Voyagers visit Hemingway’s secluded Cuban island

During our recent sail along the northwest coast of Cuba, we had long planned on stopping at Cayo Paraiso, Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban hideaway during and after the second World War. Hemingway loved Cuba and fishing. Knowing Havana today, I can imagine what it was like in the 1950s — it’s a wonder Hemingway got any writing done at all. I’ve always admired him as one of America’s great writers, and I looked forward to seeing the remains of his untouched, unrestored hideaway at Cayo Paraiso and walking “Papa’s” paths.

Cayo Paraiso is a crescent-shaped island a half-mile long east to west and 200 yards wide north to south. On this crescent grow a few palms, Australian pines, sea grapes and beach grass. The south side is all mangroves, while the north side has a beautiful sandy beach fronting on shallows that extend out to the reef.

We dropped anchor all alone in the crescent-shaped cove on the south side of the island, as close to the remains of Hemingway’s dock as we could manage. After setting the anchor, we had lunch and put the dinghy in the water. I was eager for the chance to explore the island, undeveloped and undisturbed, except for the occasional hurricane, since Castro last left years ago.

The weather was 80° F with a light easterly wind and clear skies, a beautiful Cuban January day. Kathy was content to stay aboard our 34-foot Tartan, Endeavour, and read. I went alone, beached the dinghy and tied it to the mangroves at the edge of a small sandy beach near the remains of the dock. No bottles, cans or other litter were to be seen. The main path was a few yards away, leading to the dock. Fishermen had camped there sometime in the past. Remains of a small stone cooking circle, coconut husks and a few fish heads were all that remained.

I turned and followed the raised manmade path inland and soon came across the remnants of Hemingway’s hideaway, a dozen or so thick mangrove posts set in a 20-foot square with small slabs of cement over chicken-wire flooring broken on the ground. Past hurricanes had taken their toll.

Head down, camera in hand, I walked around trying not to disturb the site. All the while I was looking for a freshwater well or pool of some kind. Evidently, Hemingway brought water with him. The path continued another few hundred feet further inland and divided. I took the path that led to the beach. I walked the beach on the north side of the island.

Other than three small fishing boats, we were the only boat on the edge of the Gulf Stream in the 60 miles between Marina Hemingway in Havana and Cayo Paraiso. Very few cruising boats visit Cuba these days.

While on the island I collected a few shells and took some pictures before returning to our boat. Unlike many islands I have explored in the past, Cayo Paraiso was as pristine as could be in the 21st century. Very little flotsam or jetsam anywhere on the island or the beach. No commercial exploitation of the Hemingway myth. In one important sense, Castro has done us a favor by leaving the island alone. n

Dick and Kathy de Grasse live aboard their Tartan 34 and voyage in the Caribbean.

By Ocean Navigator