Chez Che

Simon Calder visits Ernesto Guevara's eventual resting-place

Che's coming home - or rather, the revolutionary's hand-less skeleton is to be given a hero's burial in the land he adopted for a decade. The Cuban city where he will be laid to rest, Santa Clara, was the location for the final battle that sealed the fate of the dictator Fulgencio Batista and, ultimately, Ernesto "Che" Guevara himself.

At first sight, Santa Clara does not appear to be notable for anything. After a 150-mile haul from Havana along the Carretera Central (central highway), the first you see of this sleepy city is a huge factory complex of the sort that is popular in Minsk. Inpud, as the enterprise is known, produces many of Cuba's domestic appliances - or rather, it used to; since the collapsing Soviet Union dragged the Cuban economy into the abyss, the country these days isn't producing anything much but tourism.

To help boost hard-currency earnings, expect Che-for-a-day trips to be offered from Havana to Santa Clara. These will start shortly after 8 October this year, the 30th anniversary of Guevara's execution in a corner of some Bolivian field. This is when the bones of the asthmatic Argentinian who thought Cuba was worth fighting for will be interred.

Che met Fidel Castro in Mexico, where Castro was exiled following the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953. Together they plotted the next near-disaster, sailing a cabin-cruiser full of revolutionaries over to Cuba and attacking the frighteningly well-entrenched regime. Of the 83 revolutionaries who landed in the south east of the island in December 1956, all but 23 died in the first encounter with government troops after just three weeks. Yet two years later, the survivors - led by Castro and Che - succeeded two years later in overthrowing the regime.

And Santa Clara was the location for the most crucial battle of all. In December 1958, Che's rebels - having endured incredible hardships on the long march west - swept down to the city at the centre of the island. If they could capture Santa Clara, they would cut Cuba in half and divide the diminishing rule of Batista.

Conveniently for those on the revolutionary trail, the only place in town where you can stay bears the scars of the battle even today. The front of the Hotel Santa Clara Libre, overlooking the handsome main square, is pocked with bullet holes. (The "Libre", of course, was added after the Revolution when many Cubans believed they were for the first time free.)

The most decisive action in Cuba's history took place 10 blocks north of the main square, close to the cheerfully decrepit old railway station. You round a corner and suddenly stumble upon the Tren Blindado - "Blind Train". Batista sent reinforcements east along Cuba's main railway line in enclosed wagons. "Borrowing" a bulldozer, Che's score of rebels ripped the track apart. The wagons are still lying where they fell, resembling debris from a giant train set. The site has been turned into a revolutionary shrine, with good reason. Batista's commanders realised their game was up. Forty-eight hours later the dictator fled, leaving Castro to march triumphantly into Havana for a stay that has outlasted nine US presidents.

Che, meanwhile, or at least 23 bronze tons of him, stands guard over the city from a plateau two miles east. The Plaza de la Revolucin is already a shrine, dominated by the huge statue that was erected on the 20th anniversary of Che's death. Here, building for the mausoleum is under way. On 8 October, the day Che was killed, Cuban schoolchildren will solemnly promise that, should the need arise, they will "die in a hail of bullets like Che". Had he lived, the revolutionary would be in his 70th year now. Yet as far as the Cuban politburo is concerned, his value as ideological martyr remains immense. And as the ultimate political tourist attraction, his grave will help to keep Cuban socialism alive.

To reach Santa Clara, fly on Cubana (0171-734 1165) to Havana, then go by train (around six hours on a good day).

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific