**NOTE to READERS: The following describes a trip which took place in March and early April, 2016.
Sunday, March 27th, 2016.
I meet a few other members of my tour group briefly at breakfast – among them, a mother-son duo from Australia – but don’t really get into deep conversation, because we’re supposed to leave at 8:45 a.m. for Santa Clara. And while I can’t speak for the others, I’m not fully functional before 9 a.m., anyhow.
I unfortunately hold up the group by several minutes because I realize that I’m missing my yellow fleece sweater and have to return to the casa for it. (Way to go, ding-dong.) For this, I thank my trip leader – nicknamed “Santana” – who lets me go back to look for it. (But more about him later.)
First stop of the day is a monument to Che Guevara (in Villa Clara province) and the adjoining mausoleum.
(Blogger’s note: knowing how contentious politics in Cuba are, even today, what I describe below are observations, not editorializing.)
The sun is blazing hot. The statue of Che is enormous, and doesn’t really provide any shade. We’re told its sculptor constructed it with its back to Santa Clara, because Che was Argentinian. Around it are walls with etchings of other revolutionary fighters, including one stone slab etched with Che Guevara’s last letter to Fidel Castro.
The short, squat building next to the statue is the mausoleum – dedicated to Che and some of his fellow fighters, as well as a sort of small museum describing his life. Some parts of the exhibit are translated into English – particularly the items on display – but others are only in Spanish.
For lunch, we head into Santa Clara to a buffet restaurant called “El Quijote”.
It’s quite good – so much food, and so many sweets (which I try – and don’t quite succeed – to keep to a minimum).
In Santa Clara proper, we get a bit of a walking orientation/historical explanation of the town. Well, sort of. Santana isn’t entirely giving us a full talk.
At our local casas, we’re assigned our rooms, and Jana and I get to bunk together, which is nice.*
Our casa is super-cute … if a wee bit pink.
Like, princess-bubble-gum pink – right down to the shower curtain.
Our host (and his cute little dog) meets us with “welcome” glasses of juice to cool off.
After a couple of hours to ourselves to unwind, it’s dinner time!
But – in what will turn into an underlying theme during this trip – there’s confusion over dinner plans.
Santana wants the group to have dinner together at this one restaurant he’s recommended. But only part of the group agrees to reservations. The other part of the group – which includes Jana, me, and a Belgian couple, Lieven and Anick – want to head to a rooftop bar at a hotel in the town square.
And Santana? Well, he isn’t happy about it.**
I personally find his reaction kind of odd, as I’ve been on other tours where people make their own plans separate from the group without much fuss. But I put it out of my mind, and our quartet heads for the square.
Our plans for drinks, however, are foiled: turns out the hotel bar is closed. A local tries to lure us to this hole-in-the-wall, but we don’t take the bait. We wander instead into a local joint with a balcony that overlooks the square. But there’s not much there – and the locals don’t look at us (mostly the others) terribly fondly.
So we end up at this upper-storey fast-food place, where we chat over mojitos, beer, burgers and sandwiches. The food and conversation are what the four of us all really need on our first real evening of our tour.
Jana and I are back in our casa room at a respectable hour, lulled to sleep by the coolness of our air-conditioned room.
Tomorrow, we head to Trinidad – the town, not the island. (I’m not that rich, guys.)
Photos taken are mine. Please do not re-use without permission.
* Our pairing up almost didn’t happen. Jana is originally supposed to bunk with another traveller – a Brit named Charlie. But because of the confusion and disorganization at the start of the trip, Charlie’s ended up with her parents … for the duration of the trip.
** Talking amongst ourselves later, we surmise that Santana has an arrangement whereby he brings his tour groups to certain businesses in exchange for some sort of commission. Or maybe they get the commission? I’m not sure.