The past two days have been a lot of fun and very interesting. Following are just some of the highlights. Yesterday we visited Ernest Hemingway’s room at the Hotel Ambos Mundos in Old Havana. Off and on throughout the 1930’s he stayed in Room 511 while creating the plot of For Whom the Bell Tolls. His room had the best view in the hotel, looking out over the narrow entrance to Havana Harbor. It is now a mini-museum with many photos and artifacts from his stay at the hotel. In this same area is Hemingway’s favorite bar–El Floridita–a 10-minute walk from his hotel along Obispo Street.
Later that day we traveled to the fishing village of Cojimar, 10 miles east of Havana. We visited his hillside estate called Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm). He moved there in 1939 when his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, discovered the Spanish-Colonial House and surrounding acreage with a beautiful distant view of Havana. They rented it for $100 a month. After Hemingway received his first royalty check for For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940, they bought the estate for $18,500. We were able to view and take photos of all rooms and walk around his beautiful home in the country. After a great lunch at La Terrazas Restaurant, we visited the Morro Castle–the massive fortress which protected the entrance to Havana Harbor. In the evening we had dinner with a friend of mine, who was just a 12-year old at the time of the revolution. He talked about being sent hundreds of miles away from his home in Havana to teach reading and writing to illiterate families as part of Castro’s Literacy Brigade. This program resulted in the country achieving 99+% literacy in less than two years. Today, Cuba continues to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Today we donated some of our medical supplies while visiting the Hospital Calixto Garcia in Havana. We learned about the key roles of hospitals in the health care system, and went on a tour. This was followed by a question and answer session (and Cuban coffee). This evening we had dinner at a local paladar (private restaurant) with a physician friend of mine. Our group was surprised to learn that he has traveled extensively in the U.S., and attended a conference in San Diego a few years back.
Tomorrow we will hit the road in our Mercedes-Benz mini-bus to travel west of Havana to the province of Pinar del Rio and visit Viñales National Park. We’re looking forward to our trip to the countryside.