Today we will take a walk to Old Havana Square. We met in the Hotel lobby to start our day. As we approach the area I notice the streets are crowded with people dancing in the street. The streets are paved with what looks like bricks but a closer look shows they are not bricks but wood blocks stained with brick color. In the town square the road turns to a circle with vendors on both sides selling their goods. Nothing new here, this is an old antique flea market where the locals try to make a few bucks.
However there is a lot to see here. Local Art, old license plates, old books and even vinyl records. Posters from local artists and propaganda are everywhere. Little trinkets, cookies and popcorn obviously made in their homes and placed in little clear plastic bags. Locals dressed up to take pictures with and hopefully get some spare change, and of course the occasional “street cigars.”
Just like home at a flea market, people were negotiating with the vendors who start high but will take whatever they can get. I chose to not just pay what was asked, but to give more and watch the smiles on their faces. This is giving to charity – direct. Helping people who work hard and wanted more. I’ll share this with you… I spent $2,000 and left with hardly anything. That was my plan and I stuck to it. No, you don’t have to do it, but you’ll probably want to. I loved the idea that the Cuban people were trying to do better despite their government who pays them on average, $30 per month. Giving an extra $10 here and $20 there brought smiles to them and even more to me. We spent hours in that square buying crap we didn’t need or want. We talked to them, they told us proudly about their goods and as I mentioned before, they all seemed to be genuinely happy people. Why do we have so much and are not always happy? I need to work on that myself.
We head over to a side street where there is a hideaway cigar lounge called Conda Filla Nue. It was the best little cigar store we found in Cuba, where we drank, smoked and even sent out for lunch and ate it there. They had an in-store cigar roller who seemed to be a master. No molds… all free hand.
We were told to be sure and eat because our next stop was the Havana Club Rum Factory where we would be doing some drinking. So immediately following lunch we took a walk to Havana Club.
Havana Club is not just a factory but a museum for rum. We took a private tour followed by a private tasting. This was a pretty serious private tasting with plenty of lessons to be learned. We sampled the 7 year during the tour and now the Maestro, 15 year and Union which went for over $1,000 a bottle. FYI – You don’t mix coke with this stuff, you don’t even joke about it, this my friend is some high end sipping rum. My favorite was the Maestro, if anyone is wondering.
The union is a new one for Havana Club, and is made to be sipped with a cigar which is perfect for me… because I happened to have one right here. I fired up a cigar and sank in my seat. By the way, the private tasting room was air conditioned and I was loving it!
They showed us a bottle of “Havanista” another brand new product that is only available right now in their museum. You see, this brand was made for the United States market, if and when the U.S. Embargo against Cuba ends. It is bottled and packaged and is the same exact product as Havana Club 7 Year. It was created because of trademark issues Havana Club is having in the U.S. They tell us they will fight for the trademark rights but in the meantime they are setting themselves up for immediate distribution. The cigar folks should be thinking the same, wouldn’t you think? But they are not to my knowledge. If it happens, I think cigar imports will be delayed for quite some time while trademarks are being sorted out. Havana Club has a great idea and a good plan. By the way, Havana Club expects to control 70% of the U.S. Rum market. That is a pretty bold statement, but I will hold off my feelings for my “shocking conclusion” tomorrow with day 6 and the wrap up.
The rum tasting was concluded “for now” as they will join us tonight before dinner for another tasting. So we packed up and took a long walk back to our hotel to freshen up before dinner… more like hose down before dinner for me.
The old Chevy convertibles pull up and take us to what looked like an abandoned warehouse, but it was La Guarda Restaurant. A very special place that played part in the Oscar winning movie that I never-ever heard of called “Chocolate and Strawberry”. I like Chocolates and I like Strawberries, this will work.
Three huge flights up… I thought I was on candid camera… it seemed to never end. And what is with these steps? Everyone is a different height… or is it the rum? Then we got there and wow… it was like a painting. Actually, picture frames everywhere. This is Skip Martin, owner of a great cigar brand out of Nicaragua called CroMagnon. He was drinking more than most of us so I said… well… never mind… I digress again.
Rum Tasting tableside with flavor drops of tobacco, honey or berries. I’m a purist and like my rum flavored with rum but I tried it.
After some playful “conversation” with our rum expert we make our way down a couple of flights to the dining room. This was fancy, five star, for Cuba for sure, cloth napkins and everything. We ate, drank and smoked all night and once again closed the place. As a matter of fact, the whole staff in the restaurant was waiting patiently for us to leave and we didn’t know it because we were all enjoying the evening so much.
We got in a little Russian car (pretty cool) and made our way back to the hotel for some needed sleep. We head home tomorrow. My final day in Cuba and the shocking conclusion tomorrow.