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Original Issue

Pursuing Papa's marlin

It's hardly the same Cuba, but at a fishing tournament in his honor, Ernest Hemingway's spirit lives on

El Torreon de Cojímar is an ancient Spanish fortress that guards a harbor mouth not very far east of Havana. On a recent May morning, a platoon of Cuban troops—grim and trim in their green fatigues, pistols heavy at their hips—gathered on the fortress tower and stared seaward. Out beyond the surf line, an armada of small boats circled and bounced on the steep seas at the Gulf Stream's edge. Suddenly a rocket whooshed out from the tower, snaking fast and smoky toward the boats. The shell burst over them dirty white, and a roar went up from the crowd of eager civilians lining the seawall. Then another rocket—this one exploding closer to the boats, as if it were probing for range, mast-high in the midst of the flotilla....

¬øQué pasa, hombre?

The Bay of Pigs (Part II)?

No way. The rocket bursts were merely a signal that the 15th annual Hemingway Billfish Tournament had begun.

This Torneo de la Aguja (Hemingway), to give it its proper Spanish appellation, is the first of Cuba's four annual fishing competitions and, in terms of prestige, the foremost. At the signal, 57 boats ranging in size from hulking cabin cruisers to 16-foot fishing smacks scattered into the Gulf Stream, braving the 12-foot waves of a nor'easter. The angling teams on board were, by definition, the best sport fishermen in Cuba. Each member had won the right to compete in the Hemingway by winning a provincial fishing championship. The anglers" occupations were as diverse as their vessels—from high-ranking military officers and government officials to cane-cutting macheteros. The 1976 winner, Martín Santana, a short, slim, very serious fisherman from Las Villas in the Cuban interior, is a ticket-taker at a movie theater when he is not out in boats.

The tournament has its roots in a pre-revolutionary contest inaugurated by Ernest Hemingway himself. In 1960, shortly before he left the island for good, Hemingway watched Fidel Castro win the contest with three marlin. "One or another of us kept our big old U.S. Navy binoculars on Fidel's boat," Hemingway's wife Mary writes in her memoir How It Was, "and watched him hook and bring to the gaff two marlin. He was no deep-sea fisherman, as far as we knew, but he followed precisely the big-game fishing rules, hooking the fish and playing them, and his boatman made no attempt to gaff before he could grasp the leader, rather than the line. The second day he caught another marlin, and the combined weight of his fish earned him Ernest's silver trophy."

Still, fishing under a Communist aegis is not quite the same as it was when Hemingway was in his prime, conning his black-hulled Pilar past Morro Castle and out "on the blue water." As Mary put it, "Something sybaritic in the air, of men of means frolicking with their expensive playthings, was missing." So the Hemingways departed from Cuba, he rushing toward a grave in Ketchum, Idaho, and she toward her heavy duties as Hemingway's literary executrix. Their comfortable estate at San Francisco de Paula was donated to the Cuban people and is now a museum.

It is ironic, perhaps, that today Ernest Hemingway—a man who steadfastly refused to get rabid about any political cause ("If you have a message, go to Western Union")—is something of a demigod in Communist Cuba. Nowhere more so than in Cojímar, the tiny fishing village seven miles east of Havana that served as the locale for The Old Man and the Sea. Just back of the seawall, under the square stone tower of the fortress, stands a monument. The plaque expresses the gratitude of the people of Cojímar to the inmortal autor of El Viejo y El Mar. Above it stands a bronze bust of Papa, chin up, grinning the old victorious grin to seaward. The style of the sculpture is a bit too "socially realistic," and Hemingway bears more than a slight resemblance to Lenin. But the gesture is sincere, deep-felt, from the heart...from the people.

Hemingway's ghost pervades the Cojímar scene, but it is a jolly, big-handed ghost. In the early morning, with the sun just pinking the eastern horizon, you can still see the marlin fishermen putting out into the Stream. Few of them row their skiffs anymore (the ubiquitous outboard is present even in Cuba), but the sea is the same—the long combers crashing on the rocks of the harbor mouth, the smell of sea grapes and sweet, thick Cuban coffee filling the dockside plaza. La Terrasse, the little café across the plaza from the wharf, is still in business. Roosters crow on the hilltop where the fictional Santiago lived, and if luck is with you, you might bump into Gregorio Fuentes. Gregorio was for many years Hemingway's mate aboard the Pilar. Now 79, Gregorio is still fit, tight-muscled, with only the seams of his face and the hard, line-cut hands indicating his true age. Hemingway would be relieved to know that this man, whose competence and, later, loyalty, he revered, is now the majordomo of the fishing tournament that bears his name.

This year's tournament, though, was a bit of a letdown. A three-day blow from the northeast was only just warming up when the contest began at 10 a.m. of a windy Friday morning. May is not the best month for marlin fishing on the north coast of Cuba—most of the fish present that early in the year are agujas blancas (white marlin) that rarely exceed 50 pounds. Tournament rules specify that line up to 22 kilograms test (48.5 pounds) may be used, so the contest can tend to be unequal. Occasionally, though, an angler may hook up with a castero (blue marlin) in the 200-pound-plus category, and that can be a bit of a giggle. The tournament record for blues was set in 1964, the contest's second year under government sponsorship, by a Cuba√±a airlines pilot, René Bustamante. His castero weighed 228 pounds.

The really big blue marlin, the thousand-pounders like those the Old Man caught, do not begin to show until the late summer and fall. Commercial long liners, drifting baits as deep as 900 feet down, hook, fight and boat such fish with regularity, but to take one on the surface from a sport-fishing boat is still as much of a rarity as it was when Hemingway was fishing for them.

Trolling strip baits and halfbeaks from four rods, we worked our way down the coast toward the east. The tackle was largely American—old but well-maintained Penn reels, linen 16-thread line with no spots of rot, heavy boat rods of U.S. manufacture. Just as the automobile traffic in smoky downtown Havana consists mainly of ancient Chevrolets, so too does the fishing gear generate flashes of 1950s déj√† vu. Our boat, though, was something else again. The Orca is a 77-foot Chris Craft, operated by the National Directorate of Nautical Maintenance in Tourism (INTUR) and captained by the director of that organization, a sprightly, insouciant young Cuban named Rodolfo Gil Diaz de Villegas (Gil for short).

"Orca came to us last year," Gil said as he quartered the heavy swells. "A gift from the sea. She was then out of Miami and came running in, straight toward Varadero Beach, to the east of us. Our planes buzzed her, our gunboats circled her. There was no one on board. She was running on automatic pilot. So we went on board and found eight tons of marijuana stowed below deck."

Papers in the cabin indicated that the boat had set out from the Yucatan Peninsula, headed for Miami. There were no bullet holes or blood in the scuppers to suggest piracy (a common practice in this era of big-buck dope smuggling), so in all likelihood the grass runners abandoned ship early in the cruise, trusting the automatic pilot to carry their cargo within reach of smaller boats in Florida waters. They had reckoned without the powerful influence of the Gulf Stream. The marijuana was destroyed, and Cuba added another boat to its fleet.

On the Orca's spacious fantail another Cuban was explaining the mysteries of the Gulf Stream to his norteamericano guest. José Foez Milera, age 46, is one of Cuba's top oceanographers, a specialist in conchology (the study of shellfish) and at heart a poet. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Last Days of the Patriarch) is a close friend. Milera's friends call him Pepe.

"Look now, Robert," he said. "We are at the edge of it. El Gran Río Azul [the Great Blue River], as Hemingway called it." And there it was, the Gulf Stream, its waters a deep, almost electric indigo, built of prisms it seems, the edge of the countercurrent sharply defined against it. The countercurrent, which itself is generated by the strong eastward flow of the Stream, is a murky green, and on it rides the flotsam of the Cuban interior: bits of shattered lumber, a wooden crate with Cyrillic lettering stenciled on its slats, branches of tropical trees, a dead and tendrilous chicken, all debouched from the rivers of Cuba into the small counterriver and then, with time, into the ocean's Great Blue River itself.

"This is where the great fish wait to feed," continued Pepe. "Here at the edge of the river, where the whirlpools of current and countercurrent swirl and the small baitfish take the shade under the basura—the garbage. Larger fish feed on the baitfish, and the big agujas, the billfish as you call them, feed on the feeders. Hemingway once wrote that when his friends from the north came telling him enthusiastic tales of the wonderful salmon river they had just discovered , or of the trout stream that ran through their backyard , he would smile and nod content with the Knowledge that the greatest fishing stream in the world flowed just half an hour from his home. This is it."

But the Stream was flowing sluggishly this day, pounded into partial submission by the northeast wind that blew steadily at some 30 knots. Two barracuda—quickly rendered into fresh strip baits—were all that bent the rods. Lunchtime came, sandwiches of piquant cheese, hard sausage and pan molde (a square-baked bread that unfortunately tasted like sawdust) and bottles of Cuban beer, no longer labeled but still as tasty as ever it was before the revolution. "This is Tropical," Gil explained. "Hemingway preferred Hatuey, which is brewed in Oriente province. All of our beers are good."

As a special treat, the guests were served glasses of mojita, a cocktail of Havana Club rum (formerly Bacardi) and lime juice, with a sprig of fresh mint on top. "Yerba buena" said Pepe, holding up a mint sprig. "The good herb. Hemingway believed that it possessed luck. He would brush it on the rod and reel to bring the big fish." Pepe demonstrated the technique. It might have worked for Papa, but it didn't for us. As the day wore along, the sky clouded over completely and intermittent rips of warm rain lashed the sea. Up on the flying bridge, Gil pointed out a small red boat off our port bow. An angler in the stern sheets was fighting a fish, and we moved closer.

"The boat is a Pira√±a hull, built here in Havana," he said. "A 27-footer, fiber glass, powered by a Volvo Penta engine. We're gearing up now to build 33-footers." The boat, whose name was Guamà, looked trim and seaworthy, with the afterdeck clean and unobstructed for fishing. Just then the fish leaped far astern, but even at that range it was clearly a big one.

"Castero!" yelled Pepe. "Robert, it is a good fish, this one. Two hundred livras or more."

We watched the angler make his fight, standing up in the bouncing boat, legs spread wide as he pumped and reeled, pumped and reeled. The marlin continued to leap—long, head-shaking, greyhound jumps, a dozen of them, then 20, 25, and we stopped counting. The fish sounded, and you could see that the fisherman on the Guamà was grateful to let him take line. It gave the man a chance for a breather. One hour and 44 minutes after the hookup, the big marlin came to the gaff. A ragged chorus of olés rang out from both vessels. The fisherman, a broad-shouldered, barrel-chested engineer named Jesus Gonzalez Arazo, embraced the marlin and lifted it for us to see. He was all marlin blood and smiles.

"That may be the new record," said Pepe, eyes round with awe. "Robert, that fish weighs close to 250 pounds." As it turned out, Pepe was off by only two pounds. The blue marlin weighed in at 248, a new tournament record.

Gonzalez Arazo and his teammates collected 1,230 points for the fish and took an early, seemingly unbeatable lead in the tournament for Equipo ESTE—Empresa de Servicio a Técnicos Extranjeros (the foreign press office).

After trolling fruitlessly eight miles east from Cojímar as far as the village of Tararà, with its long yellow beaches and the Campamento Nacional de Pioneros José Marti (a kind of Cuban Boy Scout camp), Gil turned the Orca back. Around us the small fishing boats pitched and rolled in the still-rising seas, sometimes disappearing entirely, outriggers and all, under the bulge of house-high waves. "Like the Viking longships," said Pepe with admiration. The conversation on the fantail now turned to the literature of the sea. Pepe recited the opening paragraphs of The Old Man and the Sea in Spanish and then did the same with the opening passages of Moby Dick, which sounded even more Biblical in a Latin-based tongue—"Call me Ishmael.... Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This my substitute for pistol and ball."

He stopped, his voice thickening, a suspicious wateriness about his eyes.

"Robert," he said, "that is the greatest story of the sea ever written, en todo de mundo." We talked on of Conrad, especially of Nostromo, and of Peter Matthiessen's Far Tortuga.

"I have written some poems," Pepe said finally. "The Dreams of a Fisherman." He recited a few in Spanish, their rolling cadences becoming harsh sea winds in the back of his throat—and again his eyes filled with tears. "Pardon me," he said, "but one cannot spend much time on the sea without becoming a poet."

"Por nada," I told him and turned the other way.

By now the wind had freshened so that Gil could not bring the Orca safely back into the narrow mouth of Cojímar harbor. Most of the other boats were in already. We headed for Havana, passing the high-rise, somewhat shabby apartments of Habana del Este, a housing development for workers erected by the Castro regime shortly after the success of the revolution. On a reef just offshore lay the rusting hulk of a freighter—Polish registry, Gil thought—that had run aground during a norther the previous winter. "Now we will cut her up for the steel plates," he said. She looked like a huge red whale up there on the rocks. There is nothing so helpless, useless, as a ship gone aground.

Turning the point of Morro Castle, we opened up the roadstead—long lines of freighters and tankers, Russian and Polish and East German, lying to the hook under the lee of the Casablanca peninsula. As the wind dropped, a nauseating reek of oil filled the boat. You could see it shining like a moribund rainbow all up and down the harbor. The eastern walls of the Malecón—Havana's ancient, once lovely shoreside promenade—were coated with oil as thick as tar. The screws of the Orca's twin 295-hp engines churned up great swirls of settled petroleum, dark as drying blood. Pepe shook his head sadly.

"Havana harbor is a lake of oil on top of a pool of water," he said.

All through the night the wind howled strong and steady from the northeast. From the 16th floor of the Havana Libre Hotel (formerly the Havana Hilton) one could see whitecaps rolling on the Stream at first light. When we rendezvoused with Gil and the Orca at the mouth of the Río Almendares on a slip just behind the Restaurant 1830, one of Havana's finest, it looked unlikely that the tournament boats would be able to fish on this Saturday. We ran on down to Cojímar, past the sunlit stucco facades of Havana Vieja, the old town back of the Malecón, the buildings glowing pale pink and blue in the morning sun. A few were trimmed in lines of strong color—reds, hard blues, yellows, oranges. "That is the art psychedelic," explained Pepe, who had joined us for another day's fishing, absolved from his duties on the tournament's technical committee. "It is very important for the workers to live in buildings that look beautiful. In Cuba we have only work and study and sport. The art psychedelic allows one to relax." I thought of my hippie friends in the communes of New Mexico and California and just how relaxed they were in the presence of the art psychedelic. Blown away. Wiped out. Wow!

At Cojímar we learned that the tournament had been canceled for the day because of the high winds and heavy weather, but in the big Orca we were able to fish, anyway. Again the yerba buena failed to do its stuff. We cruised on up to the camp of the Pioneros, yanking only a single barracuda off the reef. Yesterday's catch for the tournament boats had included a few dolphin—dorados in Spanish—and we trolled past pieces of flotsam, hoping to entice one of the brilliantly colored fish out to the strip baits and feathers. Nothing. The sea appeared empty of fish, and we found ourselves wondering about the Soviet trawlers and mother ships we had seen anchored in the oily harbor. The Russians fish hard and thoroughly. The barren reefs and fishless blue water stood testimony to their assiduity. We lunched, though, on excellent Russian sardines and the hearty, unlabeled Cuban beer that used to be called Tropical.

Pepe pointed out the new workers' city of Alamar, with Soviet cranes beetling over the glass-and-steel slabs against a cloud-blown sky and the feathery casuarina trees of the Pioneros camp, under which children played in the sand or splashed in the crashing surf. We talked some more of literature—Poe and Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers. The big blue-black sea rolled its white horses around us, lit at times to cobalt by the breaking sun. Shoals of flying fish popped from the wavetops and skimmed through the scud. Man-o'-war birds circled low over the seas. A solitary black ibis winged in to shore. But there were no fish, not for us, not that day.

That night the wind abated.

In the morning, when we arrived at the Orca on the Río Almendares, there were new faces on the fantail. The two men did not introduce themselves, but both studied us closely and with good humor. The first was a man of middle height, about 50 years old, clean-shaven, with a deep white scar on his upper lip. He spoke excellent English. The other, shorter, with a broad placid face and wide-set sleepy eyes, spoke only Spanish, and that in a strong campesino accent. These two were fishing that day in one of the new Pira√±a boats and invited us to take a quick look at the shipyard where they were constructed, just a couple of hundred yards up the river.

The shipyard, cool and cluttered like all shipyards everywhere, smelled of glue and river rot. Its workers looked quick and competent. They treated the scar-faced man and his companion with a respect that bordered on reverence. We still did not know his name, and later when he revealed it he did so only on a promise of secrecy. His name is familiar to anyone who has studied the origins of the Cuban revolution, particularly as it applied to urban guerrilla warfare.

Trolling back toward Cojímar for the start of the day's competition, we saw the scar-faced man in the Pira√±a hook and boat a 60-pound sailfish on light tackle, taking the fish standing up, handling the rod and reel with cool authority. By now he had taken off his shirt, and more scars could be seen on his back and chest, long straight slashes that matched the one on his upper lip. After boating the sailfish and coming alongside, he invited me to come aboard with him.

"Where did you get the scars?"

"Batista," he said. He smiled.

This was a day for ideology and reminiscence. As we trolled back toward Tararà, for what seemed the umpteenth time, we talked of Cuba's future, of the role it was playing in black Africa and of the possible renewal of diplomatic and trade relations between Cuba and the United States. There was no cant in the conversation of the two Cubans, none of the propagandizing endemic to the Communists of Eastern Europe. Both men were realists, recognizing their young government's weaknesses as well as its strengths. The talk veered back to those early days of the 1950s in the Sierra Maestra, and I told them of how confused so many Americans—including Ernest Hemingway—had been at the sudden spoiling of the long, warm Cuban-American friendship. Of how many young Americans in those days wanted to join Fidel in the hills, and did. Of the cult that had grown around Che Guevara in the United States—Che, cocksure, tough, humanitarian, with the wreaths of cigar smoke from an Upmann billowing around his bereted head.

The man with the campesino accent shook his head. I could see the same fogging of the eyes that Pepe had undergone when reciting the opening passages of Moby Dick. Yes, an emotional people.

"Mario was with Che's column," said the scar-faced man. "He was a peasant in the Oriente. When he was a boy cutting cane, there were 24 people living in the one house. There was no hope in there with them. So he fought."

The line on the starboard outrigger popped free, and we leaped to our feet.

"You take it," said the scar-faced man.

I dropped the rod tip until I could feel tension on the line, then socked back once, twice, three times. It was not a fish.

Instead, as it came closer to the boat I could see that it was a piece of flotsam that looked like cloth. It revealed itself finally as a Cuban flag, the staff broken at the butt, faded, oil-soaked. I freed it from the hook and held it up into the wind. "Venceremos!"

The scarred man smiled at this playful usage of the revolutionary battle cry. The campesino, however, was not amused.

Back at the Cojímar dock, an excited crowd had gathered to watch the final weigh-ins. The bar and restaurant tables of La Terrasse were chockablock with grinning spectators, and a queue a block long shoved and pushed toward an outdoor beer stand. Children and yapping dogs darted through the crowd, some of both breeds running precariously along the top of the seawall. The dusty, mote-brightened air was filled with the smell of fish and mariquitas (thin-sliced dried banana chips) and chatinos (bananas cut half an inch thick, deep fried and served hot). Youngsters munched the latter the way American kids would wolf through a bag of potato chips.

The manic rhythm of a steel drum chopped through the chatter. A dark, thin old man, shirtless and wild-eyed, danced and spun as he pounded the drum. This was, I learned, El Indio Tatuado (the Tattooed Indian), a character from nearby Guanabacoa who shows up every year to strut his stuff at the Hemingway. When he saw me looking at him, the Indian pushed through the crowd and grabbed my hand. Grinning toothlessly, his eyes wide with something beyond mirth, he rubbed my hand on his bald forehead and spoke in a language that was not Spanish. From head to toe his smooth, mahogany-dark skin was covered with art—cabalistic symbols, totemic designs, naked ladies, stars and moons and planets, serpents and full-rigged barkentines, wolves, bears, a dragon breathing fire, a heart pierced by an arrow. Then the pounding of the steel drum resumed, and he whirled off into the crowd, his picture gallery bulging and writhing to the play of his muscles under the hot sun.

As the four o'clock deadline for the end of the tournament approached, the fish rack slowly filled—small marlin, whites mainly, and a single sailfish along with a few dolphin. They turned slowly on their roped tails, heads down, flies crawling on their glazed, unlidded eyes. The skins, whose colors in life Hemingway had so often admired—the marlin's electric-lavender stripes against fiery silver, the golden gleam of the dolphin flashing like a rainbow in death, green, blue, red, then back to gold—had all faded to a uniform gray-black, without sheen, like so many hunks of worn-out truck tire.

There was no fish here to compare with Gonzalez Arazo's 248-pound blue marlin caught on the opening day, the day of storm and heavy seas. His team's 1,230 points held up against a last-minute, three-marlin onslaught by the Department of Tourism team, good for 1,040 points and second place. Pepe Milera looked up from his seat at the judge's table and watched the last fish of the day, a small white marlin of about 30 pounds, being hung on the crossbeam. "Robert," he said with a wink, "we are icing down the fresh baits."

On the morning of our departure, we drove out with Captain Gil to visit the Hemingway museum at San Francisco de Paula. The old Carretera del Norte, the coastal highway from Havana to San Francisco, is now potholed in places as badly as New York City's roadways. Big-shouldered Russian trucks and East German buses grumbled and ground their gears bumper to bumper. A choking miasma of diesel smoke dimmed the bright sunlight and stung the eyes—flashes of L.A. freeways during rush hour. Beside the road a heavyset woman with fire in her eyes stood glaring at the speeding traffic, clutching a squashed chicken in her left hand while she shook her other fist at the trucks.

The Museo Hemingway was temporarily closed for renovation, but the gate guard, an old man with steel-rimmed glasses and a potbelly pushing incongruously through the obligatory Castro-green fatigues, let us in anyway. Just beyond the gate, up on blocks, stood the Pilar. Her black hull looked faded and dead, like the hides of the dead marlin hanging from the crossbeam at Cojímar. The grounds were green and cool under the lush tropical plantings, and the potholed driveway wound uphill past flowering frangipani. Workmen plied their trowels over the broad front stairway, cementing cracks and sags. The huge ceiba tree at the right front corner facing the house, the tree under which Hemingway and Mary used to sing folksongs in many languages and drink the evenings away, had been heavily pruned, but the gnarled gray mass of its thick trunk was still impressive, like the glimpse of an old wounded elephant standing silent, waiting, in the thornbush.

Inside the front door the house opened out into enormous rooms, cool behind their thick stucco walls, the air faintly musty like the air of a mausoleum. But as one's eyes adjusted to the indoor dimness, the rooms gradually began to fill with remnants of a life. From the high-ceilinged walls stared the heads of big-game animals—two splendid oryxes, an enormous elk rack, a good kudu, the full-head mount of a fair-to-middling Cape buffalo plus the skulls and horns of two others that had to go over 50 inches in spread. A leopard skin lay draped over a couch. On the walls were 1930 bullfight posters from Spain. A 6.5-mm. Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifle leaned in a corner, its full-fore-ended walnut stock gleaming cool and smooth in the dim light, the bluing worn from its well-oiled barrel and bolt. And books, books, everywhere books.

When the Hemingways left 17 years earlier, they did not know that they would never return together, not even as visitors. In donating the house and all its contents to the new Cuban government, Mary Hemingway left behind some 8,000 volumes—books Ernest had collected and read during his career, many of them autographed first editions. The titles reflected the broad range of his interests—from how-to-do-it volumes on cockfighting and winemaking to Ezra Pound's Cantos, from works by African explorers to Frans Bengtsson's excellent novel of Viking life, The Long Ships. Anyone with a feel for books and reading would not mind being imprisoned in this house. A five-year sentence would be about right.

In the office just off the main bedroom, under the frozen glare of a Cape buffalo, Hemingway's desk stands, replete with old photographs from World War II, newspaper clippings, the memorabilia and clutter of a working writer's sanctum. On a shelf just across from the desk, under a collection of knives, stand a few pairs of the great man's shoes. The shoes are enormous. You could fill one of the broad-toed Weejuns with a quart of Gordon's gin and still have room left for plenty of tonic. On other shelves elsewhere in the house lie a plethora of found objects—sea-fans faded from purple to pale pink, shells, rocks, bones, skulls.

The saddest memento, though, is the bar. On it stand bottles of gin, vodka, whisky, vermouth, Campari—all previously opened, their contents evaporated over the years since Hemingway's hasty departure, so that now all that remains is a thick, gluey sediment, a sludge of the firewater that was for so many years Hemingway's personal fuel.

So that is Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm), where Hemingway lived some of his happiest years. The master is still present, just as he was at the fishing tournament. His ghost stares down through the glass eyes of the trophies, radiates from the worn spines of the books, glints from the steel of the rifle barrel and the sharp-honed edges of the knives. Most of all it stands, big-footed and warmhearted, in the cool shadow of the giant ceiba tree.

Next year, we were told, the Hemingway Tournament will be international. Americans will be allowed to compete. Don't go if you're expecting big fish, or even a lot of fish. But if you love the Great Blue River and the smell of sea grapes on the offshore breeze and the dusty cool of small fishing ports, if you care to meet benign ghosts, then do it. It is, after all, the tournament of the man who taught us.



Uniformed regional champions pass the fortress at Cojímar on their way to the boats. Billfish are the goal, but a barracuda (inset) counts.



Pepe Milera shares Hemingway's love of El Gran Rio Azul, but the Tattooed Indian is more a creature of the crowd. Overseeing it all is Gregorio Fuentes, Ernest's mate on the Pilar.



A bust of Hemingway stares perpetually seaward in Cojímar.



It has been 17 years since the Pilar last took aboard its owner, and now the black hull is fading, but inside Hemingway's Lookout Farm, a museum today, activity seems to have stopped minutes ago.