Cuba: Doin' It the Hemingway
16 - 22 June 2017
"The world breaks everyone and, afterward, some are strong at the broken places."
A Farewell to Arms
The Hemingway Tour
"The Hemingway Tour" is a perfect microcosm of the state of travel in Cuba.
While I was staying at the Sheraton Four Points, I spoke with a travel agent about various day trip options and the Buena Vista Social Club (which itself led to another humorous anecdote). Put on my radar was a Hemingway day trip, occurring every Tuesday.
The tricky part for me was I wasn't sure where I'd be staying on Tuesday (either Monday night or Tuesday night). The Sheraton is way the heck outside of town, so booking for pickup there wasn't a particularly attractive option.
It was a rainy Sunday mid-day while I sorted out some plans and, by the time I returned to confirm some bookings, the agent had left. Darn!
And so I headed into Old Havana, somewhat panicked by an inability to find a spot to stay the next couple nights. Booking.com was not available within Cuba and Elvoline was telling there were no hotels available within all of Havana on those nights (surely that could not be).
I went to the same agency at the Mercure and was told resoundedly, "We have no Hemingway tour." That. Was. It. The woman had absolutely nothing else to say to me. I think she was a little perturbed for actually being expected to work; she had been hanging out with other vendors when, upon a return check, I managed to "entrap" her in a moment when she was actually behind her desk.
Awesome. Completely counter to the every Tuesday offering at the other office.
Next, I checked with a different agency in the Hotel Plaza, where I wound up staying two nights in two different rooms (whadya know, yet another humorous anecdote to share). After waiting (and waiting) for an agent to complete the mounds of manual paperwork for another client (a computer is nowhere to be found around any of these agents), I asked about their Hemingway tour offering. There was no denying they had one. The brochure displays almost exclusively featured the tour via two different pamphlets.
But the agent looked at this solitary traveler and explained to me that the minimum booking was for six people. Given I was but one, I'd either need to rally five others on my own or book a personal car.
She then looked at me, wondering why I was still sitting in front of her. She had nothing else to say, nothing else to offer. No sales pitch for an alternative trip or assistance with finding a personal driver.
And so I did my own Hemingway tour. It was likely more fun — and less crowded — than the organized groups anyway.
Famed American author Ernest Hemingway knew how to pick his spots. For one reason or another, a couple of his favorite places became frequent stops for me as a I spun myself through Old Havana.
The Hotel Ambos Mundos featured a nice bar area with Wi-Fi access (by way of pre-paid Wi-Fi cards). The hotel, though, is one of the spots where Hemingway spent some of his nights. His room (511) is now a mini museum, including one of his very own typewriters (and some replica pieces of art).
La Bodeguita del Medio was Hemingway's favorite spot for mojitos. The groundfloor bar is a cubby hole typically packed with musicians offering atmospherics and tourists looking to check off "mojito" on their to-do lists. But behind that beehive is a multi-floor restaurant that serves some excellent food. And the whole place is one gigantic shrine to graffiti (kind of like CBGB's back in its glory days in New York City). Find a blank spot and sign your name. I did. (Twice.)
La Floridita is, at least in appearances, a more upscale place. It's Hemingway's favorite spot for daiquiris. It's also swamped with with musicians offering atmospherics and tourists looking to check off "daiquiri" on their to-do lists. The main bar area is abuzz with activity, including a classic cigar girl. Behind this space is a quieter dining area.
Restaurante Dos Hermanos, established in 1894, is another spot boasting of a Hemingway connection, with a large placard on the exterior wall staking claim to Hemingway's patronage, along with that of Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn and others.
There's also Sloppy Joe's. Yep. The original, established back in 1917 and featuring the kind of Sloppy Joe sandwich Mom used to make. There's a connection between Hemingway, Sloppy Joe's, rum and Key West.
A couple other key stops are outside Havana.
A must is Finca Vigia, Ernest's home.
Then there's the tiny fishing village of Cojimar, where Hemingway was inspired to write his Nobel-winning work, The Old Man and the Sea. While there, check out the colonnade-enshrined bust of Hemingway and La Terraza de Cojimar, the restaurant where he hung out with Gregorio Fuentes, the muse for his "old man."