Editorial | Dave’s Trip To Cuba (Legally) – Day One

My Trip to Cuba (legally) by David Garofalo

My adventure began on December 27, 2014 when we interviewed Colon Ganley on The Cigar Authority podcast. Colin is the former editor of Cigar Journal Magazine and is now the owner of Twin Engine Coffee Company based out of Nicaragua. Colin also is the owner of a company called Cigar Tourism (www.CigarTourism.com) where he has put together trips to Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic for years, taking people to the fields and factories of some of the best cigar makers in the world. Colin mentioned briefly on the show that he may be putting together a trip to Cuba, and I said I was very interested. After the show I contacted him and again reiterated that if it was going to be a legal trip to please consider me as a participant.

Colin worked through the U.S. Treasury Department to make it happened and sometime in February announced to me that it was happening. I forwarded my payments, passports and blood type (just kidding – no blood required) and anything else required and was told that I was approved and the date was set. On Sunday March 8, 2015, I would be flying from Miami Florida to Havana Cuba. A small group of seven, including Colin, would be part of the first official trip he would be putting on and I was excited to be one of the guinea pigs along with Kathy, Keith, Jessica, Jennifer, and Skip.

DAY 1 – The airlines (World Atlantic Airlines) required us to be at the airport for check-in at 10am so it required me to fly into Miami the day before so I could make it in time. No problem, I wasn’t going to miss this flight! Just to be certain, I arrived an hour before (9am) and began my wait.

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I thought I had brought a carry-on only, as it was the proper size and under the allotted 50 pound maximum that most airlines abide by, but this was different. I was only allowed to carry on 20 lbs. or less, so I was forced to check it in.

The flight was scheduled for 1pm but I soon realized everything is delayed in Cuba. After a 2 hour delay, with the monitor still reading “on time,” we boarded the full size plane and began our quick 45 minute flight to Havana, Cuba.

We landed in Havana and the plane parked on what seemed to be the middle of the runway, not near the building. A bus arrived and we got on it and just sat there for about an hour while the luggage was removed and taken away to customs. We were driven to the building where we got in line to have our picture taken, passport stamped and answered a few questions including “Have you been to Africa” not once but twice. From there we were escorted to a private room where we have rum (Havana Club) and local beers including Cristal (light) and Bucanero (heavier) and the wait continued for another hour or so until the bags arrived. We now had permission to leave customs and leave the airport.

Upon leaving the airport, we were met by Colin who escorted us in taxi cabs to our hotel. The trip over was just that, a trip, a trip into the past and present of Cuba. Propaganda billboards, signs and antique cars were everywhere. We passed buildings and homes with personality, meaning they were mostly in dire need of repair and reconstruction. It was exciting to see in person, what I have only seen in magazines.

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We drove into what they call “Old Havana” which is what I would call their downtown area. The area is one that I have seen in lots of pictures of Havana. Right in the heart of it was our first of the three hotels we would be staying in called Parque Central.

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We checked into a grand lobby and were greeted with a Cuba Libra cocktail (Rum & coke) and went to our room to unpack and would meet for dinner in a couple of hours. I quickly dropped off my bag and headed immediately to the cigar store located on the second floor of the hotel to buy a handful of cigars before heading to the 3rd floor pool area to light up. Here I am in Cuba for almost 3 hours and I haven’t had a cigar yet… that was about to change.

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I was determined to try every cigar Cuba had to offer. I have had my share of Cuban cigars over the 30 plus years I have been in the cigar business but I could be sure this time that the cigars I would be smoking were truly authentic Cuban cigars.

Here is a list of just some of the cigars I smoked while in Cuba. Montecristo #4, Cohiba Maduro #5 Magnifico, Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure, Robania, H. Upmann, Montecristo #2, Partagas D, Bolivar, Trinidad, Cohiba Robusto Supreme (not yet released), Robania Ltd Release 2014, Montecristo Open Master, Montecristo Double Ed Mundo Maduro, Cohiba Behike, Robania Farm Cigar, and many others fresh off the rollers tables. I believe I smoked about 50 cigars in all in the 6 days in Cuba, averaging about 8 per day, hey… that’s why I was there, right?

Another good reason for smoking so many cigars in Cuba is that cigar smoking is allowed just about everywhere. When asking if I could smoke (fumar), the answer was “of course”. I soon forgot that we (U.S.A.) were the country that was “Free”.

Next, it was off to Dinner to get acquainted with our group at the Havana Gourmet Restaurant, and then over to the La Favorito Bar where Hemingway drank. Most bars say “This is where Ernest Hemingway Drank” and I’m not saying he didn’t, apparently he had a pretty serious problem, but this is the one that had the pictures and a statue of him. We smoked and drank there until closing and then walked back to the hotel for a few hours of much-needed sleep.

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I can’t wait for tomorrow. We have been asked to re-pack as we are heading out to Pinar del Rio after a visit to a cigar factory in Havana.

Tomorrow: Day 2 In Cuba – A Trip To Pinar del Rio

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