Travels with V
The train wreck that changed history
We leave Las Terrazasby bus, first going back to Havana, where we hop on another bus driving along Cuba’s main transport route, the A1. It’s a road that makes its way across the whole island, although some parts of it in the east are not yet finished.
We disembark in Santa Clara in central Cuba, one of the hottest places in the country and a dusty and a bit run down town with lots of memories from the drama of the revolution.
Santa Clara became the scene of the last battle of the revolution, where Che Guevara’s troops defeated Batista’s. An enormous prestige loss for the US-supported dictator, who sent more troops by train to Santa Clara. But Che’s men found out which train they were on, and removed the rails with a bulldozer. This made the train crash and the soldiers on board were made easy targets for the revolutionaries.
The incident, known in Cuba as “Tren blindado” in now commemorated with a monument in the spot where it happened. And some of the carriages are still there. As well as the actual bulldozer used.
We stay in a casa particolar run by Gladys and Ramón, a lovely middle-aged couple. When they were younger they were volunteers in Fidel’s alphabetization campaign, and red hot revolutionaries. The entire people was to be taught reading and writing, and Gladys and Ramón were sent out to different parts of the country.
Just up the street from their house there’s a house with bullet holes in the walls, evidence of a shootout around what was back then a police station. History is very much alive here.
Throughout the city, wherever you raise your gaze, you see the enormous statue of Che Guevara, by the mausoleum where his remains are buried. The statue stands on a column and is seven meters tall, depicting the hero almost leaping forward. There are many other statues of Che in Santa Clara, and they all picture a man taking huge steps ahead, restless.
The mausoleum also holds the remains of the 29 men who joined Che’s group in Bolivia and were captured and shot by the military in 1967. There is also a small museum with objects that belonged to Che, his glasses, rifle, etc, and his farewell letter to Fidel. The burial site is 50 meters behind the mausoleum, with an eternal flame burning.
Unfortunately for me I’m hit with a mean stomach illness in Santa Clara and have to take things very easy. In the evening I manage to rise and we walk slowly over to the paladar La Terraza, on a nearby rooftop. An extremely nice restaurant with white linen on the tables and a red carpet. A birthday party is held for an old man. I’m served a fresh grilled fish and immediately feel better. We can move on.
Next we’re overwhelmed by the city that carries the same name as the lost hero. Palaces shining in the sun, our toes in the salt sea.