Daybreak, 250 km east of Havana.
The sun is rising languidly above Cienfuegos as I take in the view of architectural wonders from the hotel roof.
Far below me in the city’s famed central square, Plaza de Armas, stands a fine statue of José Martí, most inspirational of Cuba’s great nationalist heroes.
The square is, quite simply, stunning.
Alongside the classical lines of its cathedral, theatre and town hall — all adorned in white — stands a billboard to Martí’s spiritual successor, Che Guevara.
Tu ejemplo vive — tus ideas perduran:
Your example lives — your ideas endure.
The colonnaded streets of Cienfuegos would thrill any aficionado of Hispanic architecture.
Posted in 2011, Cuba, summer
The street outside Graeme Greene’s Hotel Sevilla is quiet, but as the dramatic Prado opens up beyond, suddenly the sheer scale of this paradox strikes me: Havana is truly a world city.
Columbus sighted Cuba in 1492 and landed here two years later. The island has been a prize for empires ever since. Spanish, British and American armies all fought for this land.
Cuba’s history and her population embrace that diversity. Cubans of every shade and colour fill the streets.
And whether descended from white Europeans, African slaves or indigenous peoples, they’re all simply Cubans.
By rights, Havana should be the hub of Latin America, entrancing and captivating in her charm, passion and style as nowhere on Earth.
I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further:
… In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.
— US President John F. Kennedy: 24th October, 1963
Daybreak, 210 km from Havana.
It’s dawn. The rainforest stands still etched in grey, the air dank and humid with half-forgotten warmth.
The sky is dimly promising a future brightening through blue, already revealing white-topped clouds in the firmament above.
Behind me, the friendly valley calls. The massive limestone mogotes above Viñales rise to frame a monochrome outline of last night’s perfect Cuban sunset. I turn the other way and run towards the sunrise.
The track is damp from unseen rain fallen in the night. The air is heavy, silent, folded thick amongst the trees and scrub lurking close around the path.
The Cuban Revolution started somewhere like this, in the Sierra Maestra above Santiago. The 82 men who sailed from Mexico in December 1956 on the yacht Granma were swiftly cut down to twelve when they landed on Cuba’s swampy southeastern shores.
The survivors, among them a charismatic Argentinian doctor named Che Guevara, fled for the refuge of the mountains where they could regroup and recruit fresh rebels for their cause.
Things have been slow around here, for a little while now, and in more ways than one.
I’ve had less time for running, and less still for writing. I’ve been unfit, distracted and slow.
And yet — there’s been real progress, too, hidden not far beneath the surface.
Our 95,000 visitors this year may have found only 22 new posts to read, but it’s been a momentous year of change, both in London and abroad.
The great crash formed the backdrop to the year, but it was in America that destiny was decided.
A changing political landscape marked the 2008 US election and the new opportunities that brings, for America and the whole world beyond.
Posted in 2009, Cuba, economics, geology, history, London, music, peak oil, politics, Shakespeare Country, Spain, Surrey and Sussex
Picture a beautiful country of fertile green plains and lush, forested mountains.
A country washed by warm tropical seas, blessed with the finest beaches in the world.
A nation with a proud history extending across three millennia and more. A land coveted by great empires and fought over for centuries — where the fate of our planet was decided, many times more than once.
Think of a country rich in art and architecture, with nine World Heritage Sites for culture and nature.
Wander streets at the cradle of music and dance, listening to rhythms echoing all around the world.
Dream of stunning cities, beautiful towns and remote villages, set across a landscape unblighted by shanty towns or ghettoes. A land where men, women and children of all different colours live side by side, and where racism is confined to the past.
Envisage a country with excellent health care which is free and accessible to all. A society where life expectancy rates equal those in the United States, and where infant mortality rates are significantly lower.