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"La Terraza: Cojímar, Cuba"

by Mary Heebner


CAST OF CHARACTERS: Ernest Hemingway lived part time in Cuba from 1938-1961. Due to the writer's love of this dusty fishing village, Cojímar won the lottery for popular sites to visit in Cuba and La Terraza became a destination point for travelers from Madrid to Moscow. However it seems unfazed by all the literati fame, a quiet and friendly fishing town down a dusty road.

TYPICAL CLIENTELE: Day trippers from Havana, the occasional bus of Japanese tourists, and other pilgrims on the Hemingway trail, hoping to glimpse Gregorio Fuentes, the resident centenarian and inspiration for the classic Old Man and the Sea. Less than an hour's drive from downtown Havana.

GRUB AND GROG: Probably the finest selection of seafood, including live lobster, in all of Cuba. Specialty is their seafood paella. Order a mojito – a mint julep made with Havana Club rum, kick back and take in the turquoise waters and sea breezes.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Cojimar is the original site of the Hemingway International Billfish Tournament, which he judged and sponsored. In the first year, 1950, Hemingway invited Fidel, an avid sportsman ("If I hadnÍt been an athlete, I wouldnÍt have been a guerrilla") who took first prize, fair and square, landing the largest marlin. The tournament has now moved to the trendy, uninspired Hemingway Marina, but locals revere this place as the real McCoy. John Sturgis filmed Spencer Tracy in "The Old Man and the Sea" partly in waters offshore Peru and in Cojimar at La Terraza.

HISTORIC HIGHLIGHT: La Terraza was originally the village fish market. The little dock and ramp where boats off-loaded the dayÍs catch to be butchered and sold or iced and trucked to Havana remained unchanged until the early 60's, after Hemingway died, when it molted into one of the finest seafood houses in Cuba. Hemingway kept his 38 foot boat Pilar, at Cojimar, where he hunted marlin and lesser prey with his companion and boat captain, Gregorio Fuentes. They ate and drank at La Terraza. They shared stories, cigars, liquor, they even shared birthdays. On their birthdays they would buy a bottle of good whiskey instead of the usual rum. For many birthdays after his closest friend had died, Gregorio would walk to the end of the promenade where a bronze head of a smiling Ernesto made from the melted down oar locks and other fittings donated by his Cuban fishermen friends, looked out over the sea. He would toast to their memories, pour a shot of whiskey for himself and splash another onto the head of his beloved friend, until there was no more.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WET KIND: Cuba is washed by the Carribean, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Sea bass, billfish, shark, tuna and wahoo abound, with December heralding the best all around fishing season, which lasts until May. Coral reefsand 500 years of shipwrecks make Cuba a diver's haven, particularly around Isla de la Juventud and the islets off Varadero to the east of Havana.

Copyright © Mary Heebner 2000