Editor’s note: On a daily basis from June 1 thru June 30, 2015 Pillar to Post online magazine is featuring articles, photos and insights resulting from a recent group tour, an adventure we dubbed: the April 23 Brigade’s Tour of Cuba 2015.
So, there I was alone on the cobblestone streets of Trinidad, Cuba. I left the rest of the tourists back at main square before we headed for lunch at the El Dorado, an attractive residence turned into a fairly large restaurant. Homes that double as restaurants are called P on the island.
I was on a mission to find a cigar store in a smaller Cuban town. No reason, but I figured Trinidad was less touristy than Havana and I’d get a better deal. Big news, Cuba is already touristy as blue and white buses filled with travelers are all over the island.
I stopped at a small store selling leather goods. Three older Cuban men, seated on the high cement curb, were enjoying the sunny morning while smoking huge cigars. If anyone in Trinidad could tell me where the cigar store it would be this crew. Stepping inside, I didn’t see cigars. Before I said a word, the swarthy Cuban with a grin as big as a Cheshire moon asked: “Italiano?”
I shook my head.
He asked, “Francia?”
As soon as I said no, he laughed aloud, “Americano, si?”
He had me.
When I mentioned I was looking for cigars he told me to sit tight and he’d be right back. I was left to tend the store. If it was a weekend instead of Tuesday noon, I might have been able to make a few sales. I would have cut no deals for my fellow travelers.
Edwardo came back with a small package of Cohiba, the smaller four-inch cigar. Five individually boxed cigars were in the bright yellow wallet sized pack. He wanted 20 CUC’s. In Cuba, CUC’s are the tourist currency. Maybe it was a good deal—maybe not.
I begged off.
He grinned again. “This is the brand Fidel Castro smokes.
“I want the cigar that Che Guevara smoked.”
Edwardo got the gist of my attempt at humor and he replied in Spanish that Cohiba’s is what the famed revolutionary smoked, because he bummed them off Fidel—all the time.”
The comment drew chuckles from the three amigos outside the store.
I offered 10 CUC. That’s $10 U.S. Back in the states I knew I could find a similar sized cigar for under $5 each.
Edwardo, was all business now.
One of the three amigos said he’d better close the deal otherwise he’ll go back to the bus.
Bottom line. I bought them at $15 CUCs. The compromise still had me feeling I was had. But I saw the package had the Cuban stamp sealing the contents.
I learned later from the bartender at the Hotel Nacional’s Churchill Bar that I was right to purchase cigars with an unbroken government seal.
“Was it a good deal?”, I asked.
“At the hotel, yes, but on the street maybe less.”
Later at the excellent cigar store at the Fortaleza La Cabana, the ancient Spanish fortress on the other side of Havana harbor, I saw the same pack of Cohiba’s for 30 CUCs. If you’re a casual cigar smoker the castle’s cigar store is very well stocked and the prices are what I noticed in other places. They also sell Cuban coffee and lots of rum.
The hotel bartender opened the cigar box on the counter. “Montecriso #2 is a very good cigar.”
“I give you the cigar free, now you go home and tell your presidente to lift the embargo. It makes no sense.”
I held my new cigar in my hand and pretended to recognize a good cigar when I saw one.
“Does Fidel come into the hotel?”
“He sat where you’re sitting when I first started working here.”
“How long ago?”
“Ten years, mas y menos.”
|Inside La Triada Cigar and Rum Emporium at Fortaleza La Cabana. Photography by Bruce Henderson|
|Montecristo brand logo framed inside La Tirada Cigar store, Havana, Cuba 2015|
Photography by Bruce Henderson
|Just when you figured big time cigar smoking in Cuba was a gender thing, |
well think again because the ladies enjoy a good smoke, too.
Photography by Gary Payne
MORE ON CUBAN CIGARS:
Cigar Aficinado interview with Fidel
We had a wonderful meal at La Moraleja restaurant, a grand home in the Vedado neighborhood that has been turned into a fine dining establishment. Upon finishing our meal the hostess came by offering complimentary cigars. Nice touch.