What was meant to be the longest bus ride of our trip, turned out to be just fine, despite the very unnecessary sub zero air-con that was on full for the whole trip. We practically slept the whole time, although we both awoke with frozen noses.
We were greeted with the warmest welcome at the bus station. We had organised this casa with Carrie (Trinidad casa) when we were still there, as Carrie’s twin sister lived here. We were picked up at the station by Carrie’s sister’s niece Claudia, who was waiting with a handwritten sign and a massive smile.
We were driven back to the casa and introduced to everyone. Carrie’s sister Onelia was the spitting image of Carrie. Over the next two days we were introduced to one of Onelia’s daughters in person, one over the phone – Tatiana who lives in Toronto, a few grandkids, Robelo the husband, Cookie the Parrot and Prince, the chihuahua.
We were made to feel at home instantly. We got to know Claudia, who was in her fifth year of medicine at university and a big fan of tattoos. She had made us a laminated map and pointed out the points of interest around the city.
We headed out after settling in to explore a bit of the city. It was a clear change from Santiago. The people seemed cooler, more modern (alternatively dressed, more interesting hair styles, funkier looking). One of the best parts was that there was no hissing or kissing noises! As we were talking about just how great it wasout loud someone took hold of Alice’s hand, bent down on one knee and kissed her hand, literally in the middle of the street; but lets pretend that doesn’t count. Santa Clara is hands down the cool, hip-young Havana, full of University come revolutionaries waiting for the next opportunity to make Cuba not only great, but free.
We walked around the main plaza and just outside of the city to a statue of Ché Guevara with a baby on his shoulder symbolising the next generation. Once you look closer you see smaller sculptures within Ché’s uniform depicting chapters in his life, including the 38 men killed with Guevara in Bolivia.
Ché Y Niño @ Santa Clara
Parque Vidal, named after the Colonel Leoncio Vidal y Caro who were killed here on March 23, 1896. In the colonial era, Parque Vidal was surrounded by twin sidewalks that came complete with a seperate group fence to keep white people and black people separated.
Plenty of interesting buildings still surround Parque Vidal, including the relatively ugly mint green Hotel Santa Clara Libre, which still bares its bullet hole wounds from the 1958 battle for the city; between the hero Ché Guevara and Batista’s government troops, it was really cool.
We had pizza in the park which tends to be what a lot of locals do. Pizza is massive in Cuba, not nice pizza but basic pizza which we’re guessing because it’s cheap to eat and buy.
Street Dog @ Santa Clara
Car Trouble @ Santa Clara
That night dinner was at Hostal La Florida; unfortunately it was packed full of very quiet tourist couples, it was very expensive and just very average food. It was set in a massive garden that seemed to never end.
The next day, we headed out to visit the Mausoleum of Che. We got lost on way thanks to the rubbish map that excluded most streets, literally only half are labelled, coupled with Cuba not having many street signs, needless to say, we went way too far in the wrong direction.
The mausoleum itself was a bit disappointing, we got a few interesting photos but the rest was a bit of a jumble. It sort of started off with a chronology of belongings and letters that either were worn by/actually belonged to/were touched by Ché but then seemed to skip 20 years and then it was just a lot of guns in display cases. We unfortunately didn’t learn much like we had hoped to. There was also a sort of tomb which was as you can imagine- pretty odd and the memorial attaches to the mausoleum was a bit strange too. It consisted of a huge statue outside (which was impressive) and a cemetery that was guarded where two tourists got told off for sitting down.
“Hasta La Victoria Siempre” @ Mausoleum de Ché, Santa Clara
We headed back into the city and checked out the library attached to Parque Central which contained some of the oldest, most incredible books, as well as an official restricted section; which we believed contained books like Harry Potter.
As we had not managed to find the the best viewpoint overlooking Santa Clara “Loma Del Capiro” the previous day, we walked all the way back past the Che y niño statue, up through some cool streets and finally up to Loma Del Capiro. At the top of this “hill” was a beautiful viewpoint of the city. There was also two huge flags, one of cuba and one of the 26 July flags. There was also a small group of female tourists getting put in the back of a police car and then two army trucks arrived but instead of going to investigate we decided to pass and wandered back down the hill none the wiser as to what had happened.
On the way back from Loma Del Capiro we saw two guys putting sunglasses on the statue of Ché y niño and taking selfies with it. They were just having a laugh for a photo but if someone other than us had seen, especially a local we genuinely think there would have been trouble. It was incredibly disrespectful as this is the man that liberated the nation and the locals are so passionate about him.
The Real News Struggle @ Santa Clara
We walked around for hours, Santa Clara is much bigger than it seems. After a while, once we were super buggered, we headed back to the casa and had coffee and cake with Onelia. Reneló had accidentally bought a birthday cake for his niece, Claudia, four days too early, so we were “forced” to help them demolish the pre birthday pastel.
After a mid afternoon siesta we headed out to check out the night life. What we didn’t realise is that everything, including the infamous drag shows, didn’t kick off until 1/2am, and there was no way we were waiting around for that. We had a very nice offer from a very lovely drag queen to head out of town to another club, but we politely refused. Town was full of every type of person you could imagine; from drag queens to children under 3 and everyone in between.
Socialismo @ Santa Clara
The next morning we woke up to another 10 course breakfast laid out for us. Our collectivo arrived a little early, or maybe we were a little late, but our familia weren’t having us rushed so they sent them away. After finishing our breakfast (and taking some to go) we took a heaps of photos and said another sad farewell. We had yet another amazing stay and we could not have felt more welcome. Onelia treated us like her own children. The casa experiences have really made Cuba for us. What an I incredible country with such amazing people.
We don’t know whether it was because we were two females (much discussed topic with other tourists we metin Baracoa) but our last 4 casa particulares have treated us like their real family. It could be that it’s because most of the people that do all of the legwork in the casas are women (in our experience). They do all the cooking, cleaning and talking. To be fair to Robelo, he helped out a lot and quite enjoyed chatting to us. Up until then we hadn’t seen a man do anything really in any casa other than just be present.
Awesome Hard Working Women (excluding us obviously) @ Casa de Onelia, Santa Clara.
We really didn’t want to leave, yet again. But we jumped in our collectivo that had actually not left for as long as we had thought and had actually been waiting on us, and off we headed, out of Santa Clara and back to Havana for our final two nights.