We’ve had a busy first few days in Havana. We heard from my friend Ramiro, who stopped by our hotel. he spoke about his life as a teenager during the revolution. He mentioned how frightening that time was for everybody. After the new government came to power, he and many other teens were sent hundreds of miles from home to teach reading and writing to older Cubans, many of whom were completely illiterate. Within two years, the country was considered to be 99% literate. This was a major accomplishment for a struggling young government. For the first time since the discovery of Cuba by Columbus in 1492, the country was independent from foreign domination, no longer controlled by Spain or the United States.
We visited Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigía estate east of Havana. He and his third wife Martha Gellhorn moved there from Havana in 1939 and rented it for $100 a month. There was a colonial house with a sweeping view of Havana. A year later, after receiving his first royalty check from For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway bought the property for $18,500. Afterwards we had lunch in the nearby town of Cojimar, then traveled back to Havana to visit Revolutionary Square, where Pope Benedict XVI will conduct mass on March 28, two days after we are scheduled to depart. Up to a half million Cubans are expected to attend.
Continuing with our people-to-people program, we had dinner with one of my friends whom I’ve known since 2005. Everybody enjoyed the food and conversation. Our dinner provided even more insight into the Cuban people. They really like Americans, and even prefer visitors from the U.S. over those from Europe.