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Palin enjoys a day out on The Great Blue River, the best marlin waters in the world, but returns empty-handed.


In 1950, never really happy with any activity unless some sort of contest was involved, Hemingway started an International Marlin Tournament. Ten years later the competition was named after him, though he resisted this - "A lousy posthumous tribute to a lousy living writer" - and the first prize that year was won by Fidel Castro.

One of this year's main fishing tournaments has been running for two days and has two more to go. There is only one Cuban boat in the competition, a couple of Canadians, and the rest, surprisingly, are American. The Cuban organisers are helpful and suggest we wait until the boats come in and ask if any would be happy to take us aboard tomorrow morning.

At six, the boats start to come back in and the lucky ones can be picked out long before they dock by the number of white pennants they have run up. One for each catch.

I notice straightaway that there has been a major change since Hemingway fished here. This is the age of tag and release. Not only is it not necessary to kill the marlin to score points, you actually get fewer points if you do kill one.

So there are plenty of pennants but no one hoisting dead marlin up on the weighing post and posing for a photo as Ernie loved to do.

Hemingway worked on "Islands in the Stream" during his time in Cuba, but it was not published until after his death. Cosmopolitan magazine ran "Across the River and Into the Trees" as a serial in their January - June issues in 1950. Expecting big sales, Scribner's published 75,000 copies of the short novel in book form later that year, but was disappointed when critics deemed it sentimental and not up to Hemingway's earlier standards. Hemingway wrote for many magazines throughout his life, including Esquire, Look and Life.

Photo credits: © Basil Pao, 1999. Book covers: Princeton University Library. Text excerpt: "Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure" by Michael Palin © Michael Palin, 1999 Used with permission of Cassell & Company. Buy the book in the Palin Store.