Cojímar: The Presence of Hemingway

One early October day in 2013, I returned on a visit to the legendary town of Cojímar a few kilometers east of Havana. Immediately I found myself by the sea that has seen a number of impressive stories unfold and which attracts fishermen in wait of a good catch with its beautiful array of colors.

My first impulse always takes me for a walk along the old wooden pier where a few of the locals are seated trying their luck at fishing. Many of these people are oldsters who can remember many of those events that are part of local history. A few moments later I was chatting with a grey-haired man with cap and moustache, almost at the end of the pier, who told me that he had seen the writer Ernest Hemingway there several times. As he spoke I caught the glimpse of a special twinkle in his eyes and I understood the pride he felt living here all these years.

The Torreón de Cojímar is close to the pier, an ancient fortress which today is surrounded by some buildings dating from more modern times. When the English invaded Havana in 1762, the Spanish defended the city from this small fortification. More than two hundred years later, you can still feel the power of that past, even as you are enjoying the tranquil scenery.

My eyes, however, wondered off and I caught sight of the first monument erected in memory of Hemingway one year after his death. It is said that the town’s residents, including Gregorio Fuentes, collected metal pieces from propellers, chain links and anchors to cast the bronze bust by Cuban sculptor Fernando Boada Martín. It stands beneath a neoclassical archway in front of the fort.

I bumped into two musicians, one of whom told me he had talked to Hemingway several times. What he remembered most was the American’s friendliness and that he liked to hang out with “regular folk,” convinced that he had a lot to learn from such people.

I was both jealous and excited to hear the man casually describe the appearance of the US Nobel Prize winner; in the words of that trovador I was starting to see a strong image that was clearer than any photograph I might have ever seen before. The tall, white, heavyset man with deep blue eyes had gained new dimensions. When he finished his description, the musician started to play the song he remembered to be Hemingway’s favorite.

Just three hundred meters from that encounter was the La Terraza Bar and Restaurant. I’ve visited it many times and it is definitely the best place to strike up a dialogue with the writer of “The Old Man and the Sea,” “Islands in the Stream” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” You can order a delicious fish or the always succulent shrimp. While you wait, there is the authentic daiquiri and a view of that same sea where the writer, accompanied by Gregorio Fuentes, his great friend and the skipper of the Pilar, would set off to fish.

Source of bounty and sacrifices, the sea has been the scenario for many years for the international fishing tournament called the Hemingway Marlin Tournament in Memoriam. Many of the fishermen on the pier tell of incredibly large specimens that were captured. Humble men, skins bronzed by the sun, set off in boats every day there to try to catch fish for their families.

On the La Terraza walls, we can see a gallery of photographs and other valuable documents tracing an important part of Hemingway’s trajectory in Cuba. There is a plaque bearing a small relief of his face at the table where he liked to sit and smoke one of his trademark Cuban cigars while waiting for his meals.

I left La Terraza and headed towards the pier, wandering around the shore that decades ago was one of the most famous resorts in Cuba until it was replaced by other beaches such as Guanabo, Jibacoa and, especially, Varadero. As I walked, I enjoyed seeing the leisurely lives of the inhabitants which, as they commented to me, was totally different from the city life-style.

When I got to a small steel bridge that opens to allow tall boats to pass through, I noticed a kind of fishermen’s cooperative engaged in a ceremony celebrating the arrival of a new ship. The newcomers get to uncover a canvas-covered trophy to the reactions of the workers who had been looking after it. I spent a few minutes on the bridge, looking at the process of cleaning and filleting fish. The parts discarded become food for other fish and marine animals.

By now the sun was sending me signals it was time to leave. As I strolled to the center of town, I felt renewed and with a justifiable desire to reread some of Hemingway’s book.

  • Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam

    Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam  LH 5+

    The north-west corner of the square is occupied by the 18th-century Casa de los Condes de Peñalver, which has at different times served as a post office, a bank and a school. Today, it houses the Cent …

    Plaza Vieja

    Plaza Vieja  LH 5+

    The 16th-century Plaza Vieja has always been a residential rather than a military, religious or administrative space, and is surrounded by elegant colonial residences, combined with a few very strikin …

    Paseo del Prado

    Paseo del Prado  LH 5+

    In colonial times, this promenade received several names, including Nuevo Prado, Alameda de Extramuros, Paseo de Isabel II and Paseo del Prado, and with cuba’s independecne, it became Paseo de Martí. …

    Convento e Iglesia de la Merced

    Convento e Iglesia de la Merced  LH 5

    Built between 1865 and 1867, this is arguably one of Havana’s most lush churches. The temple stands opposite a small square and its façade, constructed in Baroque style, features the principal door wi …

    Almacenes de San José

    Almacenes de San José  LH 5

    This former harborside warehouse was built in 1885 and is considered the oldest depository in Old Havana. The sober and imposing façade that looks out onto the city conceals the building’s steel struc …

    Quinta Avenida

    Quinta Avenida  LH 5+

    Initially called Avenida de las Américas, Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) stretches from the tunnel that connects it to Calzada Street, in Vedado, to the Santa Ana River, in the locality of Santa Fe. Co …

    Cámara Oscura

    Cámara Oscura  LH 5

    Located on the top floor of the eclectic-style early 20th-century Edificio Gómez Vila—the plaza’s tallest building (35 meters/115 feet)—on the northeast corner, the Cámara Oscura provides a 360-degree …

    Arte Corte (Papito’s)

    Arte Corte (Papito’s)  LH 5+

    Established about eight years ago, Arte Corte is a hairdressing salon that is also an “interactive museum” where the customer, while comfortably seated in a hundred year-old chair awaiting their turn, …

    Jardín Botánico Nacional

    Jardín Botánico Nacional  LH 5+

    These 600-hectare botanical gardens feature approximately 150,000 examples of 4,000 different species of trees and bushes from all over the world. A tractor train ride around the park departs four tim …

    Santa María del Mar

    Santa María del Mar  LH 5

    Santa María is the most popular beach among both Habaneros and visitors. It has lodgings, restaurants, watersports hire, grocery stores and a pharmacy. As with the other beahes, it boasts soft, white …

    1 of 22 pages »