Travel `98: October Havana

It's a revolutionary survivor, home to the remains of Che Guevara and ruled by the world's longest-serving political leader. Simon Calder visits Cuba

You know Cuba, of course - that glorious confusion of Spanish colonialism and West African rhythms, encircled by the finest beaches in the Caribbean and enriched by 10 million people whose generosity has barely been bruised by the bad times. The largest island in the Caribbean, but a mere splinter beneath the underbelly of the United States. Once an outsize missile base, which Moscow liked to accord as little respect as an obscure Soviet republic. Remarkable revolutionary survivor of, a) CIA subversion; b) the collapse of the USSR and consequent economic calamity; c) astonishingly elongated and turgid speeches by the world's longest-serving political leader.

You know Fidel, of course. For the majority of his 71 years he has ruled with a single-mindedness that is reflected in the one-party state he created. Last Thursday morning, the state newspaper Granma proudly changed a tiny detail on its masthead: since New Year's Day, the nation has been enjoying Ano 40 de la Revolucion. Not only has Fidel Castro endured - his revolution has survived to middle age, outliving many of its friends (Che Guevara and the Soviet Union), and foes (miscellaneous US presidents and the despised exile, Jorge Mas Canosa, who fought Fidel from Florida until his death two months ago).

You know this because Cuba is the last recalcitrant ruffle in the post- Cold War world, refusing to be ironed out. It punches way beyond its weight thanks to a combination of muscular national identity and iron political discipline. Fortune lends a hand, too. A casual remark by a retired Bolivian army officer to Che's biographer, Jon Lee Anderson, led to the discovery of Guevara's remains. Castro, who has assiduously milked the legend of the asthmatic Argentinian freedom fighter, was able to preside over the triumphal return of Cuba's greatest revolutionary. On 8 October last year, the 30th anniversary of his execution, Che was laid to rest in the city of Santa Clara - where he led the rebels in their decisive battle against troops of the dictator Batista.

And, unless you've been operating your own Washington-style embargo of the travel pages, you know that a certain sense of humour is required for any trip to the wonderfully wayward land.

Santa Clara is the place to start a revolutionary trail, but anyone seeking a glimpse of the handless skeleton will be disappointed. No Lenin-style mausoleum for Che; a simple brass plate indicates the casket containing his remains. The armoured train that lies toppled beside the railway in the city centre is a more tangible symbol of insurrection.

Where next? To the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana, perhaps, where the vast, saintly image of Che beams from the south wall of the Communications Ministry, seeking to inspire a nation ground down by economic privation. The tall monument in Revolution Square is to another hero, Jose Marti - the father of Cuban independence, and another martyr to the cause. Until last year, it was sealed off by soldiers, until someone realised you could charge tourists $10 a go to travel to the top.

To go back to the very beginning, you should finally check in at the Rex Hotel in Santiago de Cuba, the eastern capital. Here, after a meal of chicken washed down with beer, the first floundering attempt at defeating Batista was launched: on 26 July, 1953, a feeble assault on the nearby Moncada Barracks. Most of the rebels perished. Castro survived to fight another day. At his trial, he gave a five-hour speech which can be summed up in a single line: "History will absolve me". And perhaps, despite everything, it will.

Simon Calder is co-author of the `Travellers' Survival Kit: Cuba and Cuba in Focus'.

How to get there

Cubana (0171-734 1165) flies three times a week from Gatwick to Havana and once a week from Manchester.

You say you want a revolution?

St Petersburg Perhaps the fact that the October Revolution was, according to most of the rest of the world, actually a November rebellion should have signified that Leninism was an ideology out of time. But all the paraphernalia lives on, from the cruiser Aurora (which fired the shot that triggered the revolt), to the Winter Palace.

Pyongyang You know a Communist regime is in big trouble when it starts courting tourism. North Korea has held out longer than most, but needs foreign currency so badly that it is prepared to welcome Andy Kershaw as a regular visitor.

Boston The Freedom Trail through America's most human city celebrates the insurrection against the Crown. In the course of the Revolution, much British property was confiscated and has yet to be returned. Yet the return of title is the central plank of the US trade embargo that seeks to strangle Cuba.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine