Hemingway, Cuba and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway is a national hero and an adopted son in Cuba.

In many ways, Cuba was a muse for Hemingway’s writing. The scenery and people inspired many of his works. In a similar way, the Cuba people loved, and continue to praise, the writer. Bars like The Floridita proudly claim that Hemingway drank his daiquiris there. Tourists go on the Hemingway drinking tour to visit all of his favorite places. The relationship between the writer and the island is not fully imaginable until you set foot in Cuba.

The first class I took while in Cuba dealt with the island’s influences on the writer Ernest Hemingway. Throughout the class, we read two of his novels and a number of short stories. We also discussed the rich history and culture of Cuba from pre-colonization through the revolution. In order to give us a better understanding of Hemingway’s relationship with Cuba, our professor planned a day trip to visit some of the places he wrote about.

Cojímar, a small fishing village just outside of Havana, is the setting of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize-winning novel,  The Old Man and the Sea. An old Spanish fort guards the coast while the tribute to Hemingway sits on the main road. A bust of the writer with a plaque commemorating his achievements seems to be the main attraction in the town, aside from the fishing. Having just finished reading the novel, it was easier to imagine the dramatic scene between the old man and the fish unfolding off the coast of Cuba while visiting the town Hemingway drew inspiration from.

In 1940, Hemingway bought Finca Vigía just outside of Havana after spending time in the Keys, Paris, and Spain. He fell in love with the island after his first visit and it became a favorite spot to visit throughout the years. Much like the rest of Cuba, the estate appears to be frozen in time. Visitors are invited to peek inside the writer’s home, but can only venture as far as their necks will let them from the doorways.

The estate is a testament to the abilities of the US and Cuba to work together as both countries strive to preserve the estate and Hemingway’s work.

Hemingway’s prized fishing boat, Pilar, rests on estate grounds. During World War II, he would take the Pilar out into the Atlantic to search for German submarines. Although he never found anything, the adventures played a part in the novel Islands in the Stream, published posthumously in 1970. His many dogs and cats are also buried at Finca. The cats’ graves are not marked as it was seen as bad luck to know where their bodies were laid.

Visitors can also buy a Hemingway inspired drink before they leave. Workers prepare the drink in front of you, using freshly squeezed sugar cane, pineapple and limes. Rum is optional.