Papa Hemingway knew better
“My Mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita,” said Ernest Hemingway long ago. Decades later, hordes of tourists still flock to these two iconic bars in La Habana Vieja to savor the famous cocktails and experience the spirit of Hemingway’s Cuba. Somehow, his Havana has survived time, trapped in a bygone era. The faded grandeur of old buildings, once-luxurious cars, and stunning architecture still bear witness to the city’s former glory.
When you set foot on Cuban soil, the long, tiring flight to this tropical paradise will fade into a distant memory. This is an entirely different world from the one we know. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live in the 1950s, come to Havana and experience it firsthand. It is the only place you can still do so on the planet.
Cubans live life out on the streets. At any time of day or night, you can see them playing chess or dominoes in front of their homes, dancing, or simply chatting. Joyful children of all ages play on every corner. Despite poverty and destitution, you get the impression that they are the most carefree and happiest people on the planet.
How can you feel unlucky when surrounded by such beauty and blessed with the ocean, sea, and an excellent climate?
In 1928, Ernest Hemingway discovered this beautiful island filled with smiling and joyful people. He is a man the Cubans practically adopted and is still adored and respected alongside the greatest heroes in Cuban histories, such as Fidel Castro, “Che” Guevara, and José Martí.
The cult of Papa Hemingway still thrives in Cuba. Unsurprisingly, the writer loved, wrote, and lived there for over 30 years, only leaving the island occasionally. The love he had for this nation was reciprocated many times over. The vast majority of tourists who visit Cuba each year visit the places where the writer stayed and which inspired him to write some of his most important works.
Hemingway in Havana
When Ernest Hemingway first visited Cuba, he stayed at the Ambos Mundos Hotel in room 511, where he began writing his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. Today, visitors can explore this room, which has been transformed into a small museum.
Hemingway was known for his love of women, and he found love himself. He settled down with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, and they purchased a house called Finca Vigia, not far from Havana. He lived in this house for almost 20 years and wrote his novel The Old Man and the Sea here. Today, the house has been turned into a museum, and although entry is prohibited, visitors can glimpse inside through open windows. In front of the house are his pets’ graves and his fishing boat, Pilar. During his stay in Cuba, Hemingway kept the boat anchored in the small fishing village of Cojimar, located 10 kilometers away from his house.
Cojimar is a vibrant and colorful village that inspired Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It is the birthplace of Gregorio Fuentes, an old man who served as a model for the character of Santiago. The restaurant La Terrazza, where the writer used to stop after fishing, is located in the village. Hemingway’s table is still set in the corner of the restaurant, and his bust, made of metal donated by local fishermen from their ships, is located in the center of the village.
El Floridita & La Bodeguita del Medio
Two of the most famous bars in Havana are El Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio, which Hemingway frequented due to his love of liquor. These bars still attract many tourists who visit Havana, hoping to experience the spirit of Hemingway’s Cuba.
The Floridita Bar opened in 1819 and was declared one of the world’s best bars in the 1950s and frequented by famous visitors such as Tennessee Williams and Jean-Paul Sartre. Thanks to Hemingway, this place and La Bodegita became a natural tourist attraction with cocktail prices higher than most other bars in Havana. Inside, Hemingway’s bronze statue leans against a mahogany bar, and behind it, a waiter in a bow tie will prepare your cocktail. The daiquiri cocktail was born in this bar, and today, people drink it like Hemingway did, without sugar, because he had diabetes.
Photographs of Hemingway hang on the walls, including one with Fidel Castro. Interestingly, although there were rumors that they were close friends, this photograph captured the only time these two men met.
La Bodeguita del Medio is the second bar Hemingway frequented. During the 1950s, it was a place that attracted writers, journalists, and musicians. In addition to Hemingway, other famous people like Salvador Allende, Nat King Cole, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Fidel Castro, and many stars of today visited this bar.
Unlike Floridita, the mojito is the main drink at Bodeguita del Medio. Today, the bar’s walls are covered with pictures of famous guests and the signatures of all those who have visited. Signing your name on the wall of Bodeguita del Medio is a must for every tourist. It’s like signing the wall at Abbey Road in London, in front of the studio where the legendary Beatles recorded their music.
How the story ended
As relations between Cuba and America cooled, Hemingway was forced to choose between the two countries. He eventually returned to the United States, and a year later, in 1961, he took his own life.
And that’s how the story of this great writer ended, but his memory lives on in faraway Cuba. Few people like Hemingway would leave their previous life behind and start anew in a completely unfamiliar country simply because of its beauty. In today’s fast-paced and superficial world, we often overlook the beauty surrounding us. But life on this island is different. People take things slow, enjoy the little things, and value socializing with their neighbors, drinking rum, singing, and dancing. Music from old cassette players is everywhere, even in the tiniest streets.
This is where the true beauty of Cuba lies! Take a moment to indulge in the feelings of freedom and joy you’ll experience while listening to the sounds of salsa and watching dancers with sculpted bodies. You came here for this to enjoy the beauty of a simple life that requires very little: the sun, good music, and the right person by your side. Papa Hemingway realized this much sooner than others.
That’s all for now. To read more about Cuba, click HERE.