It was the photography of Raúl Corrales that inspired me to follow in the muddy footsteps of Fidel Castro’s rebel army. His shots, in particular the faded black and white photograph of Castro at the helm of a column of soldiers climbing a mountain path through jungle thicket to their guerilla encampment, evoke all the romanticism of the revolutionary struggle.
In 1956, following his return from exile in Mexico, Castro set up an encampment in the Sierra Maestra mountain range and from here waged guerrilla warfare on Cuba’s then dictator General Fulgencio Batista. The Comandancia de la Plata is now a national monument and the series of rudimentary clapboard huts hidden beneath dense vegetation are accorded a similar degree of political reverence - and protection -as you might find in an official state building.
Setting out under cover of darkness from Bayamo, about an hour’s drive away, endowed the trek with a sense of adventure that masked the more mundane truth – you can only go trekking with one of the official state guides who muster at the ranger hut in the foothills at first light. Our man Eduardo counted himself as a revolutionary success story, he told us, as we set off up the rubbly dust track. His father, like many other campesinos (peasants) was gradually won over to the rebels’ side during the revolution. To win favour the rebels offered medical support to villagers and deposed a despotic local official. In the wake of the revolution’s triumph Eduardo became his family’s first academic success, by gaining a biological degree and also by being the first to learn to read.