Prior to hearing about the person to person trips to Cuba being offered by the crew at Smooth Draws, I thought it was pretty unrealistic to actually make it legally into the country. At first the upfront costs seemed a bit steep for a 4 night trip, but it would turn out to be an amazing bargain based on all of the things that were included(Visas, food, lodging, transportation, roundtrip flights to Cuba from Miami and a very generous food and beverage credit). Not only did Nick “The Boss” arrange some amazing tours, but he also flexed his Cuba insider muscles to make sure we got to meet some amazing people at each of our stops. It was very impressive how many master rollers and cigar insiders that he was familiar with. We were truly treated like VIP’s at ever location. Even when things went wrong they ended up going right.
Landing in Cuba was an experience in and of itself. It’s definitely an island community, and you get a great view of the expansive island from the air. We disembarked straight to the tarmac and moved slowly through the security process of the airport (No problems, they are just on island time in Cuba). Once through, we were met by our drivers and fixer. Nick had arranged a caravan of old 50’s cars and La Vita Habana cigars were handed out as we waited to get clearance to leave the airport. It was a very short trip from the airport to our home. The roads were of decent quality, and they reminded me of a combination between South Louisiana and Italy. From turn to turn , there were stark lines between the haves and the have nots. One block was comprised of significantly run down homes, while the next block was beautiful and well maintain houses.
As we pulled into our compound, I realized that we were being hosted by the “haves.” The owners of the property met us at the gate and got us settled in relatively quickly. Each of the rooms had its own bathroom, air conditioner, TV and bed. The rooms were all very spacious and clean. The only peculiarity was that you couldn’t flush toilet paper (I guess that’s what they mean when they say communist country).
After getting settled in, we headed out to get some food and partake of libations. The food staples in Cuba are rice, beans, chicken, pork and fish. Basically, any place you go they will have a combination of these ingredients. Cuba is not a foodie country, but nothing that we had was terrible either. It’s pretty much fresh middle of the road food, with slight variations in flavor across the places we visited (El Aljibe was probably my favorite place for chicken).
We smoked a lot of cigars over the four days in Cuba. Honestly, I didn’t have a bad one over the course of the trip. I could list every Casa Del Habanos we went to, but it would not help in understanding the depth and scope of this trip. Our tour guide Nick, was well acquainted with all of the master rollers and made sure that we had access to the best of the best in each of the shops. Each master roller at the Habanos had their own style and rolled sticks that were significantly different in flavor and draw. Every stick had its own character and wreaked of Cuban history. Being only a novice cigar smoker, I have to say that I was impressed with every stick that I smoked.
Not only did our guide insure quality smokes at each venue, he picked up the tab for our initial cocktail. The rum drinks were amazing and so were the bloody Mary’s(16th on 5th.) As we imbibed, we were generally treated by a brief history of the establishment and some of the lesser known facts about the buildings and rollers. It truly felt like a family affair at the smoke shops.
When discussing the people of Cuba, I have to say that I was very impressed with their overall hospitality and kindness. At no time did I get the sense that I was being hustled. The kindness and appreciation of the people felt very genuine and heartfelt. There were so many examples of the giving spirit of the Cuban people, but none more apparent than the night my friend and I went out looking for beer. Rum is exceptionally easy to find, but beer is a completely different story. Our driver Edwardo, took us to several gas stations in search of cerveza. At one of the stations, a local accidentally let the door slip and it hit my friends elbow. The gentleman’s reaction was huge. He came back into the building and apologized profusely for the incident. It was truly unnecessary, but it spoke to the kindness of this culture. We had several more encounters that consolidated my positive opinion of the Cuban people.
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience in Cuba. From the beautiful island scenery, to the rich cuban history and amazing smokes and rum, this trip was amazing. I do think it is important to note that our guide Nick “The Boss” and our fixer, Pedro were instrumental in assuring the quality of our trip. Not only did they provide us with great information about the city, but they also made sure that even when things went wrong, they ended up right.