Friday, 24 November 2017


6th - 8th Nov 2017

Señor Guevara overlooking Santa Clara with steam coming out of his ear.
Santa Clara is situated north of Trinidad, more or less in the centre of Cuba. The town is particularly notable for two things; in December 1958 Che Guevara and his revolting followers 'liberated' the town which marked the end of the Batista regime, and it hosts Cuba's only official drag show. 

I arrived at the bus station which is inconveniently located about 2 miles west of the town centre. I was forced to find a taxi and, by good fortune, found a splendid driver, Alba (left). He was a most amusing and helpful chap who teaches 'surveying' at the local university as his main job and drove a taxi for amusement as well as the extra cash. His car was just my favoured type; a battered black Lada (I think) with a seriously cracked front windscreen and various bits missing. He was cheap and reliable (he arrived at my Casa on time to take me back at the end of my stay). I suspect he operates as an 'unregistered' driver. So, if any of you happen to visit Santa Clara and are looking for a suitable driver who speaks reasonable English, his phone number is: 5.312 4038. 

The main square, Parque Vidal (wasn't he a hairdresser?) was pleasant enough and is the main WiFi 'hotspot' with people sitting on the benches fiddling with their smartphones etc. At dusk the trees filled with thousands of noisy squawking little black birds. Attracted by WiFi signals? By the way, is it written 'WiFi', or 'Wi-Fi', or wifi, or Wifi?
The two statues in the square are those of Marta Abreu, a legendary 19th century philanthropist, whose generous donations largely built the town which, intially, was named after her; Cuidad de Marta.

The other is an 'emblematic' (whatever that means) statue of 'The Boy with a Boot' (left). A fountain with the water pouring out of his held up right welly. I know the feeling.
A quaint little feature.

I found a very pleasant looking roof-top restaurant called La Aldaba. Smart decor, smart staff, smart menu, quite expensive (CUC 15!) and I ordered 'lamb'. The first time I had seen lamb on a menu. As it turned out was just that, a generous plateful of mutton chunks (with rice) which were dry, tough and over-salty. Not nice. I could only eat half. 
There were only two tables occupied when I got there and just as one was getting settled, the inevitable happened; a wandering minstrel appeared and started playing. Straight at me. OK they are good at their music, but there are times when a little bit of peace and quiet is appreciated.

There is a monument, mausoleum and museum complex dedicated to Che Guevara 2kms west of the centre. In fact this monument was erected to mark the 20th anniversary of his, and his followers, deaths in Bolivia in 1967. The statue is on high ground and can be seen from all over the town.

I visited the museum and mausoleum underneath the monument, but had to leave my bag and camera outside. Very strict no photography rule. Actually it wasn't that interesting, and the mausoleum, dimly lit with a waterfall feature at the end, just contained stone-carved niches dedicated to the 38 other guerillas killed in the failed Bolivian revolution. Whether his actual remains, or any remains, are buried here is a matter of some considerable doubt. In 1997 Fidel Castro had insisted that 'his body', was returned in a little cask from Bolivia and placed here to reinforce the  myths surrounding Che and give the Cubans a place of pilgrimage. Its probably all a load of baloney, but thats politics.

Right: There is an 'eternal flame' outside, lit in the ceremony in 1997 by Fidel, surrounded by many stone plaques to commemorate other fallen 'revolutionaty heroes'. A rather disinterested and scruffy soldier was lolling about pretending to be on guard.

I had happily walked here and was on my way back to town when I was approached from behind by one of the many horse and cart taxis. What the hell, I jumped in and took a ride for once. It only cost a CUC. The horse was called Pancho.

That evening I decided to visit the Club Mejunje, almost opposite my Casa on Calle Marta Abreu. This is the club that boasts Cuba's only official drag show. I was told by some amusing and trendy black guys at the door that the place hosts all sorts of acts and types of music but the drag show was only on Saturdays. Tonight there was to be a 'band', starting at 10.30pm. The place is basically a large ruin of a building with four rudimentary brick walls, no roof, a couple of trees inside, a bar area, a stage loosely surrounded by uncomfortable and wobbly looking scaffold tiered seating and a few picnic tables and chairs. I duly arrived at 10.30pm, bought a rum and soda and sat down at a table opposite the stage. There were only about a dozen people in. And I waited. Eventually a rather portly 65 yr old bloke ambled in with an electric guitar and tuned it. He was followed by two others of similar age and build. One sat down at a set of drums and the other began tuning his bass guitar. There was a keyboard but no player for that. A youngish woman and a young poncey-looking youth with a flowery shirt and bow-tie also faffed around testing microphones. Then they all stood up, got drinks and went to the back for a fag, and a chat. I waited more, but nothing seemed to be about to happen. I was on my 3rd rum and soda by now, looking at my watch and deciding whether to call it a day. Then, at midnight, an old lady shuffled in. She looked to be about 80 yrs old, wearing a shapeless skirt with crumpled 'Nora Batty' style surgical stockings and a terrible curly ginger wig. She also looked very grumpy. Anyway she hobbled over to the keyboard and sat down at it, took ages adjusting her chair, and glowered at the keys. What an unimpressive looking line-up. And then she started started playing. Wow!! The others had been waiting for her! They all joined in. It was amazing! I nearly spilt my drink. They played and sang a wide range of songs drifting seamlessly from classical to modern; Verdi and Bizet, through Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway stuff, Frank Sinatra to The Rolling Stones with enormous enthusiasm and great skill. The young lad singing was simply fantastic; he could have been from Covent Garden, La Scala or The West End in London and performed some immaculate duets with the girl. At various points members of the audience, now numbering about 50, came up and sang with them. They knew what they were doing. As for the old girl on the keyboard, she was obviously controlling the whole thing and was thumpingly impressive! It was a magnificent 2 hour eye-watering and magical performance. It was made to look almost improvised, but was obviously not.
My little wanderings are, for the most part, fairly mundane but there are rare flashes of extreme exhilaration. This performance was one of them.
I wish I had taken some photos. Typically, as always when a camera is most needed, I had left mine in my room thinking it would be too dark and/or not a great spectacle. How wrong I so often am!
I managed to speak to the young singers and the old bird at the piano afterwards. They deserve a special mention; the deceivingly 'geriatric' pianist was called Freyda Anido, the young lady singer was her daughter, Marlen, and the young lad singing was called Samuel David Rodriguez Menejías. Give them a big hand!!!

There were images of the saintly (mass murderer) Che everywhere; even on the terrace wall at my Casa (right).

As already mentioned, the Cuban people are mostly quite poor, but they are looked after by the state and issued ration cards with which they obtain food. The food is also very basic; I never saw any stores or mini-supermarkets with shelves of the stuff, let alone luxury goods, as we are accustomed to. However, a high proportion of the locals, both black and white, seemed to be remarkably 'well upholstered'. I rarely saw a skinny one.

They are certainly not starving! Despite a refreshing lack of MacDonalds or any other 'fast food' outlets the standard figure can be somewhat on the 'generous' side. I met these two trendy young things in a queue at the bank (they are Cuban). Was it P G Wodehouse who unkindly remarked about some comfortably build lady; "She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say 'when'." ?

By chance I found another watering-hole called Restaurant Florida Center (right). This was another agreeable looking place but where the food could best be described as 'average'. I had fish. It was never made clear what kind of fish; just fish (and rice). However, it had a major selling point. It was run by a very charming young man who told me that they had 'in house WiFi' for which I needed my ETECSA card, but it worked! I could come in and use it anytime. Magic.

Of course there was in house musical entertainment. This duo were, despite appearances, extremely good with their sing songs. The guitarist was especially good (the best in town, I was told, obviously). I was feeling generous and bought, for CUC 10, one of his CDs. I kook forward to listening to it when I get home.

I bumped into a couple of Austrian ladies at my Casa and helped them load their bags onto a jeep. They had been driving around Cuba for a month and had covered just about the whole country. They told me they had driven over 3000 kms so far and were heading back towards Havana. It put my minor roamings into perspective.

My mate Alba, the taxi driver, was waiting to collect me early the next morning and off we rattled back to the bus station. Next stop Varadero, the well known 'all inclusive' haven for well heeled sun-worshipping tourists on the north coast. I feel I have to see the place.

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