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Cuba Libre - 60 years on

‘Tomorrow will be better’ proclaim handpainted signs on Cuban walls.dscn2716-small.JPG
Kate Turkington has just revisited…

Little has changed since my last visit seven years ago.
The brightly coloured vintage cars - from 1934 Fords to 1950s chevies – still tool along the pot-holed city roads in top gear. They roar past lumbering Russian trucks crowded with people on their way home from work – it’s illegal for a government truck to drive past local hitchhikers.  Ancient horse-drawn carts – still an essential part of the island’s transport system - clop along with their heavy load of after-work commuters. ‘Camel’ buses (so-called because they look like the elongated humps of camels) are jam-packed with 300 passengers at a time. dscn2798-small.JPGCurvy girls (no signs of anorexia here) in skimpy skin-tight clothes - looking as if they’re shrink-wrapped – still strut their stuff on the broke n-down pavements, but there are fewer prostitutes hoping for a rich tourist.  Macho cowboys with big-brimmed hats and flat bare stomachs still trot their thin horses alongside the main arterial highway.  There are very few street lights, a handful of public telephones in the villages and small towns, and the people live in charming traditional little wooden houses with palm leaf thatch or ugly little mass-produced concrete boxes.  No advertising signs, just huge billboards everywhere proclaiming, reinforcing and glorifying The Revolutiondscn2777-small.JPG.  “Motherland or Deathâ€? a towering painted Fidel Castro exclaims, pointing a massive warning finger at passers-by.  “Always The Revolution!â€? proclaims Cuba’s most charismatic son, the handsome Che Guevara, w aving his omnipresent cigar. (Che is to Cuba what the carved wooden giraffe is to South Africa – he’s the #1 tourist export).

Although today it’s officially a socialist republic, ironically tourism is its most important industry – a far cry from the days of Russian missile bases and the huge nuclear power station which still dominates the skyline outside the port of Cienfuegos, on Cuba’s Caribbean coastline. dscn2848-small.JPGThe beautiful old theatre – Teatro Tomás Terry – built by a wealthy sugar baron and slave trader - once hosted Sarah Bernhardt and Caruso.

A highlight here was swimming with two trained dolphins. cuba-050-small.jpgAs we jump into the sea with them they chatter to us excitedly in their squeaky language and give us each several salty “kissesâ€?.  They then transport us on their backs for a breathtaking short ride through the Caribbean. It’s a magic time.

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Kate Turkington is one of South Africa’s best-known broadcasters, travellers and travel writers.

Her weekly Sunday night three-hour live Talk Radio 702 / CapeTalk talkshow, Believe It Or Not, which came to an end in early 2013 was South Africa’s longest-running radio talkshow with the same host in the same time slot. She continues to broadcast as a regular guest on travel shows where she talks about the when, where, why, what and how of travel both locally and internationally from her vast personal experience. She also blogs for several travel websites.

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