Sankha Guha: Man About World

Book now for the Bay of Pigs beach party
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The Independent Travel

The so-called "War on Terror" has shone a spotlight on one of the strangest places on earth. Guantanamo Bay was an enigma long before the sinister Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta opened for business. Castro has railed against it - "The naval base is a dagger plunged into the Cuban soil". The US acquired it under a treaty signed

in 1903, denounced as illegal in the current Cuban constitution. But far from wishing it away, the Cubans should market Guantanamo - roll up, roll up for the last chance to visit the Cold War.

My suggested itinerary:

1) Guantanamo. Peer across the razor- wire fence in Oriente province where Cuba's "Frontier Brigade" maintains a round-the-clock stand-off against US marines. The base beyond the wire is no makeshift camp but an area the size of Manhattan, where a mini-US has been created, complete with fast-food franchises.

2) Bay of Pigs. Party on the very beach in Matanzas province where the US was humbled back in 1961. At Playa Giron (the local name for the Bay of Pigs) you can stay in holiday bungalows where prisoners were held in the aftermath of the failed CIA-sponsored invasion - pig-roast and scuba packages are on offer. Admire the bloodstained shirts of fallen heroes at the local museum.

3) Havana. Stop off at the seven-storey hallucination known as the US Interests Section of the Swiss embassy. The US has no diplomatic relations with Cuba, so this imposing building slap in the middle of the Malecon (the main seafront drag), bristling with antennae and crammed with CIA spooks, is not the US embassy.

And across the road from not the US embassy is a huge mural portraying a cartoon Uncle Sam growling at a plucky Cuban across the cartoon sea, who shouts: "Senores imperialistas, no les tenemos absolutamente ningun miedo!" ("Oi, imperialists, we aren't even slightly scared of you!)

4) Live show: Castro himself. The same Castro who (along with Khrushchev and Kennedy) nearly blew up the whole planet during the missile crisis of 1962. Forty-two years on, the all-singing, all-ranting demagogue can still be seen at open-air rallies, churning out the same old tunes. In a world where we don't even know what our enemies look like, Castro is a monument to the comforting certainties of the Cold War.

Visit while it lasts, while he lasts.

We're cool for cats

Are tigers and tourists good for each other? The knee-jerk answer of most conservationists is a resounding no, but naturalist Stephen Mills argues otherwise in a book published this week. In Tiger (BBC Books, £20) Mills presents an eloquent case for tiger tourism. Not only do tourists bring money, status and recognition to the business of protecting the most spectacular cat, he maintains, but their physical presence "acts as a constraint on poachers".

Of course, this argument would be pointless if tourists had a negative impact on tiger behaviour in the wild. But, says Mills, there is evidence to suggest that tigers are adapting to human company in unexpected and positive ways.

I can add my own anecdotes. My first encounter with a tiger in the wild confirmed all the Blakean clichés. It was after dark, and our floodlight picked out the fearful symmetry of a big male with his jaws clamped around the neck of a magnificent sambhar stag he had just killed. At the time, tigers were thought to be nocturnal beasts prowling the forests of the night. And maybe they were, maybe centuries of human hostility had driven them to it.

Since then I have seen tigers in India's Ranthambhore National Park, not only hunting in open view by day but cleverly using the cover of noise made by tourist traffic to stalk their prey. In Bandhavgarh National Park recently we got to know one tiger family, having sighted them three times, and I swear the young male was loving the attention.

Having spotted them one evening in deep cover from the road, we expected the tigers to melt away, but the young male left his mother and sister and came to check out the mêlée of some 15 vehicles which had gathered, and sat down no more than 10 feet from us. Maybe curiosity will save the cat - he fulfilled his obligations as a tourist attraction. After waiting until the unruly mob had finished shouting, jostling and taking photos, he sauntered off. We nicknamed him Poseur.

Tigers have indeed changed their stripes in response to hordes of humans invading their habitat and, if it's not too fanciful to suggest it, they seem to quite like us.

* * *

Last week, police raided the self-proclaimed hippy "Republic" of Christiania in Copenhagen, arresting more than 50 people and seizing an unspecified quantity of cannabis. So far, so normal. Ever since this extraordinary commune in the heart of the Danish capital was set up in 1971 it has had regular run-ins with the government of the day.

This time, though, the writing is on the wall, and it is in dire contrast to the psychedelic murals that decorate the 80-acre site. The right-wing government has signalled the end for the 1,000 or so inhabitants who have tuned in and dropped out to live in what was once officially designated a social experiment. The authorities want to develop the prime waterfront site for luxury housing.

This would be a shame. Christiania is unique. For all its un-Scandinavian grunginess, this corner of Copenhagen has become one of the city's top three tourist draws - and the No 1 attraction is the bluntly descriptive Pusher Street. For over 30 years, in open contempt of the law, it has been Europe's biggest hash supermarket, and a symbol to the rest of the world of the almost saintly levels of tolerance that Danish society has extended to its brat subcultures. Lose this, and Denmark will be a shade more monochrome.

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