Hemingway Tournament

The next day I woke up before dawn and went straight to La Bodeguita del Media. It is opened 24/7 and I wanted to take the opportunity to have my coffee before hundreds of tourists start pouring in. It was occupied by just regular coffee drinkers, mostly locals.

Living a day as Hemingway wasn’t really my cup of tea. I had a huge headache, so the piece and quiet were really all I wanted.

After a coffee, I ordered a breakfast and another cup of coffee. I had fried eggs and grilled bread. It was still dark outside.

At the bar, I met a local fisherman. We had a really pleasant conversation.

“You are Hemingway fan, right?” – he asked.

I confirmed.

“Do you know that the famous Hemingway tournament is being held today?” I did know. He then invited me to join him.

The very first Hemingway tournament was held in 1950. It was just a regular tournament back then for the local fishermen. But, when they noticed “Pilar”, a well-known Hemingway’s ship docked among the others, a group of fishermen suggested to name the tournament after Papa; ever since then, the tournament is known by that name. Hemingway wasn’t just a celebrity participant; he actually won the tournament three times in a row catching the largest fish.

Pablo, my new fisherman friend, drove nine miles away from the city to the marina, while I could barely manage to grab a seat among his expensive fishing equipment. On our way, we passed by Finca La Vigía. We didn’t stop by, since the Hemingway’s residence was closed for restoration.

Hemingway purchased this villa after he sold his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” His wife, Martha Gellhorn, couldn’t stand living in the Ambos Mundos anymore and she insisted on buying this large villa.

Hemingway’s last wife, Mary, sold the property to Cuban government, after the famous writer committed a suicide back in 1961. It’s been a museum ever since. All Hemingway’s possessions are preserved here, including his collection of books, manuscripts, stuffed animals and shotguns. Unfortunately, after years of neglect, it needed restoration.

The marina, where the tournament was held, was also named after Hemingway. Surprise, surprise… Marina Hemingway is the largest marina in Cuba with the capacity of about 400 vessels. However, many of the ships are not in a good condition and most are in the need of reparation. I would say that only a quarter of them are fully usable.

Pablo’s ship was named after his daughter, Adriana. It was docked and I helped him carry the equipment. It also had some modern equipment – the latest GPS navigation and a fishfinder. (It was the first time for me to see the fishfinder!) His ship, even though not new, was in a good condition.

This was my first time on the ship or a boat ever, and since I wasn’t on the list of contestants, I wasn’t allowed to fish. I didn’t mind really; just observing was equally exciting for me.

Pablo’s bait was a fish as large as the proper dinner for a family of five! And I thought it very strange to use the bait so big. But, two hours later, when he pulled out a Marlin over 3 meters long and 180 kg in weight, I was petrified. It turned out that it was just an average-sized fish, and Pablo didn’t win that day. The guy that caught a Marlin of 4 meters long won the day.

After the tournament, we had dinner – fish of course – and a couple of drinks. I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed at 2 am.


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