Today was Hemingway day. Well, sort of.
The main event was to visit La Finca Vigia, which was Hemingway’s residence in Cuba. The home is actually out in the suburbs of Havana, and not reachable by public transportation. We had talked to the taxi driver from Day 1 and asked him about taking us there, and he had quoted us 35 CUCs (with a return to Miramar, which is on the other end of the city), so we booked it. When we went downstairs from our casa particular, it was a different driver. Apparently our driver had car issues so we got this other guy.
As good practice, I asked about the rate, and this guy was basically a shark. After I told him of our negotiated price, he gave me a big “no” (but nevertheless in a reasonable manner), and tried to explain to me in Spanish that the distance to Finca Vigia is much further than the airport, so he gets to charge me more. I was not having it, and told him that we would call the other driver and see. I proceeded back to the casa particular and asked the owner to help. She called her driver and confirmed the 35 CUC price, and asked him to come, and then asked the driver downstairs to leave.
Now that the drama’s over, we’re off to Hemingway with an awesome driver with his 80’s Lada, a Soviet-era car.
We arrived thinking the house would open by 9:30, but it opened at 10. After waiting outside, we were the first ones to get in for the day, after paying 5 CUCs per person to get in. If you ever go, definitely get in early, as after 20 minutes or so hordes of people showed up. His compound had a huge garden, swimming pool, and a beautiful view. His boat, the Pilar, was also displayed right next to the swimming pool. This was where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Movable Feast. No one is allowed to enter, but you could get a good glimpse from the outside.
After leaving we were off to the Miramar district of Havana. This is an upscale part of Havana, where most of the foreign embassies are located (the US Embassy, formerly the US Interests Section) is actually located right on the Malecón. Larger hotels are also located here. After stopping by for some cold drinks at this gelato place, we walked towards the 5ta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), which is the main street of Miramar. There wasn’t really much to see except the embassies, and there were quite a few. It was a scorching hot day, and we were tired. The places we wanted to eat at were either non-existent or closed. By the time we were done, we were already walking across a footbridge into Vedado, into FAC -Fábrica de Arte Cubano – which is an all-in-one art gallery, bar and performance venue. However, due to the mourning period, FAC was closed until further notice. The security guard didn’t know whether they will open tomorrow (Sunday) as that is the day of Castro’s state funeral.
Our option then is to continue walking… from the other end of the Malecón towards the Hotel Riviera where we saw the sunset the night before. It was already way past lunchtime, so we walked past the hotels and down the Paseo and found a place for lunch! 10 CUCs later for a panini, we now have more energy to keep moving, specifically to the Plaza de la Revolución. In between that we walked by many abandoned buildings, and then took a minor detour to see John Lennon.
A short walk later, we were able to see the José Martí Memorial from a distance. There weren’t many people there on a Saturday (where did they all go?), but then again there really isn’t much around except government buildings, so it’s really mostly a touristic spot to see Che and Camilo Cienfuegos.
Now we’re really tired. So as with any tourist walking along the streets of Havana, taxi drivers would honk at you to see whether you need a ride. We finally hailed down one, which ended up being an almendrone, which is in fact like an “Uber pool”. 3 CUCs later we were back on Galiano Street in the heart of Centro Habana. Again, it’s time for sunset on the Malecón, now from a different vantage point with Vedado in the background.
After the amazing sunset, it was time for dinner. While walking to dinner we passed by the Teatro America, which is an art deco theatre opened in 1941. While trying the peek in, the security guard called us over and said in Spanish if we paid him 1 CUC we can go inside to take photos. So we did! We also found a rat that passed through the aisles…
This time we got a recommendation from the owner of our casa particular, who recommended us to have some Cuban food at this place called Flor de Loto. When we found the place – after walking through some sketchy looking streets (but they were safe to walk through) – we discovered that it was a Chinese restaurant. The food though did not disappoint, we got the ropa vieja and it was the best reward for a long day of walking.
The walk back to the casa particular from Centro Habana was a very, very dark one. Streets had no lighting, and we felt like we were walking in the midst of darkness. In any city in the US we would never walk through these streets, yet in Havana it’s the “norm” and maybe 20 minutes later we were back. The photo below gives you an idea, even though in reality it was a lot darker.