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travelbold.com » Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the revolution

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Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the revolution

As Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, Che Guevara remains its most beloved son and  iconic leader.

 

Che's legend is larger than the statue that looms over his shrine-like memorial.

Che's legend is larger than the statue that looms over his shrine-like memorial.

Revolution and Romance in Cuba

 

“What have you seen of the island?” I asked the older couple, sunning themselves poolside. 

“Nothing,” they replied.  “We never leave the property.”

I was stunned.  There we were in Cuba, arguably one of the most interesting areas of the Caribbean, and my two tanned friends were content with a lounge chair and a pina colada.

“We always do this,” they told me, explaining that holidays were always spent on the hotel property.

“That way, we always know what to expect.”

Vacation time should be spent whatever way makes you happiest – but, not exploring Cuba when you have the opportunity is…well…a loss.

Cuba is a fascinating mix of the beach resort atmosphere of places like Veradero, the full-on, Vegas-style glitz of the famed Tropicana show in Havana, and the still very serious official dedication to the heroes of the revolution.  The latest techno-pop tunes may blare in the resort discos, but in many ways, time has stood still since the beginning of Castro’s rule in the 1950’s.  There are cars older than most of the tourists, still in regular use.  Not the treasured babies of automobile aficionados, these cars are instead the basic means of transportation for many Cuban families.  Repaired for fifty years, the cars are held together by wire, glue and considerable faith.

But perhaps the most fascinating example of faith you’ll witness in Cuba is the on-going passion the country seems to exude for Che Guevara – long dead, but still the most popular figure of their revolutionary past.  Born Ernesto Guevara in Argentina, Che (which means ‘friend’ in Spanish) came to Cuba as a doctor to serve with Castro, quickly rose to military power and played a pivotal role in deposing the Fulgencio Batista regime. 

Assassinated in 1967, at the age of 39, while trying to lead another revolution in Bolivia, Che is an iconic hero in Cuba. 

 

Che watches over Revolutionary Square in Havana

Che watches over Revolutionary Square in Havana

 

In Havana’s Revolution Square, the enormous side of one building is adorned with a line drawing of his face while billboards showing him and quoting his most stirring revolutionary sentiments line the roadways. Every gift shops offers Che postcards – his face is unmistakeable.

A visit to his memorial, just outside the town of Villa Clara, is a fascinating study in both history and passion.  Regardless of your political views or your opinion of the man himself, a tour of the Che’s possessions and the photographic chronicle of his life will offer a rare glimpse into one of the world’s longest-standing love affairs between a leader and his people.

A chess set, doctor’s lab coat, a camera in its leather case, even a photo of Che holding a baseball bat are displayed with the kind of reverence reserved in other countries only for religious artifacts. His camera is the only one you’ll see.  Tourists and locals must leave theirs outside, to show proper respect.

In an adjacent room is a tomb containing the remains of Che and the small band of Cuban revolutionaries killed with him in Bolivia and returned to Cuba 30 years later.  Carvings of each face surround the central image of their leader, identified simply as Che. Visitors shuffle through the cool, candlelit darkness in silence.  Outside, cameras once more in hand, tourists snap photos of the enormous statue atop the memorial. 

It could be argued that, had he lived longer, Che’s luster might have dimmed in his adopted country.  We’ll never know –  he died young and has remained a cultural symbol for Cuba.  Sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of the Sunwing flight home, I raise a glass, not to revolution, and not even to Che, but rather to the timelessness of passion.


Posted in Culture 8 years, 8 months ago at 2:48 am.

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