To waving flags and some shouts of "Long may he live!" Fidel Castro's ashes began a four-day journey across the island today, retracing the path of his triumphant march into Havana nearly six decades ago.
A small, Cuban-flag covered cedar coffin containing the remains of the 90-year-old leader was taken out of Cuba's Defense Ministry just after 7am and placed into a flower-bedecked trailer pulled by a green military jeep for the more than 800km procession to his final resting place in the eastern city of Santiago.
The ashes will be interred Monday, ending the nine-day mourning period for the man who ruled the country for nearly 50 years.
The route traces in reverse the victory tour Castro and his bearded rebels took after overthrowing the forces of strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Carpenter Rene Mena, 58, said his mother had taken him out of their home on the capital's seafront Malecon boulevard as a baby to see Castro arrive that year.
On Thursday he donned a Cuban flag and a military cap outside the same house where he still lives, and saluted Castro's caravan.
"I saw him when he came, and now I've seen him when he left. Goodbyes are moving, difficult," Mena said.
Outside Havana, the caravan will pass through rural communities significantly changed by social and economic reforms he adopted.
Many residents now have access to health care and education.
But many of those towns are also in a prolonged economic collapse, the country's once-dominant sugar industry decimated, the sugar mills and plantations gone.
Thousands of Cubans lined the streets of Havana, some sleeping on sidewalks overnight, to bid goodbye to Castro.
Many had attended a massive rally Tuesday night at Havana's Revolution Plaza, where the presidents of Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Africa, along with leaders of a host of smaller nations, offered speeches paying tribute to Castro, who died Saturday.
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