Oriente is the steamy, jungle-dense, tourism-free side of Cuba – it is also where Fidel Castro grew up. Lydia Bell visits his family’s finca and his revolutionary HQ
The clapped-out Moskvich is blaring Charanga Forever, the hottest salsa band in Cuba. Its owner, Yasser, is being paid to drive us to the Sierra Maestra. The blacked-out windows are de rigueur to hide his illegal cargo – the yuma (foreigner, me) and her Cuban husband. We are cutting past the Bay of Nipe, shooting at breakneck speed down straight roads banked by thigh-high sugar cane, the Sierra Cristal hovering on the horizon, when Yasser mentions that Fidel Castro’s childhood farm is five kilometres away. I plead with him to make a detour.
Twenty minutes later, past a tiny hamlet called Birán, we arrive at a remote farm overlooked by mountains, set in sun-kissed meadows. There is no one there save a couple of guards who send for a guide for us. We have chanced upon an extraordinary place: the estate where the nine Castro siblings spent their halcyon childhood.