March 7, 2017
Yesterday was a busy day, but today would be a different kind of busy day; we were up early to have breakfast before our long bus ride to Santa Clara. The trip would take about ten hours.
So the bus departed at 8 am and for most of the day we retraced our route along the main highway. There was no sightseeing other than out of the bus window, but we did stop every couple of hours to have a break. Some stops were at roadside cafés so that we could buy drinks or ice cream. And we did stop in the midst of all the sugar cane fields to take photos of an old steam locomotive which used to transport cane to the processing plant.
We finally got to our destination at Hotel Los Caneyes in Santa Clara at about 6:30 pm. After being shown to our rooms we headed over to the dinner buffet. What a spread to choose from! Everything from quails’ eggs to prawns to rabbit. The dessert buffet was equally impressive, with four flavours of ice cream and numerous cakes, and there was even red jello. Sitting in a bus all day plus huge buffet—a guaranteed weight-loss plan!
March 8, 2017
We still had a lot more bus-riding to do, but first we had to see the sights of Santa Clara. So we were up at the usual time and headed over to the (massive) breakfast buffet.
Our first stop was the Che Guevara museum and mausoleum in Santa Clara. We arrived just as the museum was opening, so we had the whole place to ourselves. The museum chronicled Che’s life starting from his early childhood, and it had a lot of artifacts and photos depicting him at various stages of his life. He was trained as a doctor, which came in handy while in the rebel camp in the Sierra Maestra; he even did dental work there.
This was all very serious: no bags, no cameras, no raised voices allowed.
Inside the mausoleum were Che’s remains along with the remains of 37 other guerilla fighters who lost their lives in the failed Bolivian revolution. Outside, it was decorated with scenes from Che’s career, particularly the Battle of Santa Clara.
From here the bus took us to Parque Vidal, where we started a short walking tour. It was here where Che’s troops fought against Batista’s army, who were holed up in a government building. The bullet holes are still visible in the façade of what is now the Hotel Santa Clara Libre.
Next we walked through the streets to an open-air museum which depicted some derailed boxcars. In the boxcars were photos and descriptions of the battle on December 29, 1958, which was basically the end of Batista’s dictatorship. At this battle Che and 300 young revolutionaries armed with rifles, Molotov cocktails, and a bulldozer managed to defeat thousands of heavily-armed government troops.
Then it was back into the bus, where we drove through more fields until late afternoon. Then we stopped at the Soroa orchidarium, a welcome break. It had originally been set up in the 1940’s by a Cuban lawyer, and it was preserved intact through the revolutionary period. Our guide led us through a small greenhouse containing numerous orchids from small to large, and then around the paths with more orchids and other showy plants. We also saw some new birds which we hadn’t seen before.
We finally reached Viñales at about 6:30 pm.