[Fidel’s Passing, Part 4 of 6] Fidel Castro’s Ashes Cross Cuba

The morning after the 29 November 2016 memorial rally, Fidel’s ashes toured Havana, the beginning of a 4-day cross-country journey east to Santiago de Cuba. The route traced in reverse January 1959’s Caravan of Liberty when Fidel travelled from Santiago to Havana celebrating the end of the Batista dictatorship, the culmination of the Cuban Revolution.

Rocío and I witnessed Fidel’s ashes pass three times, once in Havana on 30 November and twice in Santiago on 3 and 4 December. On all occasions, people lined the streets in anticipation. Officials stood at regular intervals ensuring people remained off the road.

Old Havana, 30 November 2016

Hotel Armadores de Santander in beautiful morning light while crowds wait for ashes, Havana

Hotel Armadores de Santander in beautiful morning light while crowds wait for ashes, Havana

Early on 30 November we walked from our Old Havana accommodation to coastal Avenida del Puerto (San Pedro) for the caravan.

Helicopter flying above caravan route, Havana

Helicopter flying above caravan route, Havana

Helicopters buzzed overhead as we waited in anticipation.

Caravan vehicles coming, Havana

Caravan vehicles coming along San Pedro, Old Havana

Many different vehicles drove past including police motorcycles and cars, modern Mercedes Benz sedans, vans, jeeps and a truck from which official media recorded proceedings.

Open-top car towing trailer with Fidel's ashes, Havana

Open-top car towing trailer with Fidel’s ashes, Havana

Exhibited in a trailer, Fidel’s ashes casket was covered with the Cuban flag and surrounded by a glass case. White flower arrangements lay on both sides of the army green trailer which was towed by an identically-coloured, open-topped wagon.

Bystanders on side of road kept in order by soldiers, Havana

Bystanders on side of road kept in order by officials, Havana

Second open-top vehicle towing a covered trailer, Havana

Second open-top vehicle towing a covered trailer, Havana

Interestingly, in both Havana and Santiago, a second, similarly-shaped but covered trailer came past after the casket-containing trailer. What was this second trailer for? Was it a back-up trailer in case the first one broke? Did it indeed have the real ashes while the first one was only for show? Were two caskets on occasion parading in different locations at the same time?

2016_12_01 Juventud Rebelde newspaper's front page of caravan in Havana

2016_12_01 Juventud Rebelde newspaper’s front page of the caravan in Havana: “Road to eternity”

2016_12_01 Juventud Rebelde newspaper's page 4 of caravan on Malecon

2016_12_01 Juventud Rebelde newspaper’s page 4 article with the a photo of the caravan on Havana’s Malecon: “What a shake of history!”

Travelling from Havana to Santiago, 1 December 2016

The day after Fidel’s 25 November death, the Cuban government announced memorial events including the caravan to Santiago. This gave affected towns time to tidy up the route and prepare Fidel tributes. It also gave us time on the 26th to buy Viazul bus tickets to Santiago (51 CUC/USD each) before event-seekers arrived to Cuba and competed for seats.

Horse and cart goes in opposite direction of vehicles stopped just out of Ciego de Avila

Man in horse and cart travelling in the opposite direction of vehicles stopped outside of Ciego de Avila

Departing 6am, our bus was scheduled to arrive to Santiago at 9:10pm. However, because of 3 unscheduled stops near Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila and Gaspar we didn’t arrive until after 3am the next morning. At each middle-of-the-highway stop we waited for the caravan, invisible in the far distance.

Cuba is the most unique country I have visited and the bus journey illustrated this. The driver on duty wanted me to check in my carry-on sized bag because the Yutong bus overhead racks could only carry 10 kilograms (in total). This was despite the racks stating a limit of 10kg per metre. After some insistence he relented and allowed me to bring it on. Thank goodness he did because the bus was EXTREMELY cold. Despite requests, the drivers would not turn the air conditioning down. The inside temperature gauge read 24 degrees centigrade even though it felt like 10. For note, the outside temperature gauge displayed 69 degrees centigrade.

On route from Havana to Santiago we passed the village of Australia, Cuba

On route from Havana to Santiago we passed the village of Australia, Cuba, 10,000 times closer than the country

Thankfully, we eventually arrived to Santiago and departed the freezing bus for an old American saloon ride to our accommodation.

2016_12_02 Juventud Rebelde newspaper's page 5 of caravan in Sancti Spiritus

2016_12_02 Juventud Rebelde newspaper’s page 5 article of the caravan in Sancti Spiritus: “Sancti Spíritus could not be another city”

2016_12_04 Granma newspaper's page 2 caravan coverage

2016_12_04 Granma newspaper’s page 2 coverage of the caravan in Bayamo: “Until always, the children of Céspedes“. Céspedes is a Cuban independence hero from Bayamo.

Santiago de Cuba, 3 December 2016

Santiago is the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution and home of the failed but later celebrated 26 July 1953 Fidel Castro-led attack on the Moncada Barracks. Santiago was also where Fidel’s ashes caravan terminated.

People in Santiago de Cuba carrying Cuban flags and walking to caravan route

People in Santiago de Cuba carrying Cuban flags and walking to caravan route

Military veteran wearing his medals and holding a Cuban flag, Santiago de Cuba

Military veteran wearing his medals and holding a Cuban flag, Santiago de Cuba

Santiago was full of Fidel images and Cuban flags. We took an old American taxi and then walked the remaining distance to Carretera Central, north of Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo.

Looking down parade route lined by people in Santiago de Cuba

Looking down Carretera Central caravan route lined by people in Santiago de Cuba

Man with poster of Fidel in front of Che along with Cuban flag, Santiago

Man with poster of Fidel in front of Che Guevara along with Cuban flag, Santiago

As in Havana, helicopters flew overhead and the same caravan vehicles passed, including the second trailer.

Pigeons released above ashes caravan, Santiago

Pigeons released above trailer containing Fidel’s ashes, Santiago

Just before us someone let three pigeons go above Fidel’s ashes.

Trailer with Fidel's ashes goes by, Santiago

Fidel’s ashes on Santiago’s Carretera Central

After the caravan, groups of locals chanted pro-Fidel and pro-regime slogans.

Children part of group chanting, Santiago

Children part of a group chanting in Santiago; multiple have Fidel and hearts drawn on their faces

Video of the caravan in Havana and Santiago, including the pigeons being released and the chanting:

2016_12_04 Sierra Maestro newspaper centrefold of caravan

2016_12_04 Santiago’s Sierra Maestro newspaper with a centrefold caravan article: “Fidel, on your way, you did not lack companions”

 

Santiago de Cuba, 4 December 2016

The final destination for Fidel’s ashes was Santiago’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. Early on 4 December, for a third and final time, we watched his ashes pass, this time close to the cemetery. By this stage they had travelled more than 1,000 kilometres and it was time for a rest.

Fidel's ashes go by near Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago

Fidel’s ashes go by near Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago

2 thoughts on “[Fidel’s Passing, Part 4 of 6] Fidel Castro’s Ashes Cross Cuba

  1. Pingback: [Fidel's Passing, Part 5 of 6] Fidel Castro's Santiago de Cuba Memorial Rally, 3 December 2016 | Where is Joe.in?

  2. Pingback: Fidel Castro's Funeral, Santiago de Cuba | Where is Joe.in?

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