by Raimundo Urrechaga
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- As the caravan carrying the ashes of Fidel Castro almost reaches its final destination in the southeastern city of Santiago De Cuba, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have come together over the last four days to bid farewell to the revolution leader.
The sight has been an extraordinary display of support and emotional tribute to Castro, who changed the course of history in this Caribbean nation and led for almost half a century a socialist revolution only 90 miles (145 km) away from the United States.
Town after town Cubans lined up along the island's central highway with pictures, posters and flags, and many shed tears as the military car with Castro's remains passed.
Cubans of all ages and social backgrounds followed the funeral cortege along the route, which began on Wednesday at the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Havana and will end at Santiago De Cuba's Revolution Square on Saturday.
"This is our only chance to see our Commander on his way to Santiago and we don't want to miss this historic opportunity. He has changed our country forever and he'll always be in our hearts," Rodrigo Garcia, a 30-year-old state worker, told Xinhua as the caravan passed through the central city of Santa Clara.
It has also been a symbolic journey as Castro stopped over in the first night at the Che Guevara mausoleum, the same final resting place of his comrade in arms.
The caravan arrived there late Wednesday, and just a few hours later it continued its trip through central Cuba.
"Fidel is the leader that sparked social changes in Cuba. Our education, health and many other achievements have been possible thanks to his wisdom," Clara Diaz, a resident in the western province of Mayabeque, said minutes after seeing the caravan pass.
Standing in line for hours and over 1,000 km of roads haven't stopped hundreds of thousands from expressing their respect and admiration for Castro.
"We stayed along the road for seven hours but our love for Fidel and the opportunity to say goodbye is what matters," Justo Lopez, a civil engineer, said as the caravan passed between the central provinces of Ciego de Avila and Camaguey.
Every town, village or city along the road has been decorated with pictures of Castro and slogans in support of him and the revolution.
A huge sign with the socialist saying "Until victory forever" and large Cuban flags adorned the entrance to the city of Camaguey, where Castro's ashes rested on Thursday.
On Friday, another display of massive farewell to the late leader took place in the eastern part of Camaguey and the provinces of Las Tunas, Holguin and Granma.
During its pass through Holguin, Castro's natal province, lines along the road were substantially larger than in other places.
"Fidel was born here and it has been a truly emotional experience seeing his remains pass by these streets, roads and towns," said Gonzalo Francisco, a resident of the area.
Castro's ashes arrived late Friday in the city of Bayamo, a place of important independence war events.
The caravan will continue its journey and reach its final destination on Saturday in Santiago de Cuba, where it'll pass the most important streets and historical sites of the city, where could be a massive welcome.
Very early on Sunday the caravan will make its last passage through one of the main avenues in the city to reach Santa Ifigenia cemetery for a private burial ceremony.
Considered one of the most respected and admired leaders of the 20th century, Castro led a revolutionary struggle in upholding socialist values that have led his country to unprecedented development for a third world nation.
On Nov. 25, his brother and now president, Raul Castro, announced the leader's death at the age of 90.