frida's house entrance

Frida and Gellhorn: Walking Beside Two Beautifully Heroic Women

I’ve never bought four one-way tickets before in my life. But, that’s what it took to go on a special journey, one where I could walk in the same place as two beautifully heroic women I will never have the chance to meet.

Mr. H had different reasons for wanting to experience Mexico City and Cuba in the flesh. Like him, I’m a huge fan of food, culture, architecture, and art. The truth is—as most of you know—I’m a big nerd. A history travel nerd.

fincia vigia view

mexico city adventures

You know you’re a history travel nerd if you go somewhere in the world because of your obsession with a person, place, or event that occurred in the past. Everything else, while important and wonderful, is secondary to your inner nerd calling the shots.

That’s what makes you come up with a travel budget, no matter how difficult. That’s what makes you take off from work, no matter how difficult. You don’t care, because you want the chance to walk in the same place where that history happened—just so you can be a part of it.

cuba taxi scenery

I focus on history travel destinations most of the time. Traveling to a place without a lot of history isn’t appealing to me, so I tend to skip it.

That’s one of the main reasons I prefer to travel outside the U.S. That isn’t to say there isn’t any American history, but there are two notable hiccups for history lovers.

  1. It’s a young country. No ancient ruins here.
  2. The history we do have isn’t preserved. Courtesy of a new high-rise.

mexico city museumOnce I decided I was going to meet my long-time blogger friend Julie in Holbox Island (aka off-the-beaten path paradise), I thought: We’re already traveling to Mexico, we might as well see two other places at the top of our travel list.

There is plenty of rich history to dazzle anyone like me in Mexico City and Cuba. But the reason I’ve been so fascinated with both places is because of two women I have looked up to for many years.

Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican artist as she preferred to be known (Diego Rivera’s third wife as she preferred not to be known). Martha Gellhorn, the first female war correspondent as she preferred to be known (Ernest Hemingway’s third wife as she preferred not to be known).

Along with being a history nerd, I also love stories about strong women who left their mark, showing they were just as good as the boys…that sort of thing.

Every book I’ve written so far has a ball-busting, intelligent woman playing the main character. I never tire of it, and regardless of the genre-bending work I write, the common thread will always be a strong female character.

diego mural
Yogi salute to the great Diego Rivera.
hemingway typewriter
Hemingway used to stand at his typewriter when he worked.

Though Martha Gellhorn and Frida Kahlo are so different, I see commonalities far beyond being the third wives of famous, brilliant men.

They were both famous and brilliant in their own right. They had this unstoppable drive for experiencing more than what was right in front of them, and that drive took them to places around the world and inside their imaginations that inspired them on their individual paths.

They made an impact on people all over the world—and still do to this day. And though they were only born a year apart, I’m pretty sure Martha and Frida never met in real life.

hemingway's house cuba

frida museum

Naturally, I went to Frida’s house, La Casa Azúl, and Gellhorn’s house (aka Hemingway’s house, Finca Vigía), which are crazy popular tourist destinations.

However, I visited what can easily be called tourist traps with intentions that ran deeper.

frida and me

frida painting

There is something so incredibly fascinating about how places shape certain people, whether famous historical figures or not.

To enjoy an espresso at the same cafe they went to, or drive on a street they traveled regularly—it brings you closer to them somehow. And to see their homes is such an intimate glimpse into their lives.

martha gellhorn cuba

gellhorn war correspondent

So, it was nothing short of magical to walk in the footsteps of these women and feel a bit of their spirit breathing inside the walls, furniture, and clothing.

You see their sanctuary where they worked and slept, where they swam and ate.

walking around gellhorn's house

frida's house entrance

Even though Martha Gellhorn and Frida Kahlo are gone, they live on. I’m so happy I had the chance to see their homes and walk beside their courageous spirits.

And to rediscover as I usually do during my travels that no matter how different we may think we are from each other, we are often the same.

“I didn’t write. I just wandered about.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I put on the canvas whatever comes into my mind.” – Frida Kahlo

“What the trees can do handsomely—greening and flowering, fading and then the falling of leaves—human beings cannot do with dignity, let alone without pain.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I paint flowers so they will not die.” – Frida Kahlo

“I tell you loneliness is the thing to master. Courage and fear, love, death are only parts of it and can easily be ruled afterwards.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” – Frida Kahlo

“Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” – Frida Kahlo

“It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.” – Martha Gellhorn
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” – Frida Kahlo

havana balcony
Are you a travel history nerd? Tell me about a place you went to for its amazing history.

36 thoughts on “Frida and Gellhorn: Walking Beside Two Beautifully Heroic Women

  1. So I’m up reading content on Vision and Mission statements and come across your article on Clear Voice. Out of curiosity went to your Twitter feed, then another curious click led me to your blog and ultimately to this story. Very randomly and completely by surprise I was introduced by you to Martha and Frida. I had never heard of them before. It was a refreshing side track. I liken it to that path or side street you decide to take, having no idea where it really goes but curious for lies just around the corner. Then, completely by chance, you come across something wonderful and intriguing. Thank you for the brief escape. I’ll have to take a few moments to discover more about these interesting women and to see what other paths I might find on your blog. Thank you…

    1. Hey, David! Wow, that’s so cool that you traveled from that ClearVoice piece all the way over here. Definitely a different writing hat that I wear on my personal website, so I’m glad you came and enjoyed the piece.

      You should definitely check out these women. Honestly, I love films too…and both “Frida” with Salma Hayek and “Hemingway and Gellhorn” with Nicole Kidman give a nice glimpse into their lives with some Hollywood/some facts.

      Thanks for stopping by. What’s your Twitter handle, so I can make sure to follow you?

  2. After the last NASCAR race at Wilkesboro Speedway, I walked along the track, from the start-finish line all the way around. I imagined the pioneers of racing beating and banging, strategizing and taking chances on that small bit of asphalt in the Carolina foothills. It was my first – and only – season covering auto racing, but I had an appreciation for the sport’s history, and what this old-time track meant to the region and the people there.

    1. Sounds epic, Eli! After some of the conversations on here with this piece, I’m starting to wonder if this is more of a writer’s tendency when we travel. We are always searching for stories, so it makes sense that our travel preferences would be different. 😉

  3. Britt sounded like an awesome trip, I bet you had plenty of stories inspired by that journey too. I went to Loch Ness in search of Nessie and when you get there, there is something so mysterious about the place and you can imagine a monster in the fog. Plenty of stories filled my head visiting that place in Scotland.

    1. It was an awesome trip! Very cool to walk in the footsteps of Frida and Gellhorn.

      Oooh…I really want to go to Loch Ness some time. Had an obsession with Scotland for a while—watching the Outlander series these past years has really fueled that fire! 😉

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