Paying homage to Hemingway in Havana, Cuba is easier these days. Since last April, U.S. citizens can enjoy a cruise from Miami to the once-forbidden island for the first time in decades. Fathom Cruises’ Adonia takes up to 600 passengers through waters not far from the setting of The Old Man And The Sea, the novel that won Ernest Hemingway a Pulitzer and contributed to his getting the Nobel prize in Literature.
With Caribbean breezes blowing, visitors can ride in one of the iconic 1950’s convertibles through the streets in Old Havana the routes traveled by Hemingway. They can quaff down “his” drinks in the bars he loved, and even visit where he wrote.
Cheers to Literary Champ
Once in the capital of Cuba, you can toast Hemingway in the Bodeguita de Medico, where he reportedly imbibed mojitos often. Today, the glasses are lined up on the bar, with the bartender crushing mints and pouring rum for the packed room. People crowd around the live musicians, and photos of Hemingway and Castro together hang above the festivities.
Upstairs is a restaurant that serves savory Cuban food. Almost every wall surface of the three-story building is covered with scribbles of visitors, known and unknown. You can add your nombre to the signatures of Papa Hemingway, Nat King Cole, and Errol Flynn, as well as the literary luminaries Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
You can then bar-hop to hang out with a life-size bronze statue of Hemingway leaning on the long, curved bar at La Floridita, “the cradle of the daiquiri.” There, Papa is sometimes credited with creating his own double-version of the drink, and they are still being served by consummate cantineros (bartenders).
La Floridita was first opened in the early 19th century and served up other adventurous writers in the 20th century including Graham Greene, John Dos Passos, and Ezra Pound. These days, a giant glass and straw are placed next to live music to draw you into this tourist favorite, where men in red jackets and red ties keep the drinks flowing.
For the aficionado who craves more than just the spirits Hemingway drank, the Ambos Mundos Hotel offers a fuller sense of the “spirit of the writer.” This is where Hemingway slept and wrote for vivid periods in the 1930s. According to hotel history, it was in there that Hemingway started For Whom The Bell Tolls, his work about the Spanish Civil War, which he experienced first-hand.
A great array of Hemingway photos hangs on two walls in the lobby of the still-active hotel, but heading up the spiral staircase to Room 511 is worth the climb if you want to see where the word-master created his masterpieces. The room is now a simple museum featuring Hemingway artifacts – from his fishing poles to his desk of adjustable height, which he used because he sometimes liked to stand as he wrote.
In 1940, Hemingway bought a home in the countryside about 10 miles from Havana and named it Finca Vigia (translation: Look-out Farm). He lived there on and off until mid-1960.
Now that the U.S.-Cuban travel embargo has been lifted, U.S. travelers can take a vintage car from Havana out to the writing farm, which some say Cubans treat as a shrine. Tourists aren’t allowed inside, but can peek through the windows to see the thousands of books Hemingway left, as well as his hunting trophies, records and the furniture – all close to the way he left it. His deep-sea fishing boat, The Pilar, is also still there.
The Time is Now
Fathom has been offering 7-night cruises (https://www.fathom.org/cruise-to-cuba/) from U.S. shores to three historic ports in Cuba since last spring, and a free night in Havana provides opportunity to enjoy the bars Hemingway frequented. A trip to Finca Vigia requires the traveler to make his/her own arrangements vs. taking one of the ship’s shore excursions. For those planning further ahead, several U.S. airlines are taking bookings now to fly directly to Cuba from U.S. airports for those routes opening up.
The tropical weather and Caribbean scenery, combined with the Cuban music, food, history, and people, provides a lot to write home about.
In the words of Hemingway, "Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is."
Lisa TE Sonne was on the 5th cruise allowed to go from the U.S. to Cuba. For more on her books and travels, visit www.LisaSonne.com
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