Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Good Times with Good Friends…

Lord knows I meant to write this post first and foremost once I got back from Cuba in early March.  Alas, other things sidetracked me, and I misplaced some of the pictures I wanted to share here.  So, perhaps saving the best for last in my post-Havana-trip posts, here we are…

In Havana, the days are long, and the nights are longer.  Many Cuban and international friends (and those of us “yumas” that get to experience it) say that the city has two sides – daytime Havana, and the more risque nighttime variant.  Many people work all day, try to catch a catnap / sleep away the afternoon/evening, and then only get things going after about 10 or 11 pm or so.

So, after a long day of smoking cigars and drinking, we all pony up our energy for… a longer night of smoking cigars and drinking.  LOL.  Many hijinks are usually had.

Take for example the following…

I decided to try to take a half-decent photo of Andy Ryan, while we were out at a local hot spot.  However, Stuart Fox (whom I had not yet met in-person before this trip, but whom both our reputations preceded us due to [likely mostly untrue] stories passed along both ways by his brother Rob), decided to photo bomb Andy.  Drunkenly, we howled for ages after these pictures were taken…

Those pictures, and a short but wonderful evening, were had at El Sauce, and great outdoor dance club.  DJ’s, bands, and the local revellers made it a wonderful spot to go to, even though they kept us and the dogs (LOL, not kidding) penned up in the VIP area.  Great music mix, and the vibe was infectious.  And Michel doing his best “Johnny Depp” impersonation too!

I also had the opportunity to finally meet up in person, quite coincidentally, with Emil / “tropical doc”.  He was there on an authorized trip from the States, and though we’ve talked, traded cigars, and known each other for almost 5 years now, we’ve just never been able to meet up – until we were both in Havana, surprisingly!  It was great to meet him, and his energy and zest for delving into all that the island had to offer was able to be read on his face from a mile away.  Chatting with him since we’ve both returned home, he had an amazing trip, got to meet some amazing Cuban people, and said that all the delays and red tape were so incredibly worthwhile obviously…

Then there’s Nino. Oh, what can I say about Nino that hasn’t already been said. No…seriously. What can I say about Nino that hasn’t already been said??? LOL.

Times with him are always enjoyable – well, I better SAY they are, as he helps my sorry ass with my incomprehensible Spanglish, so he helps play tour guide and fixer too!!!  LOL.  Seriously though, he’s a host and gentleman to those that share the immense passion he has for the cigars, the island, the people, and his Cuban extended-family.  Always pointing out hot new spots, always there to enjoy a divinely rich dinner, or a mellow simple night with friends.  He had a few rough days at the end of Feb., same as I had back in November – such is the way when you’re guiding / organizing for a group – but we all found our groove again as the days moved on.

And likewise Simon, Seemon, my “little spoon” fellow Canadian.  Wished I got to spend more time this trip with my roommate from a previous trip, but I know we’ll all get more time with future Canadian group trips, and other local gatherings.

Also, through online forums and trades, to also get the chance to finally meet up with Gino / “Mr Japan” in person, as well as his son Stefano, was simply icing on the cake.  We all shared some great dinners, cigars, and drinks together.  I’m thankful for those times, truly.  Even IF Gino hit me for ordering a cappuccino at 10:30 pm at night to enjoy as an after-dinner coffee with another nice Monsdale.

Apparently, he informed me, it’s not “PROPER” for an Italian to have a cappuccino more than an hour-and-a-half after getting up, or past about 10:30 am or so.  Well, I took much glee in explaining to him that I’m Canadian, not Italian, and of Belgian-Dutch decent (he seemed shocked that everyone doesn’t revolve around Italy’s rules, LOL).  I informed him I don’t even drink cappuccino’s at home, save for occasionally at a particular Cuban restaurant in Toronto.  I also informed him that I was in CUBA, not Italia – in Cuba…they offer cappuccino, I order it, I drink it, anytime of the day.  And further, I informed him that it wasn’t “PROPER” for a man to hit a bigger man, especially when that first man was wearing yellow pants and carrying around a pink lighter!!!  LOL – it was all a running joke between our group all week, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Salut, Gino!!!!

Great times were again had with Yannick, after meeting him initially back in November.  He introduced me this trip to a friend of his and another fellow industry person, Nicky, and Nicky’s wife and her friends, and we all had fun times (mostly the girls did, when they, in Spanish, revelled in making fun of my bad Spanglish, and yet took interest in my Canadian accent).  Yannick, from Intertabak in Switzerland, was also wonderful in gifting some of the new RA Perfectos, and generally sharing in all the various good times.  A younger guy in the business, with many years under his belt already, but just chilling in an understated t-shirt and pants.  So fun to hang out with him, and his extended circle, including Nicky and his wife, and their friends.

Also through Nino and Yannick, we all had the pleasure to meet Victoria, a wonderful young lady.  A true German beauty, she had been down in Havana for a month before our arrival, as part of a 5-month learning experience that her father set up for her to learn the cigar business (Nino knows of her father’s small but wonderful shop in Germany well, he said).  Victoria was amazing – great English (like most Europeans) that thankfully made up for my abhorrent lack of Spanish.  She was a tanned beauty, who had eyes that made all of us star-struck a bit – her eyes reminded me of the mature-beyond-her-years beauty, innocence, and knowledge that were also apparent in the beautiful woman from Afghanistan that graced the cover from National Geographic magazine so many years ago.  Victoria “hung with the guys” quite well, took a keen interest in the overall experience, and seemed to be truly fascinated and gobbling up all that she could of the various cigar, tobacco, and Cuba knowledge that was offered to her.  So wonderful to see a keen interest in women of the cigar field.

And also…Gato Tuerto.  Can’t mention fun in Havana with friends without mentioning this place.  Always a fun time at the “one-eyed cat jazz club”, slash “Irish Embassy”, slash “Commonwealth Consulate”.

And of course, when drunkenly walking uphill back to the Nacional from Gato, you must not avoid the limbo tree…

I must say, I really enjoyed seeing Yiorgos again, and finally meeting Andy Ryan in person, as well as Stuart Fox.  I also was gifted, by way of meeting up with those three, in getting to know some of the Fox group’s staff (Bogusha and her fellow trouble-maker Gordana), as well as Albert from Stagnetto’s in Gibraltar/Spain, and also again seeing Captain Keith (a pilot for Emirates) and whom has been a friend to so many for so long (Nino and others can’t speak highly enough of him).  Others were also introduced to me through these various gents and ladies, and we all had wonderful times.

Stuart, at one point during the first day of meeting me, stated enthusiastically that he was really looking forward to hanging out together (or more perhaps me hanging out with their overall group), as he had heard such wonderful (and harrowing, LOL) tales of me. That my reputation preceded me, so to speak, good AND bad. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying great times in the past with his brother, Rob Fox, and also with Rob Ayala and other like-friended travellers, so it turns out that’s where some stories traversed from. But it was very welcoming and warming for him (and Andy and the others also) to be so open, so inviting, and so eager to just hang out and converse with me those first few days of my solo trip.

Little did he know…LOL.

But then, our last night of all hanging out together, Stuart (almost seeming like he was about to choke up, and Andy and Bogusha capitalizing on that and teasing him, LOL) actually said something very very touching to me.  He stated that even though it was only four days or so since he met me, it was like we had known each other for years, and just gelled.  That the kind words from his brother didn’t adequately prepare him for how great and enjoyable of a time we had together, and he was so glad to make another life-long friend (even a ghastly-pale Canadian one) in Cuba.  That he was truly thankful, and that we were now like family almost, further cementing the “brotherhood” feeling for him, and the magic that the island offers for us all.

It was a truly humbling and jaw dropping moment for me to hear what he said, how he put it, and the emotion he had behind it (granted – he was drunk, and had just inadvertently left a near-full bottle of booze at the Gato).

But he’s yet another person, “in the business”, who shows it’s not just about sales and solely business-relationships.  It’s about making solid friendships and enjoying the brotherhood that experiencing all that Cuban cigars, Havana, and Cuba itself has to offer, for those of us with a passion and zeal for it all.  It’s about the experience and overall enjoyment, not just the tangible dollars-and-cents business-related aspects.

I’m humbled, honored, and likewise blessed to have increased my circle of Cuban-international friends.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Booze and Cigars For Sale, Must Go To Good Home…

So, as I posted about earlier in March regarding the new Cohiba Silver humidors available at the Habana Libre LCDH store, Havana occasionally comes out with new stuff for sale.  And all usually for “the most bestest discerning enthusiast of Habanos” [or insert cheesy Spanish-to-bad-English-translation sales pitch here].

Like everything debauchery-related in Havana, booze and cigars are generally always for sale.  Kinda like free kittens.  Who doesn’t want free kittens???  And they’re ALWAYS available (damn cats won’t stop humpin’, that’s why!), as long as they go to a “good home” (whatever the hell that means).  But shiiiiiiiit, if you’re taking free kittens, that might be a judge that it’s NOT going to a good home.  Vis a vie, I guess that’s why booze and cigars can’t be far behind.

Anyways, Cuba, in its infinite wisdom, came up with a few other new goodies for February’s Habanos Festival.  Forgot to mention them before, but just came across the pics when I was putting together another review.  Namely, the new goodies are some more expensive cigars (Cohiba, of course), those earlier mentioned Cohiba Silver thingamagigers (yay, Cohiba), and even some expensive rum-slash-brandy-mix (Cohiba, fuck yeah!)

But, the silver lining is that I happened to stumble upon a new “elixir”.  For those in love with Legendario Elixir, this stuff is gold.  It’s a liquor that’s MADE from rum.  That’s right – they take rum (already good) and make it thicker and sweeter as an aperitif drink (sometimes even gooder, depending on your mood).  Anywho, I happened to stumble upon what seems to be another elixir, perhaps to compete for tourist dollars with Legendario.  It’s quite a bit cheaper / inexpensive to Legendario, but to me, it tasted very similar, albeit perhaps not as thick and syrupy.  And it seemed to be all over the place when I was down there in Feb-Mar (I didn’t see it at all back in November, or previous to this trip).

“Elixir 33”, made by Cubay.  Same idea as Legendario – a liquor made from 5-year-old rum, and only $4.95 CUC’s a bottle!  If the availability is more prominent than Legendario, they definitely may have a shot, given the lucrative pricing.

So, give it a try if you stumble upon it.  Can’t hurt the risk, at that price.  Unlike some of the other new stuff.

Cheers all.