sits on a pedestal, while nearby the train carriages house a museum.

Just down the road is a small and less grandiose statue of Che, Estatua Che y Niño. This depicts Che with a small child in his arms, which is covered with sub-sculptures that are full of symbolism and hidden meaning.

We walked the long way to Lomas del Capiro, which is on a hill just outside of the city. It’s yet another monument to the July 26th group and in particular to Santa Clara’s favourite son, Che.

It gives you a good view over the city, but again the the Hotel Santa Clara Libre stood out against the skyline, like a giant green antiseptic block, the type you see in urinals.

There is little to no signage to find Lomas del Capiro and we finished up walking around two hills to get there. It was in fact just around the corner from the Estatua Che y Niño.

Once we walked back to town we were hot and needed to get out of the sun. We found La Vegnita, a cigar and coffee bar, that serve an excellent espresso.

Just on the edge of the Parque Vidal is the Museo de Artes Decorativas. This is a very small museum, that’s been a little oversold by Lonely Planet who tell you that it’s, “…packed with period furniture from a whole gamut of styles…”

We later managed to track down a shop with internet and made contact with the outside world.

Santa Clara is a very sleepy town and in a day and a half we had just about seen it all. So late in the afternoon we headed back to Parque Vidal, just to do a little more people watching.

We weren’t alone as half the town was there as well.

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