In Cuba the nostalgia for the heady days of revolution is as palpable as the music and music is everywhere in Cuba, from the salsa bars, to cabaret at the Tropicana in Havana, to the guy in the taxi on the way to the airport playing me a tape of his favourite album.
Listening to George Harrison sing about his guitar gently weeping, I thought of my most moving musical moment of my Cuba travels.
A train ride from Trinidad to the Valle de los Ingenios
We took a daytrip from Trinidad on a little old steam train, out through the forest to the banana and sugar plantations. It’s easy to climb on board from the railway station in Trinidad.
The destination is the Valle de los Ingenios (the Valley of the Sugar Mills) where around 70 historic sugar mills are concentrated in this valley just outside Trinidad.
Once you get there the train waits for an hour-or-so to allow time for exploration. You can buy drinks and snacks.
Climb the 146-foot-tall Iznaga Tower for a bird’s eye view of the plantations, as well as the mountains and coastland.
It’s a strangely nostalgic trip for what was after all a brutal, slave-based industry and the gracious architecture of the plantations and of Trinidad itself was built on the exploitation of others.
But the most memorable moment of nostalgia took place on the way to the Valle de los Ingenios, when the train stops at a hacienda for lunch.
While we were there a group of musicians played some tunes for the munching tourists. It was all pretty cheesy stuff, although the rhythm was of course toe-tappingly good.
Cuba sings Hasta siempre, Comandante
But then a new tone took hold as the singer began Carlos Puebla’s 1965 hit Hasta siempre, Comandante:
We shall go on
As together we follow you
And as Fidel we say
Till forever comandante
The band was cheerfully playing for the visiting tourists but now there was a real bittersweet voice singing of the long-lost Che Guevara. With real passion he was swearing to remember the Comandante forever.
The banners in Havana wish Fidel Castro many more years. That seems unlikely but fifty plus years of the revolution have given Cubans a sense of identity and pride.
Their next challenge will be to step out into the world and retain those.
By Natasha von Geldern