Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Cuba - Back to Havana with some history along the way.

Very reluctantly we said goodbye to the lovely town of Trinidad and boarded the bus for the return trip to Havana. Luckily there was to be plenty of interest, and a couple of history lessons, along the way. 
The attractive tower with an ugly history

Our first stop, about an hour from Trinidad, was at Manaca Iznaga in the Valle de los Ingenios, now a UNESCO world heritage site for its beautiful natural scenery, the ruins of sugar mills and slaves quarters and the fading, elegant haciendas of the early mill owners.   It was from the dozens of sugar cane plantations in this valley that Trinidad gained most of its wealth in the 19th century.  There is still some sugar cane grown here however most of the mills were destroyed in the War of Independence and the Spanish-Cuban-American war of 1895 to 1898. Plantation owners moved to other parts of Cuba but over time the sugar industry has declined and is now merely a shadow of what it once was.

View from the tower of the linen market and slave owner's hacienda

The Manaca Iznaga plantation was bought by Pedro Iznaga in 1795, a ruthless man he became extremely wealthy through slave trafficking. Today the plantation is a peaceful place.  A linen market, displaying exquisite hand embroidered, snowy white, table cloths, clothing and bed linen, lines the entry to the spectacular 44 metre high tower which overlooks the estate. We climbed the tower to drink in the panoramic views over the surrounding countryside whilst learning of its ugly history as a watchtower to oversee the plantation slaves, make sure they worked hard and didn't escape. Sobering to say the least.

The linen is  all hand embroidered.  I bought beautiful dresses for my grand daughters and a snowy white  table cloth
  After pondering the terrible injustices Iznaga's slaves suffered, and taking a quick stroll through his cool, spacious mansion, now containing a restaurant,  we boarded the bus to continue to our next destination, Santa Clara and Ernesto Che Guevera's tomb. As I have mentioned before, all tourism in Cuba is government owned and operated so it came as no surprise that we were shown a documentary on the life and 'heroic' deeds of Che Guevara on the bus before we arrived at his mausoleum.

Che Guevera's mausoleum, no photos are allowed inside. Note the size of the people walking by
The  size and surroundings of the mausoleum are an indication of how much he was and still is revered in Cuba, if not by everyone at least officially. Entry to the tomb is up a grand staircase and the tomb itself is cool, cave like, dimly lit and silent.  Along with Che's tomb there are 38 other niches containing the remains of  guerillas killed in the unsuccessful Bolivian revolution along with Che. Each niche is decorated with a single fresh red carnation while Che's plaque is the most prominent and boasts several red carnations.  Alongside the tomb is a small museum, dedicated to him, filled with his belongings, memorabilia and photos. The large bronze statue of Che, looking out over the countryside at the front of the mausoleum is certainly impressive.

The only type of billboards you ever see in Cuba
Unfortunately time was of the essence and we still had a long way to go to reach Havana so the mausoleum was all we saw of Santa Clara. Ironically the city Che freed from Batista's corrupt rule and converted to conservative and socialist  is now considered to be one of Cuba's most edgy, go ahead and rebellious of cities. With a strong youth culture, Cuba's best rock festival and students at Santa Clara university testing the limits of censorship it is known as a city that sets trends and inspires creativity.
We finally arrived in Havana after a 4 hour drive through flat, fairly featureless countryside mesmerised by the lolling head of our guide as he gently dozed for much of the trip.  Well, there was one feature and that was the number of burnt out or burning cars we saw along the highway.  It seems keeping those old cars on the road can be a risky business.  It wouldn't surprise me if they were successfully repaired to drive another day.  Needs must!

As we drove into a busy Havana our guide proudly pointed out the stadium the Rolling Stones had performed at during their visit to Cuba.  It was clearly a big deal. As luck would have it I found the video of the Rolling Stones concert, Havana Moon, on the plane as I flew home.  What a fantastic concert, if you get the chance, watch it.

Late in the day we arrived back in the heart of Havana.  It's always good to come back to somewhere familiar and there was still some sightseeing to do.