30 September 2016

 
Old Chevys driving past the Capital Building in Havana
Havana ball in Cuba!
Change is in the air - but this lively island remains a grand old charmer, says Mark Palmer
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ur pillar-box red, opentop Chevrolet would fail its MoT abysmally. The suspension’s gone, there’s no speedometer. But it's still going and it's a lot of fun. A bit like Cuba, where the people are remarkably kind, honest and polite – and change is slowly happening with US sanctions lifted. We're in the Chevy (not driving) on the way to Ernest Hemingway's house, 20 minutes from Havana.

We've downed a daiquiri at Floridita, where his statue takes prided of place, and chased that up with a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio, another hangout. We'll sink more at La Terraza in the fishing village of Cojimar, inspiration for The Old Man And The Sea, which helped Hemingway win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He bought Finca Vigia in 1940 and lived there off and on for 20 years.
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La Guarida - an extremely popular Paladar restaurant
The entrance to Finca Vigia where Hemingway lived
Her eyes fill with tears. 'I don't know,' she says, 'but Hemingway loved Cuba.' Back in Havana, we see the Museum Of The Revolution, where Fidel Castro, naturally, is the star of the show. What knocks us back is the beauty of the dilapidated grand houses, palaces and squares. Food in Cuba is uninspiring. But our best dinner is at Mama Ines, where Fidel's ex-chef has opened a restaurant. He's engaging and the walls are hung with black-and-white photos of him and his former boss. You must eat at La Guarida, on the third floor of a glorious, crumbling building.

The food is as dull as anywhere, but the experience is exquisite: antique wine glasses, nicotine-stained walls, little balconies with room for one table each. We pick the pricey Saratoga hotel opposite the vast Capitolio building because it has a pool on the roof. On the way to Trinidad, a colonial town four hours away, we call in at the Bay of Pigs and watch a 20-minute propaganda film about the failed U.S. invasion.

Trinidad’s cobbled streets house restaurants and gift shops. Two courses and a bottle of drinkable wine can be had for £20 a head. Cuba’s past makes one last call on us. On the way back to Havana we stop briefly in Santa Clara, where the remains of Che Guevara, the poster boy of the revolution, are housed in a grand memorial building.


Original article published in Aug 2015. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
It's pretty much how he left it. Bullfighting scenes and stuffed animals hang from the walls, his typewriter sits on the desk and rum competes for space with books. I ask the housekeeper Ada what Hemingway would make of Cuba today.
"The people are remarkably kind, honest and polite - and change is slowly happening."
 
 
 
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