The fort at Cojimar

The 17th century fort at Cojimar. Photo by Nick Fletcher.

In order to get through Finca La Vigía quickly, we decided to forego hiring an English-speaking guide and, instead, I led the tour. I was sure I knew as much as the guides since I’d been coming here for five years and, anyway, our experience with the guides was that while they were enthusiastic when talking about Hemingway and his family, they weren’t always accurate. For instance, for years our English-speaking guide (there was only one and we’d gotten her for three years straight) insisted that Hemingway did not commit suicide. Right. The wrong end of his Bass shotgun just happened to get stuck in his mouth one morning and of course the only thing to do about it was to try and free it by using your toes to pull both triggers. Who knew there were shotgun shells in the gun?

Anyway, I told the boys, who were somewhat new to Ernest Hemingway, the most interesting stories about his time here in Cuba—how he chalked his weight up on the bathroom walls every morning; how he’d shot this massive male kudu in Africa and Mussolini heard about it and wanted the trophy, sending Hem a blank check, and Hem had sent the check back with a note on it saying “If you want a kudu, Mussolini, go shoot one yourself”; how Ava Gardner and Hem used to swim naked in the pool together.

Afterwards, we piled back into the old beat-up Impala and headed down to Cojímar to have lunch at La Terraza. Greg hadn’t come to the Finca with us. Instead, he’d spent the morning at the Museo de la Revolucíon. His plan was to take a taxi to Cojímar and meet us for lunch around two. When we got to La Terraza he hadn’t arrived yet so we decided to walk around the town a bit. It was a very hot and humid day and what I was really thinking was that I wanted to go into the coolness of the La Terraza bar and have a cold Cristal but Hardy was set on showing the boys the sights of Cojímar, such as they are, so I went along with the program.

We walked down to the dilapidated pier where Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, was often docked. There was a group of young boys and men fishing. We stopped and asked them if they were having any luck. They said not much. A small snapper, no bigger than six or seven inches, was lying in the sun on the concrete of the pier. I didn’t know if the fish was for eating or for bait. One of the boys leaned far out over the pier trying to look underneath it while another man held his feet. Perhaps, I thought, they were trying to catch crabs. In any case, the bay was obviously pretty much fished out.

There is a 17th century stone fort at Cojímar that was built in 1645 as the easternmost defense point of Havana. These days it’s some sort of military garrison. There are signs as you approach the fort that tell you to not approach it, but Hardy decided they weren’t talking about him so he and Cam walked down the short road to the fort and started to climb the stairs. At the foot of the stairs was another sign saying in Spanish that this was a restricted zone and anyone going past this point was subject to arrest. Fletch translated the sign, yelling to Hardy and Cam as they continued going up the stairs.

“You really want to go to prison in Cuba just because you want to have a look at an old fort?” Fletch said.

Hardy stopped climbing. “I don’t think there’s anyone up there,” he said.

“But what if there is?” Fletch said.

Hardy thought about this for a moment and then hastily retreated, Cam right behind him. An old woman, sitting across the street beneath an umbrella, started laughing. We didn’t know if she was laughing because we were cowards for turning around or because we were fools for even approaching the fort. It seemed to me it was about the same anyway you looked at it. Best to leave the fort alone. Which is, fortunately, what we did since not two minutes later, a Cuban military Jeep pulled up to the fort and several soldiers hopped out and quickly ran up the stairs that Hardy had been climbing. I wonder what they would have done if they’d found him up there. Fortunately, we’ll never know.

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