Celebration was in the air in more ways than one as our Air Cubana flight climbed out of London's rain-swept Gatwick airport and headed west towards the winter sun of Cuba.
With me on board the packed aircraft were the 29 members of the British contingent of the winter work brigade.
Our group was drawn from a wide age range with a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experiences.
Soon the lights of Havana winked their greeting to us from below as we descended into Jose Marti International airport. The Caribbean night air was as warm as the welcome from our hosts from the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos.
We stumbled sleepily onto the dilapidated but largely reliable old blue coaches, which we were to become familiar with over the next three weeks, and rumbled through the night on the 45-minute journey to Julio Antonio Mella international camp, named after a revolutionary youth leader, near the small rural town of Caimito.
We soon got to know our fellow Nordic Brigade members, who were from Scandinavia and Ireland, the largest contingent being 94 Swedes, with one lone Belgian.
I had come prepared for manual labour in the fields or on construction sites, but found this only formed part of the itinerary.
It was explained to us that the mornings of agricultural work we undertook were intended to be "symbolic" - engaging us literally and metaphorically with the agrarian roots of rural Cuba and its people.
The brigade gave a diverse experience of the triumphs and trials of the Cuban revolution within the fabric of Cuban society after half a century.
To this end there were seminars on various aspects of Cuban life. They included an overview of the first 50 years of the revolution, to the activities of the Young Communist League, trade unionists, the Confederation of Cuban Women, social work within the community, plus medical and information technology education.
All of these were thought-provoking and sparked lively discussion, but by far the most memorable event of this kind was a presentation by relatives of the Miami Five, the Cuban heroes incarcerated in the United States for the "crime" of exposing terrorist cells operating freely on US soil.
So moved was the brigade as a whole that a statement calling for the release of the Miami Five was drafted and agreed, to be sent to the United States government and to US embassies in all the countries represented in the brigade.
Most of the second week was spent in Sancti Spiritus province, some 250 miles east of Havana. Our new home was the chalet hotel of Villa San Jose de Lago, in a small township near the municipality of Yaguajay.
I appreciated the relative luxury of our accommodation after the more spartan conditions of the camp.
There was no rest for us brigadistas though. We were taken to a hospital to see Cuba's world-renowned national health service in action and to an elementary school, where Cuba's national theme of "the battle is with ideas, not with weapons" was being put into action.
Again, lively discussion, coupled with question and answer sessions, left us well informed about the strengths of the Cuban health and education sectors.
Fifty years ago the revolution had to start from ground zero in both areas, which makes the advances all the more extraordinary.
A highlight was an opportunity to pay tribute to my personal revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos, one of "los tres rebeldes" (the three rebels), the others being Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
We were taken to his memorial and museum at the site of his decisive defeat of dictator Batista's forces in Yaguajay.
The next day, we were taken to Camilo's forest command post at Jobo Rosado and his guerilla camp deep among the trees. Here we had the privilege of being joined by veterans of the fierce fighting that had taken place there. Their memories gave me a vivid picture of the armed struggle half a century ago.
It was a timely reminder that the revolution had been hard won, with the blood, sweat and tears not just of the figurehead heroes but of the ordinary people of Cuba too - a struggle that still goes on.
A less sombre, but still important, contact with Cuban people came at a social evening with community members. Armed with bottles of rum and small gifts of snacks and sweets, we were warmly welcomed by our hosts.
Mine were from a farming co-operative and I was able to compare notes with them from my own rural home environment while the dancing and partying went on.
Their delicious buffets spread was a tribute to their warm hospitality and put our meagre offerings to shame.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye to our new-found friends, but I came away with a deeper appreciation of everyday life of the campesinos of the countryside.
Meeting them re-emphasised the overall impression the three-week brigade gave that Cubans seem to have an innate resilience and resourcefulness, coupled with irrepressible good humour, all of which, I believe, has contributed to their 50 years of triumph over adversity.
Our last week was back at camp, where a further highlight was a visit to a Havana community arts project in a city suburb. Here exuberant public art, with half a dozen artists producing self-financing works, had clearly enlivened and united residents, particularly involving young people in the activities.
Free time in Havana and Trinidad were built into the programme and this gave us an opportunity to meet Cubans. Strolls in the capital's back streets would be rewarded by Habaneros breaking off from their al fresco domino sessions to wave us over for a friendly greeting and a chat. My schoolboy Spanish and their, often shaming, command of English, plus last-resort hand signals, led to a more than adequate level of communication and mutual understanding.
I returned home firm in the knowledge the brigade programme had succeeded in its aim of giving me a symbolic taste of labour among the Cuban people, but, most importantly, a detailed view of a wide range of aspects of the ever-developing Cuban revolution.
Cuba Solidarity Campaign runs twice-yearly brigades to Cuba. The next CSC brigade is open to all and runs from July 7 to July 21 (with optional one-week extension). Details are available at www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk/brigades.asp or on (020) 8800-0155.
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