Just getting to Santa Clara was an adventure. This isn’t necessarily the case, but in our case it was. A lack of planning made it into a quite spontaneous ride. The morning we left Baracoa we didn’t know we’d be in Santa Clara that same night. We had booked a collective taxi to Santiago de Cuba, of which the guy organizing it assured us that it was a comfortable vehicle. When our ride pulled up to our casa, we were surprised to see some kind of jeep. Two people were squished in the front seat and the back had two benches. All the bags went onto the roof. Of course we picked up some more people and in the end there were six of us in the back. One of them was the taxi driver’s son that we picked up in Guantanamo.
As we drove through the mountains, holding on tight as we went through the corners, it started raining. At first we thought it was fine, but soon it started pouring! Our poor bags were getting wet. Luckily mine was at the bottom. The ride definitely wasn’t as comfortable as the bus had been and to our surprise it took just as long as well. If only we had booked the bus in time. At least we arrived in Santiago, where we got dropped off at the bus station. Immediately a big truck drove by shouting at us if we wanted to join them to Havana. We had hoped to catch an overnight bus or train to Santa Clara or spend another night in Santiago. None of those happened.
Soon a bunch of taxi drivers came at us asking where we were going. Eventually a man agreed to arrange a taxi for us to Santa Clara for the same price as the bus. We would have it all to ourselves. He pointed at a vehicle and we waited there. But the waiting took a bit too long for my comfort. I started to get agitated and suspicious. Something was not right. Indeed it wasn’t. After nearly an hour some other car showed up. It was a rental car. The driver was going to Havana and didn’t mind taking us. Two guys got out and loaded our bags in the trunk. I looked at my travel buddy, not sure what to think. This was not the deal. Before I knew it I shoved myself on the back seat, but to my surprise there was already a woman sitting there. It was all extremely tight and I got more and more annoyed the further we drove. The lady kept falling asleep on my shoulder and made herself so big that I had no room to put my feet.
At least we stopped for dinner somewhere. It was really delicious and there were no other tourists around. So really there was no tourist price either. Unfortunately this meant they just made it up. Suddenly our companion that could speak English asked us, seemingly in friendly conversation, how much we paid for food in Santiago. “About 5CUC”, I said hesitantly. I had a feeling something was up. Funny, because we ended up paying 5CUC for our meal here too. At least this was one of the cheaper meals we’d had! I didn’t mind paying 5CUC, but I minded that all the others paid much less. In Camaguey we suddenly drove into someone’s backyard. The driver got out and it started smelling like petrol. Instead of going to the petrol station, this guy had found a cheaper option.
At 2AM we finally arrived in Santa Clara. And now what? There was no way we could have found a casa by ourselves, but luckily our driver helped out. There were some kids on the streets and our driver checked if we were really in downtown Santa Clara. It looked empty, deserted, dead. He didn’t seem to believe this was a city either. But the kids said we were in the right place. They could wake someone who would take two guests. The loveliest old man was woken up to show us a room. We didn’t have much of a say in the price and just had to go along with it, but I still managed to get 5CUC off the price. I felt so bad though. We totally surprised this man. He quickly checked if there was enough soap, towels etc. Then we jumped into our beds.
The next morning it turned out we were indeed in downtown Santa Clara. It was much livelier, from abut 6AM. I tried to rest some more, but couldn’t. When we finally came downstairs, breakfast was ready. Good thing we had decided to take breakfast. The old man still had a smile on his face and directed us towards the main street. With a map from the Infotur office we started exploring. Santa Clara had a lot of political slogans everywhere. The city is mostly visited because of Ché Guevara. His remains are in the mausoleum here and that is where we were headed. We passed some very political graffiti and a lot of little stalls with sweets. It felt like we were walking further out of town, towards busy roads, and then we found the massive mausoleum.
We found out we weren’t the only tourists. There were lots of buses, probably coming from Varadero, as a day trip. I thought it was a very impressive monument. It wasn’t spectacular in its beauty, but it was its size. It was gigantic, with a gigantic Ché and a massive empty square right in front. Santa Clara had the last battle in the revolution of Cuba. There is a memorial at the train tracks. Here, Ché and the rebels attacked a train with homemade Molotov cocktails. The train had some of Batista’s troops as well as weapons and ammunition. Twelve hours after the battle in Santa Clara, Batista fled Cuba. Besides this, statues of Ché seem to be everywhere. I really loved the Ché with baby. When you come closer you see a lot of details that portray points in Ché’s life. I almost missed it, but a friendly Cuban on a porch pointed in the direction of the statue saying: “Ché”.
Other than this, Santa Clara is a very quiet city. I climbed up a hill to get a view over the city and I ate lots of cheap sweets from windows where you could pay in CUP. There is a beautiful square and a small pedestrian area with some restaurants, but there isn’t much choice for food. Had I known this, I would probably have opted to eat in the casa. One day was definitely enough to explore Santa Clara. Even though I hadn’t planned to come here, I enjoyed my experience. It felt very relaxed and our casa owner was so friendly. It was again a different side of Cuba.