Travel and vacations shouldn’t be just about fine white sand beaches with crashing blue waves, swim up bars with cold pina coladas and nudist Quebecers. Vacations should also be about the country and its people. Good or bad.

Long before I, and even Pope Juan Pablo II, set foot on and kissed Cuban soil, a holy (some will argue unholy) trinity has ruled the Cuban mind, imagination and soul. In spite of the running dogs of imperialism just 90 miles north. Who knows which of the three is the father, the son and the holy ghost.

The best known of the trinity, of course, is Fidel Castro. Ruler of this island nation and the man who kicked out the corrupt U.S. puppet Battista government. Along with the mob and the CIA, who still have yet to forgive and forget 30 years later. Fidel rules with an iron fist, with his brother, Raul, running the military. Few dare accuse him of nepotism lest they end up at the wrong end of the G2 secret police’s Russian anti-personnel hardware.

We were having lobster and some fine Cuban beer in a Habana palladar when a friendly German tourist, who, coincidentally, had visited Moosonee in 1967, told us of the wave of executions of enemies of Fidel following the revolution. This not so pleasant dinner conversation was made bearable by the cook and her helpers dancing the rumba or something in the kitchen.

Still, Castro’s not all bad. In a TV interview with a U.S. journalist, he was asked what is the difference between prostitution in American cities and Socialist Havana. He answered, “Our prostitutes can read and write.”

Castro owes a great debt to his formercommadante in the revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The Argentinian doctor and leftist icon who fought with him in the mountains and cities of Cuba.

His image and words (Hasta La Victoria, Siempre!) are everywhere. On books, murals, key chains, bic lighters, paintings in the market and on a three peso bill I bought as a souvenir illegally for one American dollar. “Che” had a massive falling out with the Soviet Union and Fidel when he criticized them of dealing with U.S. at the expense of the Third World. He quietly left Cuba and led a band of revolutionaries in Central Africa and later in Bolivia where he was captured and murdered by CIA-trained soldiers.

The singing groups who go from table to table in the resort dining rooms still sing songs about him.

Those singers also sing the words of Jose Marti. The other Cuban who’s everywhere in Cuba. It seemed like around every corner you turned there was a statue or a bust of him. Not unlike the massive 50’s American cars that run as taxis.

Marti was a nationalist poet who lived most of his life in exile in Spain and South America. His most beloved and famous poem “Guantanamera” has become one of those worldwide hits that hardly anyone knows or understands the words to.

It’s almost tragic that we only got to stay one night in Havana. But we made up for the too short visit with a whirlwind tour through the old city, China Town and the Plaza Revolucion. At one point, we hopped into a 1951 Chevy with a taxi driver who, in an extreme case of denial, refused to admit he was lost, driving around in circles, nodding, smiling and answering “SI! SI!” when asked in broken Spanish, “Where the hell are you going?”

We’ll never forget Jose either. Our impromptu tour guide who had a chance to practice his Englishon us and, when given a Spanish/English dictionary as a gift, kissed it and the giftbearer like he waskissing Juan Pablo’s ring.