Day 8 – Ultimo dia en Cuba

It’s the last full day in Cuba. It seems like its gone by way, way too fast. But I guess it’s almost time to get back to real life. We had to make our way by bus back to Havana via Santa Clara where we’d see the memorial to “Che” Guevera  – who was born Argentinian but a huge figure in the Cuban revolution. He was very close to both Fidel and Raul Castro but ended up being killed in an ambush in Bolivia when he was in his 40s. Cubans think very very highly of Che which was evident in the amount of tourists waiting to get into the memorial. It was deathly hot and very humid and almost an hour wait but as in the past, worth it. The memorial is so well done. You enter a lovely windowless room with thriving fauna and soft lighting. Che was killed with 29 other revolutionaries in 1967 in an attempt to spur an uprising in Bolivia. Although he was killed in 1967 his remains were not given to Cuba until 1997. Construction of the memorial, however, started in 1982.

Che Memorial, Santa Clara

Che Memorial, Santa Clara

There are small memorials to all of the fallen soldiers on one wall. Che sits in the middle. It was interesting to me that only their first names were affixed next to their memorials. There was also a red carnation next to each one. Apparently on their birthdays they hang a white carnation to signify the day. At the other end of the memorial is the eternal flame dedicated to Che. It was sad and moving. Then you proceed to an area of the memorial that houses many photos of Che, from birth through death, with his family and with his friends and soldiers. There are also artifacts that belonged to him – his machete, belt, journal, letters he wrote to his wife(s) and the Castros. An absolutely fascinating – and admittedly, a very handsome – man.

Back to the bus for the final 4-hour trip to Havana. At this point me and this bus are NOT friends so I was not looking forward to it. But again, it’s the only way to get to where I want to be so…Fortunately, Tony loaded a movie for us. The movie is titled Fresa y Chocolate – strawberry and chocolate. It opened in 1993 and apparently signified a shift in the ways Cubans think and deal with homosexuals. It was a very sweet movie about a severely heterosexual man who was also a member of the young Communist party and the deep friendship he makes with a young flamboyant homosexual man in Cuba in 1979. It was interesting to see the extreme discrimination of homosexuals in Cuba just a little over 30 years ago. According to Tony, the discrimination was extreme and included not just verbal abuse but also physical. He said, however, that no longer exists and homosexuals are treated the same as every other Cuban.

Fresa y Chocolate

Fresa y Chocolate

La cena ultimato – our last dinner together – was at a local Havana paladar called el idilio. We sat as a group under the stars amidst a beautiful breeze. As per usual, we ate and drank like crazy people and laughed a lot. There were toasts to both Tony our driver and Tony our guide and it was sentimental. These are sad moments for me. I feel like I forge a bond with these people over 9 days and countless miles and stories and sicknesses. They become a temporary family and it is always hard to say goodbye. And even more so for the guide, who shares himself intimately with the group. He was vulnerable and honest with us and there are no words that can adequately thank someone who does that. And the driver – another Tony – spoke no English but was beyond kind in his (Spanish) words and actions when I was sick.

I know I’ve said it countless times but it’s because its so important – these people are the reason I travel. And in this case they are so extremely different from me – the way they grew up, their schooling, their jobs and salaries and families, their thoughts about their government and what they can actually say about the governent. It’s beyong special to me to know about that.

Hotel Nacional, Havana, Cuba

Hotel Nacional, Havana, Cuba

Malecon, Havana, Cuba

Malecon, Havana, Cuba

We ended an amazing night at the beautiful Hotel Nacionale for an over-priced mojito, some local Cuban music and views of the teeming Malecon in the background. A beautiful ending to a beautiful trip.

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