There are two defining moments in Cuba’s history; gaining independence from Spain four centuries after Columbus first claimed the island as a colony, and the revolution which came only 60 years later when they gained…
You can fill in your own blanks according to whether you see Castro as freedom fighter delivering the nation from Batista dictatorship, or simply another dictator with a contrasting set of political beliefs. There’s also a lot of grey area between the two views.
Before my visit I’d assumed that the most visible celebration of his victory was the Plaza de la Revolucion, but one afternoon as I was walking along looking for the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, I spied something unusual in the reflection of its doorway (no, not the photographer!).
In a small park behind me was a fighter plane and a strangely shaped glass building. Circumnavigating it I saw that the building was surrounded by various pieces of weaponry, most of which was badly damaged, but that inside the building, guarded by men in the unmistakable green of the Cuban military, was a boat. A boat called Granma.
Disastrously I didn’t get pictures of any of this, for at that moment I was accosted by one of the many friendly Cubans who want to share information, advice, and guidance. As this necessitated us adjourning to a nearby Cuban bar (very different to the tourist watering holes) Raul, and his girlfriend Elizabeth effectively distracted me from my mission, which was a shame because of the significance of the artefacts. The weaponry and other damaged equipment was all ostensibly captured during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and boat is revered because it is the vessel that Castro and his revolutionary force used to sail to Cuba from Mexico. This event is another where the participants didn’t exactly achieve the glory they intended.
This small motor yacht, designed to accommodate a dozen people was carrying 82 on its journey. The journey took longer than expected due to navigational errors and nearly ended in running aground. When they did reach land, it was in broad daylight rendering them vulnerable to attack from the air. Further problems arose as the group fragmented, got lost and were betrayed by locals. Twelve of the original party regrouped in the mountains, and remarkably achieved their goal some two years later. Perhaps their bad luck was affecting me in my photographic omission.
Like the guerrillas, I turned tragedy into triumph of sorts however. My route after escaping Raul’s hospitality took me to the Museum of the Revolution (adjoining the Granma exhibit). I’d seen the dome from in the distance many times that day and had assumed it to be the cathedral. It seems that a different sort of worship was intended.