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

Day 2 Monday March 9, 2015

I skipped breakfast (that almost never happens) and chose to walk around a little before meeting with the group. “American” and “Cohiba” the Cuban people asked me as apparently I stuck out like a sore thumb. They were not asking for a hand-out or begging for my money, they wanted to sell me something. They had cigars, what locals call “street cigars” made at their homes with either their own tobacco or stolen from the factories. I wish today I had bought some, to see how they stood up against the factory product as you will read in ‘my conclusion’ at the end of my adventure, but I didn’t. I was still a bit nervous because I don’t understand the language and was out by myself for the first time.

Walking around, it’s hard to miss them… The Old Cars. I’m not what you would call “a car guy” but wow… it is very impressive. Olds, Chevys and Fords, all from the 50’s – and all still in running order and looking pretty awesome. Most act as taxi cabs and have millions of miles on them but by some magic, they still run without any visible problem. It makes you think that we Americans are way too disposable with not just our automobiles but with just about everything.

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I make my way back to the hotel to meet with our group and we all took a walk to the Partagas Factory. We have all seen the pictures of this factory with its sign hanging over the street but the sign is now gone. It’s out for repair but it still appears on the building itself. Actually, upon entering, we soon learn that the entire factory is under construction. There has been no production in that factory for this week or maybe longer but the store and a private longue were available to us.

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The store in the Partagas Factory is a lot smaller than I had expected. Smaller than any of my own cigar stores and far less in selection and quantity, despite the busloads of people going in. As a capitalist, entrepreneur and self-employed man, I couldn’t help but see all the opportunity for sales that were being missed. I was in the Cuban Partagas Factory which had more rum in it than it did handmade cigars. As a matter of fact, being in the Partagas factory I certainly had to do what you would think most people would want to do there…Buy Partagas Cigars. So I did, I bought everyone they had, which was 2 singles.

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From there, we were welcomed into the private cigar lounge located in the back of the store. Just our group went in and we ordered some drinks. I chose a Cuban Coffee and relaxed as I lit up a Partagas D in the Partagas Factory in Havana Cuba, and for me…this was pretty cool I must say. The glass wall behind me is the locked humidor with full boxes in them. Full boxes of Cuban Cigars but as I said, no Partagas. I just scratched my head and wondered why… maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think so. They have no incentive to be their best, promote their product and to simply be excited. That was my first opinion. There will be more on this in “my conclusion” at the end.

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From there, we took a long walk to the ocean. By the way, the temperature was pretty hot for this overweight New Englander… close to 90 degrees every day with high humidity, I still wouldn’t have preferred a ride as it gave me a great feel for the city and the people. We walked past Sloppy Joe’s Bar, visited the La Florida Restaurant where they say all the American Gangsters and even Ted Williams hung out in the 50’s. We also visited “The Long Bar” on our way to the beach.

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There is the Light House in the bay of Havana, straight ahead is the good ole U.S.A. On the other side is Key West which says “90 miles to Cuba” but on this side… it says nothing. And on this side, this is the waterfront property. Weathered would be a nice way to describe it, condemned would be more accurate. Each building could be fixed and cleaned up and could be worth many millions of dollars if communism was to go away, but nobody is jumping in to buy them quite yet.

From there, we all get into a car and head to Pinar del Rio, this is where most of the Cuban tobacco for cigars is grown. It was a three hour ride, and I was pleasantly surprised how good the roads were. We passed by the farms where Padron grew tobacco many years ago and we drove past 22 degrees North 83 degrees West, the latitude and longitude of El Corojo Cuba, where Corojo tobacco was farmed. Those seeds went with their original owners which included Jesus Fuego who made the cigar brand 22/83 using all Corojo seed grown in five different countries. This tobacco is also the original seed for the authentic Corojo used by Camacho… but I digress.

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We arrive in Pinar Del Rio, one of Cuba’s largest cities with a population of 120,000 people. As I said, this is where most of the tobacco comes from and up to 80% of all the wrapper for Cuban cigars is grown. We stop to tour the Vegeros Cigar Factory, Fabrica de Tobacco where no cameras were allowed. Why no cameras? Seriously, nothing very impressive there except again, I am at the Vegeros Factory and would like to smoke a Vegeros Cigar but guess what? Ya, they don’t have any of those cigars in that factory, and seemed surprised that I asked. After leaving the factory we headed directly across the street to a Casa de Habanos for some more cigar shopping and a few drinks in their courtside lounge before heading to the Hotel.

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Tonight we will be staying at the Vueltabajo Hotel in Pinar del Rio. I know the name Vueltabajo, it is a cigar brand out of the Dominican Republic that is very good and moderately priced. This hotel is moderately priced too… enough said. We unpack as we will be here for 2 nights and head out for dinner, cigars and more drinking.

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We met a girl from the Ukraine wearing a Drew Estates Dirty Rat T-Shirt… how crazy is that! It was a very late night with a big day planned for tomorrow…how will we all handle it? Those answers and more tomorrow.

Yesterday – Day 1

Tomorrow – Day 3 – Robaina Farms

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