IIt’s so quiet in Havana that I’m the only guest at the Gran Hotel Bristol, in the sweaty heart of the city. “Do you need a taxi?” the concierge asks me with a hopeful smile as I pass through reception. The answer comes as a roar from the shiny black Harley-Davidson that has just stopped outside. The rider, dressed in black with thick-rimmed sunglasses and a face mask, throws a helmet in my direction. It’s Ernesto Guevara, Che’s youngest son, and he came to show me around his city.
Following in the footsteps of his father’s journey across South America 70 years ago, Ernesto started La Poderosa Tours in 2014 – named after his father’s motorcycle, translating to “the the powerfull “. Taking advantage of the thaw in American relations under President Obama, Ernesto had 14 Harleys shipped to Cuba and started giving guided tours, together with his childhood friend Camilo.
The routes take in places such as the tobacco fields of Vinales, the jagged peaks of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, a Havana Club rum distillery, the powdery sands of Varadero, the cobbled city of Trinidad and, poignantly , Santa Clara, where the final battle of the Cuban Revolution took place. place and the remains of Che are buried.
Ernesto Guevara, the youngest son of Che, leads tours on his Harley
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Since I learned that Ernesto was organizing tours in his country, I dreamed of seeing Havana on two wheels. Unfortunately, my romantic vision is quickly shattered as I try to get on the Harley – I’ve never ridden a motorcycle and I get the rear seat width wrong, getting in the way with an inelegant swerve. Ernesto courteously suppresses his smile.
We start at the rooftop of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, which offers stunning views of the old town. Ernesto points out the main sights – El Capitolio, its dome slightly taller than its twin in Washington; the National Theatre; and the Vedado neighborhood where he was raised.
Next stop is Chacon 162, Ernesto’s favorite bar. It’s a little early in the morning for a drink, I think, but I tell him I’m in. We zigzag easily through Havana’s maze of potholed streets. Motorists whistle and passers-by stop and gape – some because they recognize Ernesto; others in awe of the thundering machine we drive. We cross Old Havana, a hodgepodge of colonial, brutalist and art deco styles. Pastel-hued buildings fade into my peripheral vision, including the dark pink El Floridita, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar.
We arrive at Chacon 162 and Ernesto slides onto his favorite stool, greeting the staff warmly. He directs my gaze to the red 1950 Harley Flathead mounted behind the bar. When his friend was opening the Chacon 162, he was asked for help, and “my help was lending him my favorite bike,” he told me.
Ernesto and Shelley at Chacon 162
We go out for a citrus ceviche lunch and Ernesto lights a cigar. I search his face for echoes of Che, but none are obvious – though I notice that, like his father, he closes any questions he doesn’t want to answer with a quip and a hollow laugh.
Every now and then someone walks past in a t-shirt emblazoned with the image of Alberto Korda’s Che – the disheveled guerrilla fighter with the determined, distant gaze. As another looms on the horizon, I ask Ernesto if it’s hard to encounter this version of his father on a daily basis. He shrugs, saying, “I was born and raised like this, so that’s normal.”
Does he have fond memories of his father? “Nothing,” he said stoically. Ernesto was two when his father was killed, and most of his family photos featuring Che – including one in which Ernesto is cradled – are in the public domain. With one last puff, he agrees to see me again in a few days.
Ernesto seems relaxed the next time we meet, and we cruise around town on his Harley, passing through streets lined with queues – due to Covid, food outlets in Havana are limited to five customers at a time; the number of cases remains low, but with a lack of medical supplies across the country, no one wants to get sick.
We reach the Plaza de la Revolucion, where more than a million Cubans have gathered to mourn the death of Che. Ernesto points out a memorial to the poet and hero José Marti. We park and walk across the square, and I notice Ernesto is distracted – his eyes are fixed on the giant steel rendering of his father’s face on the Home Office building opposite. Does he feel anything? “No”, is the answer. But he is still watching.
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We’re talking about the next tour he’s organizing, which will take him to Santa Clara. Visiting the site of his father’s mausoleum “can be complicated,” he says. “I try not to mix my emotions with the riders, so I take them out there and let them see for themselves, and then sometimes I’ll have a private moment for myself.”
After a walk through El Bosque, a forest known as the “lungs of Havana”, we end up at another of Ernesto’s favorite haunts, La Casa del Habano, a cigar club where he is greeted with warm hugs. ‘bear.
Hotel Kempinski Manzana, one of the stops on Shelley’s Harley tour with Ernesto Guevara
Settling into a brown leather chair, he puffs on another cigar and, between sips of rum, tells me about the time he had dinner with Naomi Campbell and Paris Hilton at the city’s annual cigar festival in 2015. He laughed – the couple had no idea who he was. and never asked why he was sitting with them.
We do our last lap together and I dismount like a pro. As the roar of Ernesto’s Harley fades away, peace returns to the streets of Havana.
Shelley Rubenstein was a guest at Havana Club (havana-club.com), Gran Hotel Bristol (B&B doubles from £174; granhotelbristol.com), Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski (double rooms only from £287; kempinski.com), So/Paseo del Prado La Habana (double room from £142; so-la-habana.com) and La Poderosa Tours, which offers six-night, full-board Cuba tours from £2,788 pp, including motorbike hire and transfers (lapoderosa tours.com). Fly to Havana