Friday, February 1, 2013

Santa Clara

Santa Clara is located one hour away from Cienfuegos on the main highway linking La Habana with El Oriente. Santa Clara is an energetic city with lots of university students. However, Santa Clara is mostly famous for its connection with Ernesto Che Guevara. El Che conquered Santa Clara from governmental forces in the last days of revolution and this victory brought about the collapse of the Batista's dictatorship. Later on, Che Guevara served as part of the Cuban government and continued fighting for revolution in many other places around the world before he was killed by American CIA in Bolivia. In the 90's, his body was found in a secret mass grave in Bolivia and sent to Cuba. Fidel Castro decided to create a mausoleum where his remainings can finally rest in peace. Santa Clara was the place for the mausoleum.

 In short, most of people traveling to Santa Clara go there to see the place were the battle took place and Che Guevara's mausoleum.

In the exact place of the battle, there is the Monumento a la Batalla del Tren Blindado; a recreation of what happened in Santa Clara. Basically, a commando with around 20-30 people commanded by Guevara could take an armoured train with around 300 official reinforcement troops and supplies which was arriving at the city. As I was told by the people walking around the site, they put up the train tracks with a bulldozer and when the train came, it derailed. They had put some of the wooden parts of the tracks around and after the derailment, they set them in fire. The fire, the surprise derailment and the attack of the commando provided Guevara with a key victory. Currently, we can see the bulldozer they used, some of the train wagons and some memorials, museum...

Not far from the battle site, there is the regional Communist Party office. In front of it, there is a nice statue of Che holding a kid in his arms. Several locals told us to go there and see it, and they were very proud about Che having being a key person in the history of the city. The statue was actually very cool and realistic.

The other site of interest is Che Guevara's mausoleum. It also has a huge statue and several of his quotes and letters. On the other side there is another square with a memorial for revolutionaries and an eternal flame lit up. Just below Che Guevara's statue, there is a museum and his memorial with his remainings and those of the Cubans found in the mass grave in Bolivia. The memorial can only be visited in small groups and lines are very long... it took us one hour to get in...

Now it is time for some anecdote. After more than 1 week in Cuba, we were a little bit tired of Cuban food in restaurants, so we decided to try some Italian food. Next to the main park/square in Santa Clara, we saw a long line of people waiting to enter an Italian restaurant. I asked the people and everybody told me food there was very good and people came for celebrations. Well, after waiting for one whole hour, we got a table and could order. We ordered one pizza and one dish of spaghetti. The menu was surprising... really limited... it was something like Ham Pizza, Tuna Pizza, Cheese Pizza, Sausage Pizza. The same for spaghetti. The food came and when we tried it, we could not believe it! It was worse than terrible! Spaghetti were overcooked and the cook had just put a little bit of tasteless cheese, meat and tomato sauce on top. The pizza just was some normal sliced processed cheese on top of normal bread! Wow... and the wost of it all was that people were really enjoying their meals!!! That was kind of a cultural experience.

Finally, as I promised the other day, today I must talk about transportation between cities in Cuba. We used Viazul buses between La Habana and Viñales and between Trinidad and Cienfuegos. The first time, we went there with a reservation and everything was smooth and worked fine. The second time, the bus was full and we had no reservation, but after waiting for a while, when the bus came, we could get some seats and so did most of the people waiting. Between Viñales and La Habana, we used a private taxi shared with two other tourists, so we were 4 adults and 1 baby in the car and we paid the same price as the Viazul bus for a door to door service. We did exactly the same for the long trip between La Habana and Trinidad. Finally, in the last stages of our trip, we used local taxis with local people. Between Cienfuegos and Santa Clara, we paid the same price as with Viazul buses. The second time, between Santa Clara and La Habana, I was told to pay the same price as Cubans, around 40% cheaper than Viazul. The result is I had to negotiate for a very long time (more than 40 minutes...) and we lost a couple of taxis. They did not want to take foreigners for such a price! After a harsh, long negotiation, we got seats in one taxi. The surprise came when we saw how many people were in our car!!! There were 3 people in the front row (driver + 2 passengers) and 4 adults and 2 kids in the back row!!! Basically, it was impossible to fit in the seats and the almost four-hour drive to Havana was extremely uncomfortable. During that ride I understood that by paying extra, foreigners are buying several seats in the taxi. If we had paid the same as for the Viazul bus, one of the passengers behind would have needed a different taxi ;)

In conclusion, I think that the best way to move around between cities is to take shared taxis and to pay the same money as for the bus with the condition that you can get enough room in the taxi. Of course, to do this you will probably need a very good command of Spanish or a Spanish-speaking friend!

Finally, a traditional Cuban song about Che Guevara and Santa Clara. Enjoy your weekend!

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