Havana, Cuba – If it’s good enough for Hemingway

“Welcome to Havana” these same words greeted me in every public place in the Cuban capital. Although sometimes it often involved asking for a hand out, offer to pose for a photo or taxi ride, it also sometimes appeared sincere. I wonder what “Papa Hemingway” would think of it now.

Town houses in Hemingway's Old Havana, Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Vintage car in Old Havana

This is the affectionate name by which the great literary adventurer Ernest Hemingway is still known by Cubans. The culture of the Spanish-speaking world fascinated Hemingway. Travelling extensively throughout Spain as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, he is usually associated with bullfighting.

This is due to his earlier fascination with the sport while he had lived in Paris, visiting Pamplona regularly and becoming an admirer of matadors and their duels with the bulls. His article ‘The Dangerous Summer’ was the result of his last visit in 1959 to cover the contests of two of the most famous matadors.

The Old Square in Havana, Old Town, Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Old Square, int the Old Town

He first visited Cuba in the late 1930s after the Spanish Civil War keeping a room at the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana. He was obviously taken by the country as he would return in 1940 with his new wife Martha Gellhorn to buy a home here. Martha, a fellow correspondent had been his travelling companion during the Spanish Civil War.

Hemingway trail in in Old Havana charm on the Caribbean island of Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Old buildings, old & new transport

private war against German U-boats”

They purchased a small estate from the proceeds of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ which they named “Finca Vigia” “Lookout Farm”. They lived there for two decades until during ‘The Cold War’, Hemingway had to choose between his adopted home and his birth one. This is possibly the most settled this restless spirit ever was, though he did not stop travelling.

He owned a small fishing vessel called Pilar which he had persuaded the Cuban government during World War II to help him refit as he initially planned to use in a private war against German U-boats.

Santeria flower ladies in Old Havana, Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Santeria flower ladies posing with tourists

It is because of such stories, his love of bullfighting, marlin fishing and fondness for picking fistfights that portrays him as a larger than life character. The hard-drinking, cigar smoking, adventurer would have made a good character in one of his own novels. Awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in the war, plane crashes and car accidents punctuated his adventures; hospitalization was a way of life.

In 1945 he had split with Martha but was soon remarrying; Mary Welsh whom he had met in London. Returning to Cuba, he wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ about a fisherman called Santiago, who caught a giant Marlin which was then eaten by sharks. It is his most famous work, possibly his finest for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. He later won a Nobel Prize for literature which many suspected he secretly coveted but merely claimed the money would come in handy.

“mi mojito en la bodeguita, mi daiquiri en el floridita” – Hemingway

One of his most regular haunts was La Floridita in Old Havana where the bartender Constante created the frozen daiquiri. It quickly became a Hemingway favourite which he immortalised in ‘Islands in the Stream’.

Modern day Havana is a beautiful derelict, many of the buildings are rundown, some on the verge of collapse and yet this is part of the charm, the appeal. There is an ongoing restoration project but even so almost every street in the old city has several run-down buildings.

Ernest Hemmingway statue in La Floridita bar in Old Havana, Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Hemingway in La Floridita

It is still possible to walk along the pedestrian precinct Calle Obispo to La Floridita where his presence is omnipresent. Since 2003 a bronzed life-sized statue has leant on the bar, he doesn’t drink so much now but the tourists that pose for photographs with him don’t seem to mind.

Unsurprisingly a bar famed for inventing the daiquiri and with the motto “la cuna del daiquiri” (the cradle of the daiquiri) has an extensive choice of Hemingway’s favourite tipple. Cocktails are more expensive than most other bars but they can also be bought with a cigar. These are good value making them popular and the air is heavy with cigar smoke even during the day. I tried the coffee daiquiri, it was excellent and for about an hour I enjoyed my Hemingway moment.

Cafe El Escorial in Old Havana, Cuba, maybe Hemmingway sipped coffee here on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Café El Escorial the best coffee in Havana

The city is also famous for classic cars known as cacharros, they are everywhere. There are Buicks, Chevrolets, and Plymouths, in blue, red, mauve and yellow, convertibles or pickups chugging through the city pumping out exhaust fumes. New cars are almost impossible to buy, certainly for the general population and even the cacharros are extremely expensive to buy. Most are in a similar state to the derelict buildings but a few, those used for city tours are in immaculate condition.

Cuban local in Old Havana on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Bored local in Old Havana

Performers are found in every public place, musicians playing brass trombones or trumpets, guitar players, drummers and even some playing the double bass. Bands perform for those enjoying coffee in the famous Café El Escorial or something stronger in the many bars; there are even dancing artists on stilts.

Characters with huge cigars, or Santeria flower ladies in pure white dresses, carrying vibrant flowers, and usually smoking over-sized cigars too, all posing for pictures with tourists. Many have graced the front covers or centre pages of well-known travel publications.

Lookout Farm, Hemmingway’s home is now a museum, providing a little insight into the life of the great man. Even now, many of his fans make a pilgrimage, one of the many places on a world-wide Hemingway tour. It is also possible to do a walking tour around the city, yet more reasons his fans visit his adopted home.

The Malecón is the seawall built-in 1901 to protect Havana from the power of the ocean. Now it is one of the main attractions, an esplanade which leads from the new to old city. It has a split personality, providing a pleasant daytime walk and meeting place for friends or lovers seen along its length. Families or children swim in the old foundations of the now missing fortifications like their own personal swimming pools.

At night friends group together sharing bottles of Havana Club, enjoying each other’s company, laughing and dancing to music they brought with them, in true Hemingway spirit. Working girls move through the crowds looking for the pale skin of a tourist who maybe interested in paying for their services.

Performers and musicians in the Old Square of Havana, Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Performers in the Old Square

Musicians on the Malecón, Havana,Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Musicians performing on the Malecon

The city’s vibrant  nightlife, ranges from seedy bars to sophisticated nightclubs, where the cool, and the beautiful go to be seen. Model attractive women in short, sexy figure hugging dresses pose, waiting to attract the owner of a male eye  willing to  ensure they never have an empty glass.

Children swimming on the Malecón in Havana, Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Children swimming in the Caribbean on the Malecón

Hemingway is unlikely to be totally comfortable with the some of the social injustice, and uneven taxation that is now prevalent in Cuba, but I believe he would still feel at home. Havana has many tourists and the entourage of touts, performers and models which they attract. However for the moment, it remains a fascinatingly different culture. The selfish side of me hopes it remains so indefinitely.

Classic car or in Old Havana, Cuba on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Going to the movies in Havana


Comments 16

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  1. Laura

    When I think about Cuba, I forget about the Hemingway connection and just how much time he spent there. Thanks for sharing such an interesting history with such gorgeous pictures!

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  2. Emily in Chile

    This is making me even more excited about my trip – Hemmingway is one of my favorite authors. I knew he’d spent time there but didn’t know details of the history, so this was an interesting read!

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      I’m glad you enjoyed it Sarah and I hope you make it to Cuba soon and follow in Hemmingways footsteps, they’re certainly worth taking the tour.

  3. Lorenzo

    Lovely post Iain! I had forgotten about the Hemingway connection.. It’s so interesting. I plan to visit Cuba soon. Maybe next month if I can snatch up a good deal on flights.

  4. santafetraveler

    I’m fascinated by Cuba and wish it was easier for US citizens to travel there. Part of my fascination stems from the fact that my parents almost bought a farm there in the 50s. The deal fell through. The US expat who owned the property backed out. He felt that with all the talk of war in the world, he’d stay in peaceful Cuba. I bit ironic! I always wonder how my life would have been had my parents made this move.

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      I loved my time in Cuba Billie, though I have to be honest I’ve mixed feelings about having the embargo lifted. The country and economy is probably crying out for it, but I can’t help feeling the place will never be the same when it does.

      Strange how life turns out huh? Your life would certainly have been very different, but obviously you’ll never know. Guess it provides you with something to ponder over.

  5. Ryan

    Love love love this! I’ve always had a fascination for Cuba, and always seeing the classic cars on photos of Havana make the pull even fiercer. Once upon a time I owned a 1948 Ford Tudor Super Deluxe V8 when I lived in California.

    By the way, the second photo on here, the perspective is awesome!

  6. Adam

    These pictures are just awesome! Thanks for sharing….I heard some friend who were in Cuba that it is best to visit it as soon as possible, because things might change soon and it will loose the atmosphere…Great post!

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