Shortly after 7:00 we are at Trinidad’s bus station. While waiting for the bus to arrive, we have a little chat with some other travelers and get to know Jannis and Vicky, who, like me, are Greeks, but live in Belgium.
The bus arrives punctually and we are off to Santa Clara, the probably most by Che Guevara characterized city in whole Cuba – he had his greatest military achievement here.
Santa Clara –
Just about 3 hours later we reach the bus station in Santa Clara. The next bus to Varadero will be at 18:05 – we still got time to expore the city. Be buy the tickets (11 CUC (11.00 USD)) but have to deal with our luggage. Of course there is also in the small luggage storage room in the bus station we can quite uncomplicated store our stuff . We already noticed on our arrival that Che Guevara is quite present here – and is even more worshiped than in the rest of the country. No wonder – in this city “El Commandante” has had his most impressive military success as he stopped one of dictator Batista armored arms transporting trains and captured the means of war.
We decide to visit the attractions here as a group with Jannis and Vicky. Having a look at the map in the Lonely Planet: “This map sucks, it stops exactly at the Monumento de Tren Blindado – where is the hill?!”*. Not the first time I found a travel guidebooks information lacking. Unfortunately, you cannot check for directions on the internet here in Cuba (also we both didn’t take any mobile phones with us). Luckily, Jannis has gotten a small note with some scibbled directions from one of his friends. Looks quite uncomplicated – actually you just have to follow the main road.
Museo y Monumento Memorial Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara
The road leads us to the Plaza de la Revolution: The monument dedicated to Che Guevara was built on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Santa Clara and was completed in 1988. The entire monument consists of the memorial, a museum and the mausoleum.
The most impressive part is probably the quite oversized statue of Che Guevara and his farewell letter carved in stone in front of a huge conctere parade ground. I kinda question if all this money that was used to build all this couldn’t be rather invested in some modern infrastructure, which Cuba seems to need quite urgently… But such a thought shouldn’t be pronounced aloud here – just as much as criticism on some of Ches’ methods – Che certainly had good intentions and ideas, but these dark shadows seem to perish in all the heroic cult… .
Ches mortal remains were exhumed in Bolivia in 1997 and transferred to Cuba, and are now located in the mausoleum, which is on the back of the monument. We have to hand over all our bags and cameras, since photography is strictly forbidden in here and some security personnel keeps a watch on you. We escape the heat outside and enter the cool room with reliefs of Che and his fellow soldiers on the walls. There are some fresh fresh flowers on some of them.
We stay a while before we take our stuff and go to the museum. This one is rather small, but you can see many mementos of Che Guevara’s life. The personal items from his childhood in Argentina are also quite interesting (including his grades – he should have paid more attention school ). Almost everything that can be attributed to him until his death in Bolivia seems to have been brought here together: Letters, diaries, clothing …
Parque Leoncio Vidal
We make a short stop under the pagoda of the Leoncio Vidal park and get us something to drink – also, our stomaches have started to growl – we head to the nearby pedestrian zone and find us a fast food restaurant: Delicious Hamburguesas and a Cerveza Bucanero – I think this beer tastes somehow better than the more common Cristal here – malty-sweet, although it is nevertheless no world-class beer .
We sit outside at a table, chat a bit and look at the people passing by: Surprising that there are this many people here using umbrellas as sun protection – I do not notice this in Havana and Cienfuegos…
Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado
The monument and museum of Ches’ military success in this city was built at the railway tracks where, in 1958, 18 guerrillas of Movimiento 26 de Julio under the guidance of their comandante Ernesto Che Guevara had derailed the Tren Blindado with a bulldozer. With the weapons they had secured from the armored train, the conquest of Santa Clara and the overthrowing of the dictator Batista could be accomplished.
The wagons of the train are scattered across the square and the star-shaped structures convey the force with which the train probably derailed. It is a museum of a different kind, although I think not that particularly informative, but I like the idea. For 1 CUC , we can have look at the inside of the wagons with some photos and info about this incident. The original Caterpillar bulldozer is also exhibited here – quite ironic that a US product played such a major role in the fall of the dictatorship .
Loma Del Capiro
However, we we do not stay for long – the national monument is a few meters from here on a hill. We cross the train tracks and follow the road on the other side. After climbing a few stairs we reach the viewpoint. The wind up here makes the heat more bearable – and also gets the pipes of the monument to play a whistle-like tune. The hill is quite nice for a break – we see some couples sitting on the lawn. However, the view is not that spectacular – Havana looks more beautiful from above .
After lying a while on the lawn we make ourselves on the way down again – at the little bar at the foot of the hill we get us something to drink and notice the colorful scampering geckos** here, before we head on to the bus station.
There, we get our backpacks, and have about half an hour until the bus arrives, so we get us some Cuban sandwiches for the ride as we will probably arrive way past dinner time in Varadero. Although we all are a bit tired, we stay awake, as the road from Santa Clara to Varadero is probably one of the most interesting of our whole trip: In between the two quite touristy destinations of Trinidad and Varadero there seem to be some villages that do not benefit from tourism at all. The necessary “money injection from foreign countries” just does not reach those places. You can easily make this out on the lacking infrastructure here (no multi-lane autopista) but also on the houses: No beautiful colonial style buildings, no colorful painted houses like in Vinales. There aren’t even Soviet concrete blocks here – the area here reminds us rather of the outskirts of Cienfuegos with all the corrugated iron huts. This is probably the part of Cuba, which the ordinary tourist does not get to see. As we drive slowly over a railway crossing, I see some kids kick a ball through a side alley in the sparse lantern light. “No es fácil” – the Cuban life – at least if you don’t belong to “the upper crust”. I must inevitably now think of the decadent villas in Cienfuegos… .
Shorty before 22 o’ clock we arrive in Varadero – everything here looks quite touristy, but I had actually imagined it far worse… Ballerman-style*** or something like that. Jesús from the Casa in Trinidad had made a few calls just before we left and reserved us a room in a Casa Particular here. We were quite amazed that there were not just hotels in Varadero. Jannis and Vicky want to spoil themselves a bit for the last days and decided to spent their remaining money on a chique hotel and maybe look for a sailboat trip tomorrow. Sounds kind of cool, but I got my mind made up: Scuba diving at the wreck divesites ! I’ll have to arrange this early on, as you shouldn’t scuba dive when having a flight in the next 18 hours… As Jannis and Vicky have to go in a different direction, we decide to meet tomorrow at 18:00 at the beach near Parque Central. Somewhere next to the park should also be Calle 46… and the Casa of Anabel and Guille. Not really hard to find :). Anabel is already sitting outside on the porch and is waiting for us. We get a warm welcome with a cool lemonade . Soon, Guille also joins us and we have a little chat before we get to bed. We’re totally beaten today.
*Loma Del Capiro
**Those are actually some sort of Iguanian (Anole)
***I’d like to say It’s “German Springbreak”. But it’s worse.