The trail of Ernest Hemingway is a relatively easy one to follow throughout the hotels and bars of Havana but one of its most important stops is still fairly new and slightly off the beaten path.
The Museo de Ernesto Hemingway is located in a ‘suburb’ of Havana called San Francisco de Paula. Here lies La Finca Vigia (“the lookout farm”) a Moorish-style house that Hemingway originally rented, then purchased, on a hillside estate with Havana and the sea on the horizon.
Today, Hemingway’s home is a museum open to the public. It is a twenty-minute cab ride from the core of Havana. Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, originally settled here in 1939 after living for a time at the Hotel Biltmore Sevilla. The estate sprawls over 15 acres of land (large enough to host impromptu baseball games with some of the local children) and is home to hundreds varieties of trees.
It was here Hemingway wrote nine novels including For Whom the Bell Tolls and was where he lived when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1954). Hemingway called La Finca Vigia home until1960 when he left Cuba for good, shortly before his death.
The home became property of the Cuban government in 1961 and has served as a museum since, documenting Hemingway’s domestic life and physical surroundings, exactly as he left them in 1960. Alas its function as a bonafied cultural destination has been sporadic due to a constant struggle for funds. Hemingway scholars from the U.S. found the museum in critical disrepair about fifteen years ago with a leaky roof and cracked foundation threatening the entire collection of memorabilia. In fear of losing this literary treasure trove, they sprung into action raising funds to assist in its restoration. Not an easy task given the strained relations between the two countries. But if there is one thing they both seem to be able to agree on, it is the historical importance of this property and love of Ernest Hemingway.
The result is an immaculately restored Finca Vigia, which re-opened to the public in 2007 as the Museo Ernesto Hemingway. The restoration is so complete that one can see Hemingway’s writing on his bathroom wall where he recorded his daily weigh-ins. Also on view is his Royal typewriter propped up on a bookshelf of his bedroom where he wrote standing up due to chronic back problems. The home is filled with Spanish bull-fighting posters as well as trophies from his various African safaris. Having also been on the tour of Hemingway’s house in Key West Florida, I can assure you that this one is imminently superior.
Tour guides are available on site with most possessing an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of Hemingway’s biography as well as his life in Cuba. The tour of the house basically involves walking around the home’s exterior with peeks into the windows. Security guards sit inside.
As a bonus, Hemingway’s beloved deep sea fishing boat (and part-time WW II German submarine spotting vessel) the Pilar, is dry docked on the property just down from the swimming pool where a naked Ava Gardner swam during her visit (after which Hemingway is said to have instructed the staff “this water is now never to be changed!”)
La Finca Vigia was also home to many dogs (a dog graveyard forms part of the tour) as well as dozens of cats, descendants of which still roam the property to this day.
Whether you have read all of Hemingway’s books or not a single one of them, the trek to the Museo Hemingway is well worth it in terms of a pilgrimage to one the one of America’s greatest writers and Cuba’s most favorite ex-pats. In fact, it is so well done, it is worth the trip to Cuba on its own. After that much cultural research, the copious quantities of daiquiris and mojitos can be all guilt-free!
Museo Hemingway, Finca Vigía, San Francisco de Paula , Havana, tel. 53-7-691-0809. Open from Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm and on Sundays from 9am to 1pm, Sunday. Entrance fee is $3 CUC per person (May 2013).
A.J. Twist is a Montreal based photographer and writer.
To see all of AJ’s photos of the Hemingway Museum click here